Woah partner! Did you see those Bandits? The ones who just rode off into the dust with huge bags of our money?
Our Mayor just made a behind closed doors deal with the Country Club property flipper. He totally capitulated, extracting virtually no concessions while giving up on the principle reason there has been a property rights battle in the first place. After holding the community hostage for years, he gave Stuck-In-The-Rough the R1-7 zoning they wanted. He gave them the zoning that the local homeowners claim, and all of the historical zoning documents show, was removed from the parcels that make up the golf course when the original developers traded higher density on the other lots to allow for the inclusion of a golf course as the centerpiece of their retirement housing development back in 1963.
He has effectively let a Beverly Hills Gang pull off a modern day Great Escondido Train Robbery. What initially looked to be an innocent transfer of property ownership, then morphed into an entitlement hijacking worth millions of dollars to the brazen team of vultures that are now on their way to pull a couple more heists in Palm Desert and Las Vegas.
The Mayor and his Sheriff (our City Attorney), claiming a lack of political support and fearing runaway costs, decided it was better to cut and run than stand up and fight for his townsfolk.
Those who have an aversion to conflict will argue that since the golf course was bankrupt, isn't it reasonable to allow a property owner to repurpose his land in a similar way as the surrounding residential neighborhood?
But that assertion makes too many false assumptions:
- the golf course wasn't insolvent (the investor/owner declared bankruptcy)
- that a golf course business is untenable (a recent study shows that is false)
- that city planners historically viewed the green belt as temporary
- that the recorded permit that zoned the course as park/open space was revoked
- that the neighborhood can support density that exceeds General Plan limits
- that homeowner property value losses are an illusion
- that the owner was forced to convert the property to a housing tract
The issue of whether or not the golf club business was solvent is totally irrelevant. Land use planning isn't, and should not be, based on the success or failure of any one business. Land use zoning is a function of local government whose sole purpose is to determine what works best for the community, in context of the total community experience. The competency of any particular business operator should not be a substantial factor in determining the future use of any specific parcel. It has always been our position that the Country Club golf business was purposely defunded as a pretext for the conversion to a housing project.
The claim by the owner that it is his right to build high density, zero lot line homes is a red herring. In America, one of the founding principles of a democratic society is the right to use privately owned property to create wealth for the owner. That is a unique and fundamental American Right. None of us in the community have ever argued against those legitimate concerns. It is a powerful principle. But...like all rights, it comes with some responsibilities and limits attached.
Real estate property rights is a two sided coin; your property rights end where mine begin. Property lines have two sides. Resolving property disputes is the very definition of compromise. You can't have a legitimate community if one property owner has all of the rights and the others are relegated to second class citizens. That would be an 'Animal Farm.'
To me, this local community battle is a microcosm of what is alienating voters across the entire country. When voters expressed their will at the polls, as Escondido voters did with Proposition H and the Citizens Property Rights Initiative, and the results were simply dismissed by some unelected, unaccountable 'authority,' they felt disenfranchised. That is contrary to the uniquely American tradition of self determination and equal treatment under the law.
As long-time California residents, we are growing weary watching powerful monied special interests or overtly activist judges, bulldoze the will of the voters. Is it any wonder young people don't bother to vote?
Those who argue that historic entitlement documents and zoning decisions that placed the golf course parcels in an 'open space only' zoning status were mysteriously revoked fail to consider how that defies legal scrutiny: if those permits were rescinded, why were the local citizens never notified of those actions? If those zoning changes actually occurred, they were illegally enacted without any impact analysis or public debate, as is required by the Escondido General Plan.
Our Mayor and the two other council members who switched sides, failed to uphold the standards of public participation and transparency our General Plan defines as the backbone of the Escondido land planning document.
Our community position has been consistent: The owner bought a golf course, he got a golf course. If he chooses not to use it as one, that is up to him, but building only houses on it defies the historically documented unarguable intent of several generations of our elected planning officials.
But times change, some will argue, so maybe hundreds of homes is the right solution to this economic mess. But that begs the question: what is the most reasonable way to revitalize and improve the neighborhood while still allowing the new owner to assert his rights?
I believe the right answer is much more diversified than just using the land to build highly profitable, but unsupportable high density housing. And so our community efforts to play by the rules, to protect the integrity of our own neighborhood, was tossed aside for political expediency with no concern for civil justice.
Just like the Old West, where the citizens were often victimized by both the powerful Land Barons and their own corrupted local authorities, we have been Double Crossed. But it may force us to get tough, to reset the template that we are a peaceful community who welcomes newcomers.
It is time to change our approach; to push the 'Reset' button. From now on, when those Big Builders come into our town, we have to let 'em know they aren't welcome 'round these parts! Our townsfolk aren't goin' quietly, because we still have the grassroots power of the boycott, picketing, and civil activism.
Attention KB Home, Zephyr and California West Communities! We didn't just fall off the back of the Covered Wagon, partner! We may have been Double Crossed, but we haven't been Crossed Out....