The news release announcing an exploratory agreement with New Urban West to have a window of time to look at redeveloping the abandoned Escondido Country Club property has created quite a stir among neighbors. It is the first movement in the long bogged down process, after the City announced it had reached an agreement to mow the rough both parties were stuck in.
So it is good that something is happening. But the obvious next question is 'exactly what is happening?'
Stuck In The Rough, LLC. is shopping the property around. It is looking for a builder to come in and purchase the various parcels or make an offer to joint venture a residential housing plan. Now that the land is rezoned by judicial fiat approved for residential home development, and with San Diego suffering from an extreme shortage of new housing supply, it would be natural to assume that the centrally located, and well seasoned community would be an attractive opportunity for local builders.
But that would be presumptive, because building homes is the easy part.
In fact, SITR has not seen a rush of builders waving money at them. Partly because of the toxic atmosphere created by the acrimonious battles with Michael Schlesinger, but also because getting all of the preliminary details in line is where the rubber meets the road. Getting the community to 'buy in' is the first step, a step that SITR never bothered to take. Clearing the environmental impact issues is the next, and that can be a slow and tedious process. Today's restrictions and controls are tougher than ever, and the science of screening for impact potentials is much more advanced, but also unpredictable.
Moving plans that require zoning changes, engineering reports and public input through the city planning departments are also very time consuming and unpredictable. So any builder will want a certain period of time to explore all of those ramifications before they decide to go all in.
SITR's efforts to create a SPA, or Special Planning Area by using the initiative process, Proposition H, was soundly defeated by Escondido voters. Mainly because voters resented being bullied into something they didn't understand, that avoided traditional environmental planning processes, and because the plans were totally incongruous with the existing neighborhood.
In many ways, Carlsbad's Proposition A was recently defeated for precisely the same reasons.
So now we have a builder, who has extensive experience working with the City, making an effort to do their due diligence, to see if coming up with some innovative and compatible ideas to resurrect and revalue the decaying property that winds through the greater northwest area of Escondido, can be logistically and economically feasible.
The long war of resistance to a tenacious property developer has taken a great toll on the community. Property values that have recovered from the Great Recession in virtually every part of San Diego County, have still not recovered in the Country Club community. The ugly, unkempt property is an eyesore and an environmental mess, fostering all sorts of dangerous creatures preying on the indigenous wildlife and homeowner pets. Trees have uprooted, weeds are sending seed all over the neighborhood, and the rent-a-fence makes the whole mess look like a radiation damaged danger zone.
It would be understandable if we all looked at the New Urban West company as a stand-in for our arch enemy. But that too would be a mistake. I have had the privilege to work on a New Urban project, Brookside at Reidy Creek. I have worked in the new home development industry for thirty years, and been involved with hundreds of projects, from Bakersfield to Baker, from Baja to Newport Coast, and I can honestly say, the New Urban company was one of, if not the, most well organized, well coordinated and neighborhood sensitive builder/developers I have worked with.
They do their homework. And we always said we were open to a real 'compromise.'
So we need to step up and give them encouragement. To offer our ideas, our honesty and our support, because in my mind, this is by far the best opportunity we will have, as a neighborhood, to become a partner in the implementation of a plan to revitalize, to enhance, and to recover the community we love.
Hit by a perfect storm of uncontrollable and unexpected financial and environmental circumstances, the Escondido Country Club Community lost a lot, and though we were disenfranchised by our own local representatives, and then by the courts, we have heroically hung together. But I sense the tide is starting to come in again. This community deserves some reinvestment, some innovation, and all in a way that recognizes and respects what made this community so special in the first place.
We can only hope for positive change.