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 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....
Mr. Abed, I was wrong about you. It saddens me that I have become so jaded, but we all learn from experience.
When we spoke recently, I believed you too had learned from experience. That you had seen through the phony charm and misleading claims of the new ECC property owner. I felt assured that your outrage at his incivility would translate into a serious effort to defend the principled position that the zoning of the area was not open for debate, compromise or purchase. That you would defend the case that our 'leaders knew what they were doing' in 1963 and later in 1999 when they restricted the property from future residential development; that what the citizens initiative did, was serious voter activism.
I mistakenly believed you were committed to defending my neighbors from a Bully who had no other motivation but to steal the equity of our homes!!
Shame on me!
Last week, when I addressed the Council and pleaded with you to focus on Recovery, not Redevelopment, you looked me in the eye. Now I know that was a hollow gesture because it is clear you had already made a deal that totally abandoned any semblance of 'protecting us.'
I know, you will say it was in the best interests of all of Escondido; that it saved the City lots of money, and that in the end, the City will still have lots to say about the development. That convoluted sentiment comes directly out of the SITR playbook! Your negotiated settlement gave up everything and got nothing in return.
The Escondido General Plan law is either serious, or it is up for sale. The open space zoning, right or wrong, was the law. How it got forsaken is arguable, but the intent, and the citizens support as expressed by an overwhelming vote against "The Lakes" plan to amend the General Plan, is a matter of record. Defending that position is a matter of principle.
Unfortunately, many of us mistakenly believed you were a man of principle...
Rest assured we will not just 'get over it.' As time passes, the Abed term will go down in history as one replete with misdirection, confused priorities and high octane political aspirations that crowded out compassionate leadership and principled dedication to stopping the hijacking of one of the City's most identifiable and attractive assets.
Who did you trust?
When the November 2014 Escondido Mayoral race came down to two candidates, voters had to place their trust in one or the other. Olga Diaz, the upstart civilian political novice, who displayed great energy, enthusiasm and a refreshing sense of 'outsider' naivete. She showed great empathy for the disenfranchised, the marginalized, and the poor. She promised to bring the community together, to look forward and to protect the integrity of the Escondido experience.
She had looked many residents of the Country Club area in the eye and told us she appreciated our community activism, energy and commitment to the political process.
Nearly a year later, it is now clear that despite Olga Diaz' duplicitous actions, switching sides and supporting the efforts of the LA based property flipper, that ultimately, she was at least honest about her position. It probably cost her the election, and as much vitriol as her betrayal engendered, she stuck to her guns and took a stand.
It pains me to say that, but it is true.
Incumbent Republican Abed on the other hand, said voters could trust him to continue his fiscal prudence. He was "proud of his ethics and integrity" and his "leadership skills." And he asked the ECC people to be patient and to know, he had our back.
Back in August 2013, along with the entire Council, they had both voted to stop the LA flipper from turning the Country Club neighborhood into a personal ATM machine by carpeting it with high-density, zero lot line tract homes. The people were ecstatic that the process of qualifying the Citizens Property Rights Initiative using a self financed, all volunteer effort, had been formally adopted and unanimously made law.
But something happened on the way to the 2014 election. Facing a deep-pocket assault along the campaign trail, both politicians chose to go AWOL.
Democrat Diaz claimed her ability to 'connect with the community' would make Escondido a "better place to live." But in the end, her coziness with the Beverly Hills Bully overruled her empathy for the community. Olga's campaign took his money and switched sides, endorsing his plans to amend the Escondido General Plan, which would effectively render the citizens referendum moot. She tossed the mostly older, white, Republican Country Club community vote under the bus. A cynical, but very calculated political decision.
Unbeknownst to the voters, Sam had previously met secretly and encouraged the flipper, so he chose the only expedient way to avoid a conflict of interest. He decided the least costly political move would be to sit on the proverbial fence. "Let the voters decide."
The voters decided, crushing the Beverly Bully's Prop H, by a huge 2 to 1 margin.
So Sam won reelection, then pandered to the community, telling them he would protect their interests. He stated that the Bully was the problem, not the solution. That the community had vested property rights, and that he would demand that the property owner collaborate and come to the table to modify his homes-only plans to include other vital amenities too. He asked us to trust him...
Boy, were we naive. Last week, he, Olga and councilman Mike Marasco along with Jeff Epp, the inept and outgunned City attorney who couldn't defend the historical decisions of the Escondido Planning Department and the Citizens Initiative that legally memorialized those zoning resolutions, capitulated to the LA property flipper.
They simply kicked the community effort to the curb for political expediency. So much for Sam's "ethics and integrity." What a sick joke!
Democrat or Republican, I am sorry to say Escondido is a microcosm of Politics in America....really ugly.
Mike Marasco, the Council member who joined the Abed and Diaz coalition to reach the legal agreement with Michael Schlesinger, has told sources he held his nose and did what he thought would get everyone to the finish line the fastest. He felt that if the City continued to fight the 'takings' suit, and if they decided to appeal the Maas decision, the community would be held in a state of suspended animation for many, many years. The costs could hemorrhage and the results impossible to predict.
The three prevailing Council members felt that the only immediate relief they could offer the homeowners was some sense of direction. That if the residential zoning was restored, at least everyone could move on, and in the ensuing building process the City would have much more influence on the direction of the development, as would the community because any new building applications would engender required community meetings and studies. Input from the Country Club community would have the most effective influence at that stage of the process.
OK, there is some logic in that line of thinking. But...
This narrow, mostly symbolic settlement betrays the fact that a superhuman community effort successfully qualified a constitutionally guaranteed voter initiative to reaffirm and to protect, the planning intentions and the settled historical success of the neighborhood. In other words, how can our elected officials simply overlook what the entire voting population of Escondido so clearly demanded?
By submitting and winning the Council's unanimous endorsement of the Citizens Property Rights Initiative, which simply confirmed and reaffirmed the long held zoning conditions that specifically excluded residential building on the golf course property for all 'current and future owners,' the voters said no new housing tracts, no increases in resource eating population, no new demands on public services, and no new traffic inconveniences caused by hundreds of new homes in the area that has been settled for fifty years!
The community played by the rules, made their wishes known by a fair election process, and in the end, were disenfranchised by legal parsing and political power brokering. The perfect recipe for voter cynicism.
The agreement dismisses the astonishing fact that a neighborhood of mostly older, semi or fully retired seniors, could put together a totally self-financed and self-directed fund raising and signature gathering referendum campaign; to overcome a multi-million dollar counter initiative campaign, and to do it with a sense of class and restraint when the opposition used every nasty political tactic ever invented...
All of their heroic efforts were secretly and quite shamelessly disrespected and eviscerated by this legal agreement.
The agreement simply tells Mr. Schlesinger to stay in Beverly Hills while someone else does his bidding. So it minimizes the personality conflict, but it does nothing to help the local population to recover from his purposeful campaign strategy to undermine our local quality of life and property values. The settlement takes into consideration none of the major concerns expressed by the community. It does nothing to offer relief to the dozens of homeowners dragged into expensive and intimidating property lines lawsuits over minor encroachments, most of which were inadvertent and many of which are over forty years old!
At the precise time when the City had the most leverage, it essentially got nothing substantial in return. And then one of the council members had the temerity to smile and wink at the angry audience, as if to say, sorry, but I am done with your annoying populist activism.
The Council didn't ask for any property maintenance or weed abatement. They didn't require the owner to save the iconic eucalyptus stands, or any of the existing trees. There is no provision to clear the cracked and overgrown sidewalks.They are apparently OK with 110 acres remaining an eyesore for the foreseeable future.
If the condition of the property isn't blighted now, I don't know what is.
You would think, as a gesture of good faith to his neighbors, the owner could volunteer to water some of the trees, to clean up the dead and decaying former lakes and drainage basins. While the redevelopment process unfolds, which by most expert estimates could take 3-5 years, why not do something that would help raise the appeal of the neighborhood you plan to build homes in?
It takes a big man to be magnanimous, so don't hold your breath.
As the property continues to deteriorate, and there is still no timetable for any kind of immediate renovation or maintenance of the landscape, the resulting depression of home values continues. The issue of the abandoned property attracting and providing breeding grounds for coyotes, racoons and other varmints, for it's lack of security from children, thrill seeking teenagers or homeless vagrants, and for being a fire hazard, was not addressed in the settlement. The increases in crime, in transient occupancy and in vacant or abandoned properties grows unabated.
The Escondido Country Club Community is no longer.
Welcome to the El Norte Projects.
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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