Carlsbad's best-known environmental activist has thrown down the gauntlet to the City Council with a lawsuit challenging the council's decision to permit a housing development to creep closer to the edge of Batiquitos Lagoon.
Dolores Welty, a persistent and vocal opponent of the Sammis Properties development on the northern side of the lagoon, has taken issue with the 45-foot "buffer zone" established between the pink Mediterranean-style homes and the edge of the bluffs.
Although it is clearly too late to push back the 70 houses already built on the site, Welty is hoping to stop would-be residents from building back-yard decks, spas and barbecues that would encroach on the edge of the cliffs.
Didn't Prepare EIR
The lawsuit, filed Monday in Vista Superior Court, seeks to set aside an ordinance approved by the Carlsbad City Council one month ago, which permits construction of "accessory structures" within the buffer zone. The suit also contends that the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act by not preparing an environmental impact report before approving the amendment to the development's master plan.
"It's obvious to anyone that 45 feet is not a good buffer as it is," Welty said. "It's not enough to protect the bluff or to protect the lagoon creatures."
Although Welty recognizes that her lawsuit will not stop further construction, she hopes to make the city toe the line by preparing the report. "It may be that an EIR will show that (allowing construction in the buffer zone) has no impact on the lagoon," she said. "But this EIR still has to be made, by law."
A spokeswoman for the city attorney's office said Thursday that the city had not yet received notice of the lawsuit. Phil Carter, assistant to the city manager, said the city will have no comment before the lawsuit is reviewed by the city attorney.
Welty's assault on the 168-acre project, formally known as the Batiquitos Lagoon Educational Park, is not likely to halt it but may slow it. The City Council is scheduled to address the project at its Tuesday meeting and decide whether to grant developer Don Sammis an extension on the three-year limit he was given to lure a major university to the site.
Elite University Planned
Sammis' project, as approved by the council in 1985, calls for an elite graduate university, surrounded by research-and-development facilities, an Olympic training site and a residential area catering to professors and students. One section of luxury homes has already been constructed, but the rest of the project was put on hold because of Sammis' failure to produce proof that an educational institution will in fact be built.
Although the three-year limit expired last fall, the city planning department has recommended that the council grant Sammis a five-year extension to come up with a university. "We really don't have anything to lose by giving him an opportunity to live up to his commitments," said associate planner Christopher De Cerbo ( on Thursday. "It's time, but it's no loss to us. It's his money."
One of the proposed conditions of an extension, however, is that the next set of 28 homes be built at least 80 to 100 feet back from the bluffs facing the lagoon.
But Welty does not feel that pushing back the rest of the buildings will make up for the damage already done. "It's not a trade," she said, adding that she will pursue the lawsuit even if the city requires a larger setback in the future.
The fact that the city is considering such a requirement, though, "is very promising," she said. "It's a recognition of the planning error in the first place."
"I'm not blaming them--it's an error we all made," Welty said. "It's hard to imagine beforehand what the project will look like."
Welty's attorney, Roger Jon Diamond, said there is no restraining order preventing the City Council from pushing forward with plans for the development while the lawsuit is pending. "But I would think, as a practical matter, they would want to wait," he said. A court hearing is scheduled for July 26.
Carlsbad Mayor Bud Lewis and City Atty. Vince Biondo were unavailable for comment Thursday, as were developer Sammis and his attorney.