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California and the West

Rancor Flows Freely on Blocked Road

Dispute: Oceanside sees elitism in the barricading of a new street by Carlsbad, which says it awaits other roadwork.

February 14, 2001|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ON THE CARLSBAD-OCEANSIDE BORDER — Emotions are high here in the DMZ: the Demotorized Zone.

There are no politics in suburban San Diego County quite so intense as traffic politics. Case in point: the feud between the affluent seaside community of Carlsbad and its less-advantaged neighbors in Oceanside and Vista.

A year ago Oceanside completed its portion of a four-lane road meant to allow free passage between Oceanside and Carlsbad, an alternative to the congested California 78.

Carlsbad responded with a barrier--eight concrete barricades--rendering the new section of College Boulevard impassable. Reaction in Oceanside has been furious.

"I am sick of being held hostage to Carlsbad's elitism," said Oceanside resident Kathleen Reinert. "Even Beverly Hills doesn't do this."

Carlsbad officials insist they are not against the new road--indeed, the Carlsbad section had already been built--but they are not ready for the increased traffic until other road improvements are made.

That strikes the residents of Oceanside, and their allies in Vista, as a smoke screen. What really is at work, they insist, is Carlsbad's civic superiority and disdain for its neighbors.

In many ways Carlsbad (population 82,000) is the model upscale Southern California suburb, with a flourishing downtown, handsome housing, clean beaches, campus-like business parks brimming with light industry, the Legoland amusement park and the world-famous La Costa Resort & Spa.

Unable to prevail on Carlsbad to remove the barricades, the protesters have launched an economic boycott, complete with a Web site urging residents to avoid Carlsbad's malls, downtown merchants and car dealers.

To their cause have rallied people annoyed by other Carlsbad street issues, including the city's reluctance to complete sections of roads that would make for easier access to the Carlsbad airport, business park, beaches and Interstate 5 for people living outside the city limits.

"You take money away from them, they're going to come to the bargaining table," said boycott organizer Miles Kaplan, a software technician who works in Carlsbad and lives in Vista.

Kaplan said a trip that should last 10 minutes can take him an hour at rush hour because of the lack of connecting streets.

Officials of the regional bus and hospital districts have urged Carlsbad to remove the barricades at College Boulevard, without success.

Boycott organizers have tried to lead by example.

When Brian Bateman, a computer expert, wanted to buy his wife a new Mercedes-Benz, he avoided the dealership at Car Country Carlsbad and instead went to a dealer in Laguna Niguel.

Vista Councilman Ed Estes Jr., while steering clear of a boycott, has organized his own pressure tactic: a postcard campaign, Melrose Now!, to embarrass Carlsbad into paving the final 1,800 feet of its Melrose Avenue so his constituents can get to the major east-west thoroughfare of Palomar Airport Road.

A regional planning agency has given Carlsbad $4 million for the Melrose extension, but the city is in no rush.

"I think Carlsbad would like to build a moat around its city," said Estes of Vista. "Carlsbad just doesn't seem to have a very cooperative spirit toward its neighbors."

There is also the Bud factor: Carlsbad Mayor Claude "Bud" Lewis, a retired high school history teacher and baseball coach, one of the true lions of San Diego area politics. A member of the Carlsbad City Council for three decades.

"Buddy Lewis thinks Carlsbad has become his kingdom," said Tom Belford, a telephone company repairman.

Candid to a fault and passionately devoted to the best interests of Carlsbad, Lewis has told local reporters repeatedly that no boycott and no postcard campaign will force Carlsbad to open College Boulevard or extend Melrose Avenue until it is good and ready.

"Nothing is going to happen until our standards are met," said Lewis. "We have certain standards in terms of safety and traffic flow--they may be higher than other cities'--and we're not going to change them."

Carlsbad officials believe they are getting a bum rap.

"We feel we have done our share to handle regional traffic," said Assistant City Manager Frank Mannen, noting the expansion of three major roads that link Carlsbad and other cities.

Mannen said the "missing link" of Melrose will not be built until adjacent development is ready to pay the costs not covered by the regional allocation. And Oceanside Boulevard will stay closed, he said, until other roads are built to handle the scads of cars expected to stream into Carlsbad.

"We don't want to trade convenience for safety," Mannen said.

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