The Battle for Incorporation

Carlsbad residents were incensed over their lack of locally controlled services. The fire just highlighted how precarious their position truly was concerning basic services. Letters of complaint started appearing in the local newspaper, outlining problems that faced the town. The list of concerns grew from the lack of basic fire and police service to a declining water supply, lack of fire hydrants and an antiquated sewage system built in 1929. As the number of complaints rose, three separate factions evolved: incorporationist, annexationists and rural citizens who supported maintaining the status quo. Each faction had a proposed solution for all the complaints. Incorporationist believed the only solution to the problems faced by Carlsbad residents was to take control of civic issues through formation of a city government. Annexationists believed that the easiest solution to their problems would be joining Oceanside, an existing city and having immediate access to all of their services. The Rural Citizens viewed all the hoopla, as extremist. What had worked for years, by relying on the San Diego County Supervisors to administer local business, was good enough, and would not raise taxes.

Arguments for and against each viewpoint inundated the newspapers as editorials, news stories and letters to the editor. So obvious was the Carlsbad Journal’s support of incorporation that the Rural Citizen factions started their own newspaper called the Carlsbad Free Press. It must be noted that while the three factions were divided how best to solve Carlsbad's problems and issues, they were all united in the belief that something had to be done, some improvements had to be made for the good of the community.

In addition to the fire response time, another issue still unresolved that had been under discussion since 1949 was how to obtain water for Carlsbad. The Carlsbad Mutual Water Company was a stockholder owned water company. It owned and operated water wells along the San Luis Rey River. The company piped water into Carlsbad. These wells kept increasing in salinity as well as drying up. CMWC was unable to finance construction of pipelines that would connect to the San Diego Water Authority aqueducts. The Public Utility District formed in 1949 to find a solution to the water issue, was also unable to solve the water problem. One of the reasons they were unsuccessful was they lacked any real power or authority. If a group refused to join the district, then there was no way to force them to comply. The San Diego Water Authority brought in water from the Colorado River. Carlsbad needed the water and had no way to raise the funds needed to connect to the San Diego Water Authority aqueducts. Without an adequate supply of water there would be no further residential or agricultural development in Carlsbad. An incorporated city would have the authority to finance construction of the pipelines needed to connect to the aqueducts.

After the New Year’s Day fire in 1952, retired Major General W. W. Worton, a coastal strip resident, wrote a letter to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, the Carlsbad Public Utilities Commission and the Carlsbad Journal, which was printed on January 10, 1952. In this letter, Worton accused the County Board of Supervisors of not satisfying Carlsbad's needs by not considering how rapidly the town was growing and by not providing adequate fire and police service.

Colonel Gronseth of the Carlsbad Public Utilities Board answered General Worton's concerns. He clarified what specific areas the Carlsbad Public Utilities Board was authorized to address. It was Gronseth's opinion that better fire protection was possible, but establishment of a local police force or resolving health or sanitation issues were beyond the Public Utilities Commission’s domain. Gronseth later suggested, when addressing the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce that incorporation could possibly offer a solution to the concerns and issues expressed by General Worton and by other Carlsbad residents.

Carlsbad Journal editor Robert Garland wrote articles that supported Colonel Gronseth's opinion regarding incorporation as the solution to Carlsbad's problems. He stated that the town was "growing without guidance and we must take steps to incorporate." The feasibility of incorporation now became an issue. Would there be sufficient revenue to support a city if a successful incorporation election occurred? Committees were formed to study the issue, gathering information from neighboring cities and examining what it cost to run a city. Additionally, the committees needed to investigate the legal steps necessary for a successful election attempt. Studies were completed and the information was released in the January 31, 1952 edition of the Carlsbad Journal. San Diego County procedures for incorporation entailed three steps: a petition requesting an incorporation election signed by 25% of the affected property owners who owned at least 25% of the land; money deposited to defray the cost to publish the petition and notice of the election; and the boundaries set for the proposed incorporated city. After the petition was submitted to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, a hearing would be set within two weeks, and an election within two months. Concurrent with an incorporation election, the first slate of city officials would be elected.

One of the basic steps to be determined was the actual size of the proposed City of Carlsbad. On February 19, 1952, the County Boundary Commission accepted the plan submitted by the incorporationist, detailing the area that hopefully would be the future City of Carlsbad. The area was about seven square miles and included some of the original Rancho Agua Hedionda land grant as well as the downtown area developed by the Carlsbad Land and Water Company. The hoped for City would have a northern border that zigzagged through the Buena Vista Lagoon, from the Pacific Ocean east to El Camino Real. The eastern boundary of the city would follow El Camino Real south to a point between the current Kelly Drive and Cannon Road. It would head west to the Agua Hedionda Lagoon and zigzag and drop south again to run parallel to the coast, about one mile inland from the ocean. It would finally join Palomar Airport Road, where it would turn west and continue until it reached the Pacific Ocean. The boundaries of the proposed City of Carlsbad were generally the same as those of the Carlsbad Utility District, except that the North Carlsbad (Fire Mountain) area would be left out. The reason Fire Mountain was excluded was simply the area was not contiguous to the rest of the proposed City of Carlsbad. The San Diego Gas and Electric Company's Encina Power Plant, while not included in the Public Utility district, was added to the proposed City Incorporation Boundaries Plan. (Carlsbad Journal, February 21,1952).

During the Boundary Commission hearing, those in favor of annexation with Oceanside objected to their coastal property being included in the proposed City of Carlsbad boundaries. The Boundary Commission listened to all arguments presented by Oceanside City Attorney Harry Juliani, Paul Waggener, retired Major General Worton and Colonel William Atkinson. They requested the Boundary Commission to leave the coastal strip out of the proposed City of Carlsbad. The Boundary Commission approved the boundaries as submitted by the incorporationist and informed the annexationists that they did so because of the annexationists failure to submit any boundary proposals of their own.

The reason that the annexationists had failed to submit boundary proposals of their own was simply because they had not yet approached the Oceanside City Council with the request to be annexed. The annexationist finally approached the Oceanside City Council on February 22, 1952, proposing that they annex only the land west of the railroad tracks in Carlsbad and from the Army and Navy Academy south to Pine Street.

Residents in that area of town who favored annexation believed it would provide an immediate solution for all their problems. Oceanside, which incorporated in 1898, was a well-established municipality, with its own fire and police services, an ample supply of water, and adequate sanitation. Considering their own interests over the good of the entire town, many of the residents along the coastal strip started leaning towards annexation with Oceanside.

Oceanside agreed to accept the land in this proposed area into their city if an official petition was signed by at least 25% of the property owners and a majority subsequently voted in favor of annexation. On February 23, 1952, an Annexation Committee was formed and an official annexation petition was started. Three days later, on February 26, 1952, Attorney J. R. Goodbody submitted eighteen petitions with several hundred signatures requesting an incorporation election. The San Diego County Board of Supervisors accepted them unanimously at their meeting, pending signature verification. Before this meeting was terminated, Oceanside City Attorney Juliani claimed that Oceanside had "preempted" the coastal area that was included in the proposed City of Carlsbad by agreeing to accept petitions from residents in that area for annexation. Juliani also stated that Oceanside had the right to decide if they were annexing the land or not before it could be included in the proposed City of Carlsbad. San Diego County Counsel Bertram McLees disagreed, stating that Oceanside had no legal jurisdiction over the Carlsbad coastal land. There had been no legal petitions filed for annexation and Oceanside had just agreed four days before to accept any circulated and signed petitions from this group of residents.

On March 4,1952, one and a half hours after Marie Nasland, clerk to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, certified that the incorporation petitions were in order, more than $2000 was deposited to cover legal and advertising expenses for the incorporation election.

On March 10, 1952, the official annexation petition was submitted to and accepted by the Oceanside City Council. This petition had signatures from 57 of the 90 coastal strip registered voters. At their March 10 meeting, the Oceanside City Council invited Carlsbad residents living west of the proposed future I-5 freeway and all the way south to Batiquitos Lagoon to join the annexation the Oceanside. Their offer was extended to those areas of Carlsbad that offered some financial value to Oceanside, not to the more rural areas that needed the protection of city services just as much if not more than the downtown areas.

Residents of the non-coastal areas of Carlsbad that could have accepted the Oceanside offer were not interested in annexation with Oceanside. These residents ran a real risk by holding out for incorporation, since the entire issue would be moot if the coastal area annexed to Oceanside. The coastal area contained some of the most lucrative tax producers in Carlsbad: the Army Navy Academy, the Carlsbad Hotel, the Royal Palms Hotel, and the San Diego Gas and Electric Power Plant. If the coastal area joined Oceanside there would be no way the rest of Carlsbad could financially afford to incorporate. Lack of funds from the coastal strip would mean not enough money to lay new sewer, or water lines to join with the Metropolitan Water District and it would eliminate the tax money needed to improve increasingly overcrowded schools. It became obvious that annexation of Carlsbad's coastal strip would eliminate the need for incorporation, since there would not be sufficient tax funds to pay for city services.

Despite the concerns of all the other Carlsbad residents, the annexationist forged on with their plans, setting May 2, 1952, as the date for election. While the annexationists were busy with their plans, the incorporationist continued working towards their goal of one unified city. Incorporation Committee Chair, Colonel Gronseth, held informational meetings at the Carlsbad School auditorium throughout March of 1952. Incorporation Committee Attorney J. R. Goodbody, School Superintendent Walter Glines, Sanitary District representative Edger Charles Anthony, and Eddie Kentner all advocated for incorporation and gave factual information to interested attendees.

During April the County Board of Supervisors held several public hearings on the proposed incorporation boundaries, and members of all three factions attended. Each group presented their case, reiterating their previous arguments and adding a few new ones, such as how loss of the beach would affect Carlsbad residents if the coastal strip annexed to Oceanside. Attendees questioned who protected coastal strip residents who did not want to annex to Oceanside. Claude Fennel, a pro incorporationist stated, "it was not fair, to let half a dozen people (those in favor of annexation) decide Carlsbad's future" (Carlsbad Journal, April, 10, 1952). It was a valid point, considering that removal of the coastal strip would limit any hope of economic viability for Carlsbad.

Three days before the May 2 annexation vote, the County Board of Supervisors finally approved the proposed City of Carlsbad boundaries as submitted by the incorporationist faction on February 19. These boundaries included the Carlsbad coastal strip and the SDG&E Encina Power Plant then under construction.

On May 2, 1952, the annexation vote proceeded at 7 a.m. in the lobby of the Carlsbad Hotel. With election results in doubt, (44 votes in favor to 41 opposed, 5 absentee ballots and 5 disputed ballots waiting to be counted,) the county set the incorporation election date for June 24, 1952.

Annexation election results were revealed on May 14 when absentee ballots were opened and counted at the scheduled Oceanside City Council Meeting. Banner headlines "Strip Annexation Loses" blazed across the May 15 edition of the Carlsbad Journal. A tie vote of 45 to 45 defeated the annexation attempt, since a simple majority was needed. Those who worked diligently for annexation then turned their attention to supporting incorporation as the only viable solution to Carlsbad’s many issues of adequate sanitation, water, and fire and police service.

During the next six weeks, the incorporationists continued with their informational meetings at the Carlsbad School. They organized committees, nominated future council members and appointed precinct workers. At this point, with the annexation issue resolved, the incorporationists faced vocal accusations from the Rural Citizens, who wished to maintain the status quo and stay unincorporated and dependent on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

The Rural Citizens Group was made up of farmers, gardeners and orchardist, for the most part successful agriculturalists. This group objected to incorporation because they believed it would adversely affect their farming business by increasing taxes, eventually forcing them to sell their land. They viewed those in favor of incorporation as progressives who wished to eliminate farmers in order to build subdivisions and increase development. The plan that the Rural Citizens presented to the rest of Carlsbad's voting population was rather confusing. They proposed presenting a slate of five candidates for City Council if the incorporation vote passed. If this slate of candidates was elected, they would then dissolve the incorporation and annex to Oceanside. This argument seemed illogical and failed to win a majority of the voters. Their own argument that belonging to a city was bad for farming seemed to be self-defeating.

Carlsbad Journal editorials answered a variety of points raised each week by the Rural Citizens group. However, a few remarks made by members of this group bordered on slanderous accusations, implying that personal gain by the business community was the underlying reason for incorporation. At this point the Carlsbad Journal moved their editorial comments from the inside pages of the newspaper to the front page. They began to name those Rural Citizens who were making these accusations. The Rural Citizens were accused of making false accusations and of running an eleventh hour smear campaign to save a few pennies in tax money.

On June 24, 1952, the election for incorporation took place. Incorporation won 781 to 714. The first City Council chosen in this election included: Manual Castorena, Raymond Ede, George Grober, C.D. McClellan, and Lena Sutton, and Roy Pace as Treasurer.

A public service booklet published at the time by the Union Title Insurance and Trust Company stated, "On June 24, 1952, in a special election, residents of Carlsbad voted to incorporate. The splendid cooperation between various service organizations in Carlsbad plus the undeniable natural advantages of the community itself, combine to help paint a rosy picture of Carlsbad's future.” This was a prophecy that seems to have come true.