As I look at the proposed plan for 'The Lakes' submitted to the Escondido City Planning Department in lieu of Judge Maas recent ruling I can't help but be angry that our own City Government has not effectively represented the community, and itself, and is:
He owes it to the rule of law.
At the upcoming City sponsored Town Hall Meeting (Wednesday May 13, 4:30PM City Hall) regarding the Country Club situation, I suggest all of us demand an explanation. Our City government needs to answer these simple questions:
What Schlesinger frames as a property rights fight is in reality a fight (or indictment) over the competence of the City of Escondido Planning Department process and procedures and the durability of local government decisions regarding land use within its area of influence.
Thanks to Judge Maas, the people no longer have any legal standing in this case, so we must implore Mayor Abed to defend the integrity of the City of Escondido! It is simply a matter of justice and equal application of the law, and the right thing to do.
Stuck In The Rough recently won a decision by Judge Earl Maas to vacate the Citizens Property Rights (CPR) Initiative legislation, which was designed to memorialize the original Special Use Permit (SUP) that is at the center of the property rights controversy. The SUP that was recorded by the original developer, as part of a land use agreement between the builder and the City of Escondido that designated the golf course property as Open Space/Golf course for all future owners.The Judge decided that none of the older covenants and restrictions should apply, not because they weren't legal, but because the application of them would be unfairly applied to only one man and his solitary piece of land, thus making them unconstitutionally discriminatory.
Unless the city invests another potential half million dollars of taxpayer money to appeal Maas' ruling, there is no recourse for local homeowners. Not only have their efforts been squashed by a Judge's very narrow legal ruling, but their constitutional right to have the people vote on their citizen's initiative, was also derailed.
So far, David has won some significant concessions, but Goliath has the upper hand. But questions continue to come up about how we got where we are now and will the locals ever be invited to participate in the continuing process?
Information has come to my attention that at least one or more Escondido city council members privately favored the closing of the Escondido Country Club golf course because it would eliminate Schlesinger's 'takings' suit and reduce the competition for the two city owned golf courses, The Vineyard and Reidy Creek. Those feelings were expressed off the record sometime after the Proposition H housing tract plan was defeated by a near 2 to 1 margin and Stuck In The Rough had subsequently filed a 'takings' suit in November of 2014.
This news has to be incredibly disheartening and disturbing to the people who worked so hard to save the neighborhood from being turned into a massive housing tract. The City always said they were very confident in defending the Citizens Property Rights Initiative. Community leaders believed they had the full support of the city's legal team, but legal laymen will never know just how aggressive and potent their defense of the initiative really was.
So the question has to be asked, whose side is the City really on now? Did the City really want to win their case? It is no stretch to believe Escondido leaders had good reason to avoid a massive $100M lawsuit that could wreak financial havoc on the city.
That's a pretty big conflict of interest... Since they lost, the politicians whose heart was never really in the game can say 'sorry folks, we really, really tried.'
Beyond that, many media stories characterized the Council's adoption of the citizens initiative, and specifically Mayor Abed's leadership, as inept, shortsighted, and small town political pandering. In hindsight, it would probably have been better for the City to have at least ordered further study of the initiative and then simply allowed the citizen sponsored ordinance to go before the voters. In that circumstance, the Judge would have laid the discrimination issue at the feet of the voters instead of the Escondido City Council.
Instead, the Council chose to adopt it outright.That was a popular thing to do, but was it the most strategic and prudent thing to do? In hindsight, it may well have denied the locals any chance of having skin in the game about what the nature of their neighborhood is going to look like in the future.
A quick and cynical way for City leaders to sidestep further scrutiny and criticism from the community, would be to drop their appeal and let Judge Maas' ruling effectively neutralize the entire movement. That won't go over too well with a lot of Escondido voters, but it will be a couple of years before elections give them a chance to express their outrage.
They say in politics, time heals all wounds.
I think the Council and the Mayor want to see a fair and positive resolution to this property rights battle. I don't challenge their intentions. But it is also fair to say that the results so far have not aligned with the community and the only powerful ally the community had struck out with the bases loaded.
As it stands now, all of the efforts of the Country Club community, forming a corporation, electing a board of directors, rallying support from the neighbors, organizing and directing an entire volunteer force to gather signatures, making thousands of phone calls, walking neighborhoods, lobbying local business and social organizations, and collecting hundreds of thousands in contributions to support advertising and legal fees, have all gone up in smoke.
Since Escondido lost the CPR case, Schlesinger's 'takings' case has been rendered moot. Why hasn't his suit been dropped with prejudice, meaning should Maas decision be overruled, he could reinstitute it?
Today, Stuck In The Rough filed a plan with the Escondido Planning Department to build 270 homes on the property. My hope is that the City is in no hurry to approve anything until they know where they stand regarding the 'takings' suit. As long as that legal gun is pointed at their proverbial head, they can't be too eager to settle anything.
The other side claims that the new plan is drastically less dense and incorporates a significant number of improvements over previous plans. It is definitely a much better plan, though there are very few, if any, amenities designed to specifically serve those who already own homes in the area.
It does not address any of the more pressing needs of the area, such as senior housing facilities.
Will the recreational features and services be available to the surrounding community, or will they only serve the new homeowners? How can the water features conform with recent use restrictions, or are they really just dry concrete drainage ditches? Will any of the iconic eucalyptus trees be saved? How will the increased traffic be mitigated?
Let's hope the City values the citizens efforts and concerns enough to give serious consideration to appealing Maas' decision, and at the very least keeps the pressure on the planning department to root out answers to all the questions going unanswered.
As I research a book I am writing about the events surrounding the Escondido Country Club closing, and the ensuing battle over property rights, citizens initiatives and the process of government land use planning and entitlement, people often ask me, "Why do you do this? Doesn't it upset you? What's in it for you?"
I would try to answer that with one word: Justice.
I feel like the Escondido Country Club Community has been dealt an unjust hand. The homeowners have played by the rules: they invested collectively millions of their hard earned money to buy homes in the resort-like neighborhood, and for over fifty years many, as members of the Country Club, have been intimately involved in various activities at the facilities, for a great deal of their lives. They held birthdays, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and retirement parties there. The Club raised money for all kinds of community needs, schools, children's support groups, and veterans organizations. Recently, they volunteered their time and money to properly and privately collect signatures to use the constitutionally protected right to address their grievances via the California Voters Initiative Process. They convinced the voters and their City Council representatives that they had a legal foundation to believe the golf course property was never intended to be used for housing and that allowing that to happen at this time would permanently destroy the character of the community. They successfully passed the Citizens Property Rights Initiative, something most election experts considered a minor miracle!
The whole reason the community center was called a Country Club is because it was a place where the neighbors could share special events, where other groups could interact with the membership to affect political or social change, or to serve as a meeting place for business, religious, or community affairs.
It also served as a place to recreate, obviously golf was the main attraction, but we used to go to 'Concerts On the Green' on Friday nights, long befor Cruisin' Grand ever existed. Some members had only seasonal membership, so they could send their kids to swim in the Olympic-sized pool in the hot summers, and they took comfort knowing they were being watched by a lifeguard. Older members used the pool for organized daily low-impact workouts. The tennis pro held regularly scheduled tennis clinics for all ages. You didn't have to be a golfer to enjoy the community asset. Everyone involved agreed, the Club was there to serve the Community.
The Country Club Community was part and parcel to the entire Northwest portion of Escondido.It was arguably the least ostentatious and still one of the most appealing addresses in Escondido.
So when the membership, and the larger community, suddenly became aware that all of that could go up in smoke, that the property had surreptitiously reverted to residential zoning, and that all of their understandings of the nature of the relationship of the golf course with the neighborhood was wrong, it should not come as a shock that they would vehemently object.
Were they wrong to believe that everything they had been told about the nature of their investment, their entire neighborhood, was not as it had been represented to be? That the golf course property and all of the community activities facilities, the centerpiece of the community, was only there as a temporary embellishment? As a bait and switch sales tool? That the decks and room additions that they subsequently built to focus on the fairways was now just road kill?
Were they being unfair to the new owner because they felt he was being insensitive to the enormous loss of value to their homes and the reengineering of the entire neighborhood? Were they being selfish because no one had ever told them that were the golf business to fail, that the City had always envisioned the property to be redeveloped as a housing tract? That all of the charm, character, and value that they had invested their lives in was now going to be turned into a concrete, non-descript and soulless mass of zero lot line houses with two car garage frontages and not much else? That the whole Escondido Country Club Community was simply a mirage in the rearview mirror?
Yes, it does irritate me, so I do what I can to shed light on the conflict. I hope that maybe my voice will serve to keep the community and our elected officials engaged, and appeal to them to serve their constituents who have been entirely disenfranchised by the recent court rulings.
If someone buys a house in the Country Club area today, by law, the sellers have to disclose the fact that the future disposition of the golf course property is not yet clear and that it may not/most likely will not be a golf course in the future. That fact alone has destroyed property values. It would be a critical factor in making a decision to buy a house in any area.
Most of the people who live here now were never afforded that vital information!
For nearly all of the current long term home owners adjacent to the golf course property, modern disclosure laws did not exist when they bought their home. Most of those people are now in their 60's, 70's and 80's. They have been financially blindsided by this whole fiasco! And whether by design or by ignorance, few if any buyers prior to 2012 were ever advised that this kind of transformation of the neighborhood could happen.
Recent disclosure laws were enacted precisely because too many times property buyers were deceived by sellers and later found to be left 'holding the bag.' As the years have passed Escondido City officials failed to memorialize previous property zoning decisions and covenants. Subsequent transactions were completed based on the legacy of the past and not soundly based on actual legal entitlements.
The complacency and malfeasance of the City created a petri dish for fraud and misrepresentation!
So my motivations are driven by the sense that my neighbors have been betrayed by our own government agencies, and that the subsequent owners of the property, who also played by the rules, may have used the government malfeasance to their advantage.
Does that mean that they should lose their property rights? Absolutely not, but...sometimes people in the right can, inadvertently, damage others rights, while exercising their own. Is that a crime? Probably not. But both parties do have rights; the problem is only one side in this fight has any power to enforce their rights.
Judge Maas' decision to vacate the Citizens Property Rights Initiative eviscerated any power the homeowners had!
So just how are these clashes of rights to be mitigated? That is the question....how do we reach equilibrium between two parties, one of whom has no real way to protect itself but to turn to...you guessed it, the same government officials whose incompetence got them here in the first place?
In my mind, all of the participants have legitimate reasons to believe that they have been wronged. I just happen to live here, so pardon me if my sense of loyalty happens to fall on the side of those who have been here paying taxes and membership dues, and supporting charities and local businesses, and raising their kids, and building memories and traditions, and, oh, by the way, a COMMUNITY!
As for what motivates me to continue to pursue this painful, frustrating and seemingly endless battle of powers way beyond my control? I often tell the story of when I was in 5th grade my parents moved to a new community and was attending a new school, and trying to make friends and get comfortable with my new surroundings. After recess, as we were returning to the classroom on an especially hot day, students lined up at the drinking fountain. One of the kids, a very large boy who I had recently befriended, spent an unusually long time slurping water. Standing next to us was our Teacher, Mrs. Trujillo.
After a few minutes, she said, " Hey, fat boy, you've had enough. Move on!"
I was astounded, and outraged! How could she speak to a student like that? So I went home and told my Dad what happened. He asked me what did I want to do about it? I said I think I should bring it to the attention of the Principle. He agreed and had me go to the Principal's office the next day and ask for an appointment. He wanted to meet with the Principle and the Teacher after school, to ask her to give the student an apology.
The reason I tell this is because we later found out that the Principle and the Teacher were secretly having an affair! Quite a revelation for a 5th grader. Not to mention the fact that though we demanded she give the student an apology, and they both ostensibly agreed, it never happened.
I have been a rebel rouser ever since! Powerful people who show little or no concern for the dignity of those over whom they reign, make me angry. I am a Libra. All I want is balance and fairness.
In the end, I am simply looking for Justice for All...
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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