Pressure At Ponto

In the coastal city of Carlsbad in northern San Diego County, California, a small stretch of coastal beachscape, including the high-quality wave known as Ponto, will be significantly changed forever by a large development. The key word is SIGNIFICANT.

However, environmental analysis performed by the City of Carlsbad has concluded that this development will NOT have a significant negative impact on the environment and community. A project that receives this conclusion makes the actual building of the project much easier for the developer.

The lower level of environmental analysis seems strange to most people, at least for one main reason: The large scale of the project and its close proximity to a federally endangered bird species, the California Least Tern. This is why residents, surfers and environmentalists are rallying in opposition to the project.

Blurry Vision
What is called the "Ponto Beachfront Vision Plan" would develop up to three hotels, three parking structures, 755 rooms, 10 restaurants, condominiums, offices and live-work areas on a 131-acre site on the east side of Coast Highway bordered by Batiquitos Lagoon to the south and Ponto Drive to the north. Much of the 131-acre region is undeveloped, except for several manufactured homes and a series of small businesses, including a furniture upholsterer, a mini-storage facility and an auto repair shop, all of which are showing their age and signs of neglect.

The existing condition of this area definitely does not fit in with the upscale nature of the rest of the coastal communities in San Diego. It is considered an eyesore to many in Carlsbad, but to surfers it is a beach with relative serenity in a town that otherwise has pushed the "Surf City" stereotype to the limit.

Drawing Conclusions In The Sand
Due to the fact that this location currently has little going on, the physical change this project will have on things like noise, traffic, public facilities, water quality and biology should require a full analysis. However, the City of Carlsbad prepared a less intensive study, called a Mitigated Negative Declaration, because the City claims it has identified measures to resolve all the environmental concerns.

According to this report, the developer can perform actions that will supposedly offset the negative aspects of the project, or perform what is called "mitigation." In order to determine what the proper mitigation is for a project of this large size, it is unusual that a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was not prepared. The basic argument against this project is that the large size of the development does not fit the small size of the analysis.

In regard to impact on the beach and surf, the areas of concerns addressed in the environmental analysis do not include the increased use of the beach or any future necessary public facilities to accommodate the new crowds.

When the environmental documentation analyzes water quality, the report claims that the proposed 131-acre development would NOT provide substantial additional sources of polluted runoff. This conclusion is wrong.

The increased concrete would allow for more rainwater to discharge into the lagoon and allow for more fertilizers, trash, and other street pollutants such as oil to go directly into the biologically sensitive lagoon and eventually into the lineup at Ponto. Although the development has to adhere to water quality laws, it does not mean that the laws themselves would keep the water clean.

Under the Radar
In addition to inadequate environmental review, the unusual high speed of the process and lack of community involvement have been coming under fire by those who are in opposition. "Probably the biggest problem has been the lack of community involvement and the fact that there has been little publicity about the development. As a result very few people know anything about the rough details of the plan and we have no solid details of the actual planned development, which seems to change depending on who you ask," said Blake Wood, a homeowner in Carlsbad’s San Pacifico neighborhood just east of the Ponto site.

Waves of Opposition
A group called, "" has formed to rally against the Ponto Beachfront Vision Plan to convince the Carlsbad City Council not to accept the project with the current low level of environmental review and require a full Environmental Impact Report. One claim against the current project is the argument that the current level of beach maintenance is already too low and that the additional impact of people from the development would further decline the state of Ponto Beach. It would also make the lineup ridiculously crowded. has recruited the help of the San Diego Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and the support continues to grow. The Surfrider Foundation has a long reputation for advocating beach access and overall environmental health.

Todd Cardiff, chairman of the San Diego chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, said, "They are trying to boot-strap a zoning plan into an amendment to the Local Coastal Program. By doing this, they avoid a full look into the adverse significant impacts of their actions. They don't even have to present alternatives, which is a requirement if they do the EIR."

With 3500+ members locally in San Diego, the Surfrider Foundation is trying to help by telling people to show up to the Carlsbad City Council Meeting to oppose the project and its current environmental review. Included in these people should be you. Alan Honadle, executive committee member of the San Diego Surfrider Chapter, said, "This is what being a surfer is all about. We know this project does not take coastal protection into consideration and we, as people who love the beach and ocean, have to do what it takes to preserve this precious resource."

Gathering the Forces
The fast planning process, low public involvement and lack of high-cost and time-consuming studies seem very suspicious for a city that could greatly benefit from the economic gains that this development would bring to the area. As the council members of the City of San Diego are under investigation for bribes from strip club owners, the City of Carlsbad's involvement in this development could be eligible for the same scrutiny. If it is not, maybe it should.

Grassroots activism is unfolding along the northern coast of San Diego County. Opposition is growing and the people are preparing to attend the Carlsbad City Council Meeting on June 28, 2005, at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held in the Council Chambers at the Carlsbad City Hall, located at 1200 Carlsbad Village Drive, Carlsbad, California, 92008. For questions about the meeting call 760-424-2830.

To find out more details on the proposed development and read the minimal environmental analysis, visit or the San Diego Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation at