The recent Op Ed piece in the Union Tribune earlier this week has prompted a lot of buzz.
I wondered, where did the Editors get information suggesting there were 'compromises' in the air? Is this just wishful thinking, or is there some behind the scenes movement going on, as I recommended in my commentary, 'There Has To Be a Better Way'? (Blog post January 9, 2014)
I am privy to some insider information, and I can confidently say the acrimony and anger on both sides is not getting any better as time goes on. There is an incredible amount of animosity and distrust on both sides.
I submitted a letter to the UT suggesting the Union Tribune offer to host a meeting, a 'Middle East' summit if you will, where all of the issues could be aired, and options explored publicly, so all of the area's residents can become more informed, and perhaps some real middle ground could be found.
The issue of whether the City illegally took property value and potential profit from Michael Schlesinger will have to be determined in court, unfortunately. Both sides are armed with high priced attorneys, and there is a case to be made for both parties. Even if the City were to prevail, the court will still have to deal with the fact that at the time of his purchase, Mr. Schlesinger was told by the Planning Department that the 110 acre tract was zoned R-1 (Residential - Single Family Dwelling).
Obviously, as a land speculator, investor and developer he would not have bought the Country Club plot if the zoning had been reserved as Open Space only. So his position is that the City changed the rules after the fact.
The ECCHO group says he bought a golf course, and that is what he got. But that position is too simplistic. And the facts say different.
There are millions of dollars at stake, so a change in zoning is quite serious. Imagine if your next door neighbor won a change in zoning which allowed him to build a chicken ranch a few feet from your house. You might have a problem with that.
But that cuts both ways, because the Country Club homeowners were never made aware, nor did they in their wildest dreams think, that the golf course could suddenly turn into a high density housing tract either.
In court, the City will claim that the area the golf course occupies was never intended to be used for homes, and that by adopting the Open Space Initiative, any misrepresentation or mischaracterization of that fact, is now corrected by law. Everything that comes after that will have to be determined and subjugated to the land use law that is now on the books.
Does that entitle Mr. Schlesinger to compensation? Probably. But how?
I guess that is what the court would rule on. We'll see. Someday.
Check out this website that deals exclusively with legal property dispute issues similar to this one...
Let’s go back to the beginning.
In 1963 the Escondido Planning Department decided to give the developer of the proposed Escondido Country Club (at that time called Golden Circle Valley Country Club) permission to cluster homes and reduce lot sizes to allow room for a golf course. This was because the City felt the golf course would ad value to the property. Having a community golf course would attract buyers from out of town, increase the tax base, and create a resort-like neighborhood atmosphere.
This action was effectively a change to the master plan which at the time called for rural sized home sites. The evolving plan was designed to mix residential and agricultural interests with commercial and service needs to serve a growing population well into the future.
The reason we have this Battle going on now, is that City officials made a crucial mistake in 1963. They failed to codify their own zoning change. The acreage that later became the Escondido Country Club Golf Course was never officially rezoned from its original designation as R-1 (Residential – Single Family).
Fast forward fifty years.
A perfect storm of economic forces creates a void into which rushes a Beverly Hills developer. After discovering the zoning error, Michael Schlesinger (under the corporate umbrella known as Stuck-In-The-Rough, LLC) quietly purchases the note and acquires the deed to all of the Escondido Country Club properties, assets and debts.
To any developer, acquiring relatively flat, centrally located land adjacent to established schools, hospitals, basic sewer, water and electric and cable services, at a ridiculously cheap price, is like stumbling across an abandoned mine, that still has a rich, untapped vein of gold. He would have to be crazy not to take advantage of the opportunity.
The City of Escondido is subsequently confronted with a strong public rejection of the idea of turning the property into a housing tract. The Angry Villagers, within an unprecedented short time, submit an initiative, with nearly 9,000 qualified voter signatures, that would prohibit residential development of the now closed golf course.Under strong voter pressure, the City Council adopts the ‘Open Space Initiative,’ which legally removes the errant R-1 zoning and replaces it with a legal designation of the 110 acre property as a ‘Reserved Green Belt,’ never to be developed as residential property.
Thus, the City officially corrects the mistake it made in 1963.
Developer Michael Schlesinger is left holding the bag. He has now invested millions in a property he had every right to believe he could develop, only to be legislated into oblivion. He files a lawsuit claiming his property was illegally ‘taken’ by the City. He wants millions in damages and a reversal of the zoning action.
We can argue over the process, the way all parties publicly and privately handled things, the acrimony, the law suits, the money spent to sue each other, and how devastating the blow to real estate values in the proximity to the Golf Course has been, but there are a few things everyone can agree on.
The relevant facts are:
That is where we stand at this time.
In the meantime, all parties have been damaged. Property owners around the golf course have seen their homes lose value, and in some cases become unsellable. Mr. Schlesinger has invested millions in property that now has very limited use. He has no obligation or incentive to water or maintain the ‘Green Belt,’ so the whole neighborhood suffers from blight.
We are looking at abandoned buildings and a dying landscape that for fifty years has served as the community identity, winding through blocks and blocks of homes fronting the golf course. This situation could conceivably go on for many years while this battle goes through years of litigation.
So, what is next?
Mr. Schlesinger has the wear-with-all to wait for the courts to decide if he has been legally disenfranchised. The local citizens group, the Escondido Country Club Homeowners Organization and all of those other Escondido voters and homeowners who signed the Open Space Initiative have limited resources to fight on. The City government is embroiled in a lawsuit, so it has its hands tied behind its back.
Escondido citizens have essentially lost their leadership. The City is legally unable to protect the ‘Green Belt,’ so we all watch the neighborhood go to hell.
Beyond that, City officials have not outlined a vision for the future. If they should prevail in court, what then? Who will pay for the clean-up? Will the City attempt to purchase the land from Mr. Schlesinger? At what price? Then what?
If Mr. Schlesinger prevails, will the City reverse its ruling and allow him to precede with his construction plans against the will of the voters? Will taxpayers have to pay damages?
This whole mess is sadly symbolic of America 2014: Political leadership that vanishes just when it is vitally needed, resulting in dysfunctional government, disenfranchised voters and businesses, decaying infrastructure, and economic stagnation, much of which is a direct result of convoluted and conflicting laws, and with no end in sight, voters grow increasingly disengaged and jaded.
So far, it is a Big Lose for everyone.
No, wait a minute; It is a Big Win for the Lawyers. As long as there is no resolution, the cash register just keeps on ringing.
City Hall First Floor
201 North Broadway
Escondido, CA 92025
Attention: Brian Gustafson,
Code Enforcement Manager January 6, 2014
Dear Mr. Gustafson,
It is clear that the deteriorating conditions of the abandoned former Escondido Country Club property in Northwest Escondido are raising major concerns to local property and business owners.
Although the status of the property is in limbo due to legal challenges, the owners should not escape responsibility for properly maintaining the property, to provide a safe and visually attractive environment that does not negatively affect the neighborhood’s ambience and real estate property values. No matter what the owner thinks about the adaptation of the Green Belt Initiative, it is currently the law.
Summarizing your own Code Enforcement Guidelines, here are some of the most obvious violations you should force the owner to address:
It is unlawful for any responsible person to use, allow, or maintain on such property, walls, fences, patios, driveways, or walkways which are cracked, broken, defective, deteriorated or in disrepair;
It is unlawful for any responsible person to use, allow, or maintain on such property, a swimming pool, pond or other body of water which is abandoned, unattended, unfiltered or not otherwise maintained, resulting in the water becoming polluted. For the purpose of this subsection, polluted water means water contained in a swimming pool, pond or other body of water, which includes but is not limited to bacterial growth, including algae, remains of insects, remains of deceased animals, reptiles, rubbish, refuse, debris, papers, and any other foreign matter or material which because of its nature or location constitutes an unhealthy, unsafe or unsightly condition;
It is unlawful for any responsible person to use, allow or maintain on such property any of the following: Weeds, dead, diseased, decayed, unsightly, overgrown or hazardous vegetation; Barren patches of dirt, holes and ruts on any landscaped area in public view; Deteriorated or unsightly landscape elements including natural features such as rock and stone; and structural features, including fountains, reflecting pools, art works, screens, walls, fences and benches.
Though the new owner stated that he would prefer to fence off the property and let it turn to dirt if he were not allowed to build houses on it, he must be aware that that would be illegal. Maybe he needs to be reminded that the City has an interest in the preservation of green belt and the authority to force him to at least keep the property healthy.
You have the authority to take action to reverse these ugly, dangerous and completely unnecessary violations.
“Enforcement of this article may be accomplished by the building official, or a designee of the building official, to include a contractor retained pursuant to the provisions of this code, in any manner authorized by law. The procedures set forth in this article shall not be exclusive, and shall not in any manner limit or restrict the city from enforcing other city ordinances or abating public nuisances in any other manner provided by law.”
(Ord. No. 85-44, § 1, 7-10-85; Ord. No. 96-29, § 1, 9-4-96).
You may need to develop a report to submit to the Council. This should be initiated immediately, as the conditions will surely worsen when the area receives rainfall. This should be done in conjunction with an official notification to the owner that you are moving forward with legal action, unless or until the issues are properly addressed and resolved.
According to Enforcement Guidelines, if your report determines that the deteriorating conditions present a public nuisance, than the owner could ultimately be held accountable for the cost to abate the nuisance.
Time is of the essence as hundreds of trees, landscape vegetation and important protective ground cover, are all rapidly drying out and dying. Weeds are taking over and the abandoned ponds are breeding grounds for dangerous insects, algae and fungus.
It is unrealistic to think that a large tract of land that was diligently maintained by groundskeepers for nearly fifty years can now be completely ignored without serious economic and environmental impact.
Mr. Gustafson, it is your duty to protect Escondido City residents from land owners who, for whatever reason, fail to maintain their property so as to negatively affect other nearby owners and the overall appearance and reputation of the City of Escondido.
Please act expeditiously!
Stuck-In-The-Ruff LLC has now appointed itself as the 'Defender of the Taxpayers' in Escondido.
SITR has placed another full-page ad in the Sunday Union-Tribune. This one shifts its focus from attacking ECCHO and it’s leaders, to urging the citizens of Escondido to call the Mayor. It claims that the City has been ‘Bailing Out Country Clubs,’ citing the Reidy Creek development as an example of wasted taxpayer dollars.
At the bottom of the ad, SITR suggests citizens can show support of this housing track by putting up green Christmas lights, a blatant attempt to usurp the ‘Green’ theme of the Escondido Country Club Homeowners Organization’s campaign to stop the Beverly Hills developer’s plans to wreck the community.
OK, first of all, green is the official colors of ECCHO , the group of homeowners who organized, and succeeded in getting the City Council to adopt the ‘Green Space’ Initiative to stop Michael Schlesinger from turning the golf course property into a massive, unwanted, and community busting housing tract. So his latest public relations strategy is to claim the green lights we are displaying as ‘support’ for The Lakes, his unbelievably stupid name for his proposed housing tract.
The PR team at Stuck In The Rough is delusional.
Schlesinger's advisors must be thinking, “ if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! Get out in front of the parade and claim it was your idea all along!”
Secondly, the City Council faces reelection long before this legal mess gets resolved, so we can expect our leaders to stick to their guns and continue to support the popular law that is now on the books.
In the meantime. we need to contact our representatives, and remind them that this effort by SITR is ultimately an attempt at extortion and exploitation. Ask them to let these people know that the City will do whatever it takes to stop this destructive War on the Westside.
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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