This Hatfield and McCoy standoff is not good for anyone. All of the litigants are spending money they will never recoup. The basic problem, the fact that the former Escondido Country Club had to be sold at auction to pay off liens is now, largely, a moot point.
No one really thinks that that facility, in any similar shape or form, will be saved. The property is financially obsolete. It is a very big pothole in our community.
So, it is time for a reality check, by everyone involved.
The developer has visions of making tons of money. He has the means and the title to the property. The City is now the defendant in a property rights lawsuit because recently adopted the Citizens Initiative that legally re-classified the zoning to disallow residential construction on the 120 acre parcel.
The developer claims the City has unlawfully ‘taken’ the potential profit, thereby damaging the developer financially, and is therefore liable to pay up to $100M in restitution.
So now it is up to the courts to sort it all out. Not a good way to fix a pot hole.
Time is a big factor here. Even if the builder was to prevail in court, the best guess by experts I know in the industry, it may well be five years before all of the decisions and their appeals are passed down through the courts. Then, the process of entitlement, environmental studies, and all of the other issues that would have to be mitigated before one piece of dirt could be graded, would begin. Add another 2 to 5 years for that process to unfold (see link to similar situation eight years later in Florida).
There is at least one area all parties may come to agree on: it makes sense to explore ways to reduce that time frame dramatically. Currently, the most damaging element is the uncertainty, but next in line is the time it will take to regain some semblance of community ambience.
Right now, there exists a huge amount of anger, resentment, and distrust between the parties. If Escondido could find a third party to intervene (i.e., like a Middle East peace initiative), maybe there would be enough incentive to quietly, in a very private and out-of-the-spotlight way, explore some compromises that would break the gridlock, save face, and move everyone’s interests forward, to a point where the courthouse and the lawyers could be removed from the process.
This is based on some huge assumptions; One, that the developer is willing, for the sake of saving maybe a decade of time, and some serious current legal expenses, to accept maybe $60M in profit instead of $90M.
Isn’t $60 Million in 5-8 years far better than $90 million in 13-15 years and millions in litigation and aggravation?
Second, that the local residents recognize and accept the undeniable need to redevelop the property. It is not realistic to think that the old business model will ever be viable in today’s economic climate.
The evidence of that fact is quite overwhelming. Golf courses all over the country are facing a changing demographic, a slow economy, and increasing maintenance requirements that in and of themselves are forcing the industry to reinvent itself. The fact that there is much less demand now than just ten years ago, illustrates how overbuilt the golf course industry is, especially here in North San Diego County (see link to San Diego Reader article ‘Golf is in the Rough’).
There are no less than six golf properties in San Diego currently under great financial duress. I know of one in particular that will soon be sold to a builder who will build homes on the property. Many more have recently changed hands in an effort to survive. Green fees have plummeted due to decreased demand, and membership fees have dropped dramatically for private clubs struggling to attract new members to replace aging members.
The world is a different place than it was a decade ago. Young upwardly mobile adults are not interested in a game that takes 4-5 hours to play. They don’t join clubs and group activities, except for professional reasons or online. The old-school neighborhood Country Club, for many reasons, is just not a realistic business model going forward (see article about changing demographics from the Wall Street Journal).
The overall solution lies somewhere in the proverbial middle. The better way is to put this project on the fast track to that middle ground ASAP!
We could all use an improved neighborhood, stabilized property values, a larger tax base, more usable recreational facilities, walking trails and healthier greenbelts!
And I know one Beverly Hills developer who could use a major public relations overhaul too!