(From June 2015)
The Generational War
On of the recurring themes I have noticed as I watch the Escondido Country Club saga unfold, is the clash of generations. It used to be an oft told joke that the 'average age of the country club members at Escondido was dead.' Certainly it is true that most of our community is growing old. The community was originally designed to attract 55+ buyers. It wasn't limited to seniors, but it was marketed to them.
Since the Country Club Community was built out, by the mid seventies, there has been very little turnover. Precisely because it represented the final stage of most of the homeowners independent living period of their lives, and everyone was very satisfied to stay put. Many of us have owned in this community for twenty, thirty, or forty years. I consider myself lucky to have found an affordable residence in the area when I bought my home in 1984.
At the Escondido Country Club Homeowners Organization (ECCHO) meetings, it was obvious that most of the audience was well into their senior years. The majority of the ECCHO board was 60 or older. Though in recent years the golf club was attracting younger members, the recession and the ensuing collapse of the course management reinvestments, had all contributed to a decline in the number of younger members and children using the tennis courts, the pool, and who would be seen in the restaurant.
The new owner, the Beverly Hills Bully (BHB), was himself in his middle forties. His team of lawyers, accountants and media people were all mid thirties to late forties. His rationalization for turning the property into a housing tract was based on the idea that golf was a fixture of a previous generation and would never be a viable business on at the location again. He would often say his plans 'would move the community forward,' implying that any suggestion that reviving and restoring the golf course, or any other solution other than wall-to-wall houses, would be moving it backward.
Much of his media campaigns claimed that the only ones resisting his efforts were rich, older Country Club members who wanted to protect their own private playground, all at the expense of the rest of the taxpayers in Escondido. His advertisements singled out ECCHO board members, calling them selfish and desperate. Every facet of his public relations campaigns featured appeals to young families, never once referring to the historical intent of the community to serve seniors and retirees.
The point is...the idea of reinventing the whole neighborhood by integrating new homes into mostly seventies era homes, and ignoring the demographic of those who still reside there, is insulting
But these guys understood that to get what they wanted, they weren't going to win over the locals. They had to get support from outsiders who had no direct connection to the neighborhood where the golf course property sits. They had to appeal to taxpayers... They never missed an opportunity to mention how poor the Escondido City Government was.
They purposely pitted younger voters against older voters.
The more involved I got with the movement to resist the massive housing tract idea, the more I realized we had a serious image problem. Think about it, just as in a family, when your kids reach their teen years, they typically reject anything that comes from the mouths of their elders. Even the best kids, the most respectful and sincere ones, still need to find their own identities. They inherently want to make their own decisions, and no matter how little real world experience they have, they typically think they know it all.
So when this Beverly Hills real estate developer came into the picture, it didn't surprise anybody that he was so self assured. What surprised everybody was how disrespectful he was.
He never listened to any of the members, some of whom had tons of real world experience in turning older, mismanaged businesses around... The bankrupt owners had no golf business experience. They had no way out when the 2007 financial crisis hit, and exposed their over-leveraged finances and lack of management skills.
So at first, members were hopeful the BHB would be a savior, would work with everyone, and find a way to revitalize the whole operation and restore it to a level of prominence it once held in the North County Golf Community. But all of that hopeful optimism soon evaporated.
The new owner was not honest. He would say one thing and do another. He said that soon after he took over the Club that he 'discovered' it was losing money. Most of the Resistant knew better...Once he took possession, the BHB said he would work with the members and the community to find solutions to the troubled property. But that never happened. In fact, he submitted a plan for a housing tract to the Escondido Planning Department just a few weeks after declaring the golf course defunct.
The plans that the BHB submitted were not only inappropriate for the community because they represented a doubling of the originally allowed housing density, but they in no way represented the nature or character of the existing neighborhood. Where the existing neighborhood homes were situated on their lots in such a way as to allow for good sized front yard setbacks, and reasonable side yard setbacks, his new plans called for only 20' front yard and 5' side yard setbacks. These would qualify as zero lot line, high density homes.
With the 20' front yard setbacks, when the sidewalks are taken into consideration, a car parked in the front driveway would barely fit without sticking out into the sidewalk right of way. If you had a pick up truck, your bed would be blocking the walkway....
Most of the streets would be dead-end cul-de-sacs. That always portends parking and traffic issues. And the plans in no way mitigated major onramp snarls that already existed at both the I-15 and HWY 78, the only two freeway access points in the area.
Finally, when confronted with some of the most egregious design issues, the developer would counter attack, blaming the 'unreasonable and disgruntled' former members for mischaracterizing his initiatives and refusing to compromise.
One of the most annoying generational issues became the 'Orwellian' misuse of language...the issue of fundamental design integration and overall community assimilation was never addressed. The BHB team simply didn't care because their goal was to just get the entitlement to build, then flip the property to some homebuilder and make off with a boatload of easy and fast money.
In the greater San Diego area, and certainly in many other suburbs around the country, the property rights issue is becoming a common local political and social conflict. As property values increase exponentially, and as demand to utilize existing infrastructure to minimize resource impacts, existing communities are under assault. Builders and developers are being forced to look at infill projects, and land that is sitting unused, or underused, is prime target for exploitation. As cities find themselves in deep debt with falling tax revenues and over loaded government employees benefit obligations, they are willing to be easily manipulated with any property development plan that will increase city tax revenue streams....
For a relatively young, ambitious and well heeled property developer, repurposing a golf property is all too easy. The land is usually centrally located, it is usually relatively flat, it has most major amenities and services nearby, and it is more than likely not polluted or environmentally protected. The worst case scenario is, maybe the zoning is not currently amenable to housing development.
That, we have learned, is just a speed bump in the road....And, like so much about our current culture, it all comes down to who has the most money to pay the most legal fees, to run the most impressive media campaigns, and to fight the longest and most expensive court battles to determine just who gets to do what with their land.
In my town, all we have to fight the assault on our neighborhood was a gallant effort by a motivated group of volunteers, a heroic self-funded campaign effort and a legal team that believed in the plight of the local homeowners so much they were willing to work at a heavily discounted rate...It was like the Alamo. We were overmatched from the get go, but we had something intangible, we had heart and soul.
On the very first evening of the public announcement that the Escondido Country Club was going to be permanently closed, I was interviewed by a Channel 10/ABC News reporter, who had just driven up to the scene and knew almost nothing of the circumstances.
As he climbed out of the tech van and his aids started setting up antennas and microphones, he asked me what was going on.
After I gave him a brief history, he said, "So what do you think is going to happen now?"
I said, "I know one thing for sure, I don't think anyone in this neighborhood is going to let this go down without a fight!"
And so began the War On Escondido.