The War On Escondido has slowed to a war of attrition. When Judge Maas demanded the City rescind the Citizens Property Rights Initiative (CPRI), which when adopted by the Escondido City Council, confirmed the long-termed original zoning of the Escondido Golf Course property as 'Open Space/Park/Golf Course' only, it was the beginning of a Mexican Standoff.
The Judge called the initiative essentially a 'spot zoning' ordinance, which is illegal. The City contends the law never 'rezoned' anything, it simply reaffirmed what was already a special use zoning permit. Now, the City has the option to appeal the ruling, but has declared it will not exercise any options unless or until the adjoining 'takings' case is dropped or resolved.
From the point of view of SITR, the Judge's ruling 'resolved' the takings case. Since the CPRI was vacated, then the residential zoning, which SITR claims was in place prior to the initiative, was reinstated.Thus, the submission of a newly revised housing plan late last month.
So why would SITR hold on to the takings case? Since the City has the right to appeal, SITR is in no hurry to remove their takings claim. But the City's term of time allowed to appeal doesn't legally begin until the takings case is dropped or resolved. So, we have a legal conundrum...
The City has declared that as long as the 'takings' case has standing it is not required to appeal the CPRI ruling, or implement the Judge's order. When SITR submitted another housing plan after the ruling, the City planners said, "Incomplete; Return to Sender." By doing that, the City has put the property owner in a position where he must invest a ton of new money to satisfy an Environmental Impact Report, among many other costly demands.
On the surface it appears to be a childish game of one-upmanship. But in reality, it is a strategic board game of legal and financial maneuvering. The City hopes to put some pressure on SITR to make some preemptive moves: either drop the 'takings' case or, spend a bunch of money to meet the planning department wish list, or sell the property to someone the City can/wants to work with. Meanwhile, SITR has been discussing a sale with several other builders, but the unfinished/unknown status of the property zoning has to be a burden to any sale at this time. At least not at a price that SITR is willing to accept.
The ECCHO homeowners group is no longer a party to any of the litigation. The efforts of the locals has been pushed to the curb by the court. Many of the volunteers and contributors are still anxiously waiting to see what is going to happen to their neighborhood. While property values across San Diego County have appreciated tremendously over the past year, those in the Country Club area are still languishing, moving just a little ahead of the lowest levels of the Great Recession era.
Homes that have sold recently have had to be discounted, attracting investors, who too often quickly rent them out. It is a perfect environment for investors because rental demand is so high. But the resulting transient population change historically degrades the neighborhood, raising crime rates and increasing community conflict.
Many older homeowners have been victimized by the situation, and like war veterans, are being treated as though they started it! They bought their homes 30, 40 or 50 years ago, for a premium price under the understanding that the golf course was a permanent fixture of the neighborhood. They paid their taxes, paid their Country Club dues, followed the rules of engagement when the property was put under duress, only to find that they were not recognized by the court. They were used and abused, and now they stand alone, hoping that the last remaining force for salvation, the City of Escondido's legal team, will continue to fight for the preservation of their investment.
Recently, ECCHO contracted a golf industry analyst to create an independent 'Feasibility Study' regarding the best ways to reconstitute or at least repurpose the Country Club property. The reports that SITR alluded to during the Proposition H campaign, that claimed that golf could never be a realistic use of the property in the future, were never widely disseminated. For all anyone knows, the negative Touchstone Golf Report commissioned by SITR, was nothing more than a campaign slogan, much like many of the specious claims about water savings, golf course bankruptcies, and their infamous claim to be protecting the property environment using a 'standard industry approved fertilizer' program.
So soon the ECCHO resistance will have their own report. This should help all of the community come to some sensible conclusions about what a newly revitalized neighborhood could look like, if the current owner ever decides to work with the community.
Right after the Labor Day Holiday, ECCHO will be hosting a community meeting to share the reports details. In the meantime, we all hope this winter will bring us some El Nino rain relief. For those of us who have to look at the disgusting dried out wasteland of the golf course every day, a little relief from Mother Nature would be a welcome sight.
What Happened to Our Community?
The story of how a quiet corner of paradise has devolved into
To review the timelines of this ongoing saga, just <click> on any Month below....
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