For the second time in little more than four months, Carlsbad residents will have a chance Tuesday to decide whether the city should spend $7 million to buy Hosp Grove, a eucalyptus forest endangered by development.
In November, a measure to buy the forest by raising property taxes fell just short of the required two-thirds vote, garnering a 64.5% share.
Buoyed by that impressive showing, the City Council agreed to put the issue back on the ballot for Tuesday's special election. Dubbed Proposition A, the measure requires a simple majority vote for approval to buy a 53-acre slice of the forest because it involves no tax increase.
Forest supporters are not taking anything for granted, however, in particular because a feisty band of opponents has recently surfaced.
The opponents, including Councilman John Mamaux and former Mayor Mary Casler, maintain that the city would be ill-advised to authorize buying the grove before knowing how to pay for it.
"It's like going to a car dealer and saying, 'Give me a car and a pink slip, and I'll come back in six months from now and pay for it,' " said Mamaux, who calls the current funding scheme "Disneyland financing."
Since the November election, a council-appointed task force has come up with 10 different financing methods, chief among them are another bond initiative or hiking motel bed taxes and developer fees.
Opponents grouse that money might have to be tapped from the city's general fund if residents again failed to support a bond issue. And that might mean a reduction in needed services such as police protection, new roads and park construction, they warn.
Supporters of buying the grove, often called the gateway to Carlsbad because of its prominent spot near Interstate 5 and California 78, say such gripes are little more than a smoke screen for pro-development sentiments.
They insist that the city has the financial wherewithal to come up with the cash to buy the trees, pointing to the task force's numerous suggestions.
"Hosp Grove is a symbol not only of our vanishing open space but of our future," said Dan Hammer, a spokesman for Friends of Hosp Grove. "If we can save Hosp Grove, we can save Carlsbad. We can make it a city where we have the imagination to preserve our environment rather than sit by and watch it be developed out of control."
Planted by nurseryman E.F. Hosp in 1907, the grove has long been prized by residents as an inviting--and increasingly rare--natural amenity in the fast-developing city.
Originally covering more than 200 acres, the eucalyptus forest is less than half that size today, little more than a curtain of trees separating the commercial swirl of Plaza Camino Real mall from the quiet neighborhoods to the south.
Many foes contend the city would be better off allowing development of a small, 8.8-acre commercial center at the foot of the grove and 108 condominiums on its eastern edge, a compromise hammered out last year during negotiations between the city and the owners of the grove. In return, the developer and landowner had promised to turn over a wide, 16.5-acre stretch of the grove as open space.
But Hammer and other grove advocates say that compromise would probably never occur should Proposition A fail.
Friends of Hosp Grove, the group that banded together last year to oppose development plans for the forest, has qualified a referendum for the ballot challenging the development compromise. In addition, the developers of the grove have promised to sue over the referendum. To top it off, grove advocates have a suit of their own against an environmental review conducted by the city.
"It would be a mess," Hammer said. "If Proposition A doesn't happen, I think the developer and landowner will go for the throat. They'll go for the 550-unit complex they wanted to build in the first place. Or a court could order the city to buy the grove for more than we're talking about now."