It was to be the end-all, the weightiest of elections in Carlsbad, the litmus test to determine just how the community would address the pressing issue of growth.
But it didn't work out that way.
Indeed, the November contest between two competing ballot measures designed to control the city's development boom produced murky results at best.
Both measures got a majority vote, with the City Council-backed measure declared the winner because it received a larger share. Irked by that, supporters of the rival slow-growth initiative took the matter to court, where it is expected to be decided in April.
Now, the growth issue has spilled over into the race between two candidates for a key City Council seat up for grabs in a March 3 special election. The spot was vacated in November when Claude (Buddy) Lewis moved up to the mayor's post.
As many local activists view it, the contest is a pivotal event that could prove just as important as the on-going battle between the initiatives, coloring the council's posture on growth for years to come. It shares the ballot with a proposal to spend $7 million to purchase the endangered Hosp Grove.
On one side in the council race is Albert Mendoza, a devout slow-growther and treasurer of Concerned Citizens, the grass-roots group that helped sponsor Proposition G, the tough growth-control initiative that proposed a strict cap on housing construction in Carlsbad.
His sole opponent is Eric Larson, a former city planning commissioner and self-described moderate on the growth issue. In November, Larson supported Proposition E, the council-sponsored ballot measure designed to ease the effects of growth by insuring that public facilities keep pace with development.
As slow-growth advocates see it, a victory by Larson could sharply sway the council's direction in its week-to-week implementation of existing planning policies and laws. They have tried to paint Larson as a pro-growther, in particular because the 37-year-old father of two was endorsed and supported by the local Building Industry Assn. when he finished fifth in the November race for two seats on the council.
Mendoza, meanwhile, has an established track record as an opponent of unchecked development, slow growthers say. In addition, he has promised to push for council approval of an annual cap on housing construction similar to Proposition G if the ballot measure does not prevail in court.
Finally, they contend that Mendoza, if elected, would team with Councilman Mark Pettine, a devoted slow-growther, to form a coalition that could woo swing votes like Mayor Lewis and, potentially, Councilwoman Ann Kulchin. The slow-growth advocates say that only Councilman John Mamaux seems out of reach.
"This election is extremely important," said Mendoza, a retired district administrator with the state Employment Development Department. "If Mr. Larson wins, it could easily shift the council back to the old philosophies of uncontrolled growth."
His supporters agree.
"Mr. Mendoza would support any reasonable measure that would give us slow growth," said Nelson Aldrich, co-chairman of Concerned Citizens and a Mendoza supporter. "On the other hand, I don't think Mr. Larson is a slow-growther. And if you're not for slow growth, then you must be for growth."
Such logic irritates Larson and his supporters.
"I'm a moderate. I'm a real proponent of controlled growth," said Larson, general manager of a Carlsbad-based firm that auctions plants and flowers to retail outlets. "The pro-growth days in Carlsbad are over. We don't have a pro-growth council now and we wouldn't with me on it. We'd have a sincere, controlled-growth City Council."
He maintains the city is currently working to control the effects of rampant development with the passage of Proposition E and the council's adoption of a growth management plan last year. Putting an artificial cap on the number of homes built each year, as proposed by slow-growth advocates like Mendoza, only "takes the city out of the business of planning," Larson said.
Larson insists he never sought help from the Building Industry Assn. in the November election. Nonetheless, BIA officials say the group provided $1,136 in assistance for Larson, primarily in the form of "get-out-the-vote" telephone calls.
This time around, Larson said he did not even bother seeking an endorsement from the BIA.
Mike Reynolds, president of the BIA, said no "formal proposal has been before our board to endorse or financially support" Larson. In fact, he said the group may begin shying away from formal public endorsements of candidates, in particular because "I don't think it does a candidate any good to have an endorsement from the BIA."
But Reynolds noted that many members of the association "have thoughts and ideas as to who they support and will work to support those individuals."