After last night's ECCHO community meeting it is apparent many people still do not understand what has happened to the golf course property.
Why do I say that? Because the Q&A indicated it.
People wanted to know:
'Can the community sue the city?'
'Can we condemn the property?'
'Can we rezone it back to open space?'
The answers are all the same. No.
Since the ruling by Judge Maas restored the residential density zoning to what was originally designated prior to the existence of the golf course, all efforts to stop any redevelopment into housing are doomed.
Complaining that we want to restore the golf course, that we want the land to remain untouched, that we want parks and recreation, are all going to land on deaf ears.
That ship has sailed.
Michael Schlesinger has successfully turned a property, that when occupied by a golf course, was appraised at $2.4 million into a prospective 400 unit residential development property potentially worth $20 million, or more. Perhaps a lot more.
As the owner, Schlesinger is under no obligation to do anything he doesn't want to do. He made it clear he wants to build houses. And that he will wait up to three hundred years if necessary to achieve his goals. Because housing is in such demand, only a residential development nets him the enormous ROI he is seeking.
That is why when the City council, led by Mayor Sam Abed, capitulated and signed off on an agreement with Schlesinger to suspend all efforts to appeal Maas' ruling vacating the Citizens Property Rights Initiative, the war was over.
We lost because our group, led by the noble efforts of ECCHO, had no legal standing in the suit or the decision to accept the ruling without an appeal. Only the City of Escondido had legal standing in the lawsuit about our initiative to keep the property zoned as 'Open Space'.
And they made the decision to bail out.
Though we, the people, gathered all the signatures, rallied the voters and passed the property rights initiative by a 2 to 1 margin, in the end, we handed our victory over to the City Attorney to defend. That was simply an economic decision because the all volunteer effort, and the efforts of ECCHO had limited resources, and the City, that faced a $100 million 'takings' judgement, had the resources available to it.
In the end, the local community was thrown under the bus by expediency and the reluctance of the council to spend the taxpayers money to go back to court, after their lackluster courtroom efforts were dismissed by Judge Maas.
We are now effectively in the reconciliation phase of the war.
Could an individual challenge the whole process that the City mishandled since the early sixties? Yes, but they better have deep pockets because their opponent, the current property owner does. And for him, there are many millions of dollars at stake. He has already shown his willingness to fund a vigorous legal effort to protect his investment.
So now we, as a community, have only one recourse: We must manage the future development through the Escondido planning department procedures that apply to any new housing development in our city. That means we have to stay actively involved, to attend any meetings of our elected officials to make sure every council member, and those at the planning department, knows what we expect.
I wrote about this in 2015, that we can and must make it clear to future builders, that we are not going to roll over and calmly accept inappropriate high density, zero lot line, mobile home style homes injected into our semi rural resort style community. The Mayor and the council have said they will support us in those efforts.
But we cannot make the mistake we made in the past, accepting their promises at face value.
We must conduct a guerilla campaign to push our leaders to defend the integrity of the Country Club Neighborhood. Our community has suffered an assault, but we can still fight off the rape. So we need to make it clear that should we fail to stop overdevelopment, we will be the most unfriendly neighbors, who will make new homeowners very uncomfortable. We must pursue a 'last in first out' policy. If and when resource allocations are implemented due to the draught, or because of funding shortages, the existing homeowners must receive priority over newer developments.
Those are policies our representatives can legislate now.
Builders, which Schlesinger is not, know how important it is to win surrounding community support for new development, especially infill projects. Putting new homes in the middle of a settled community like the Country Club development is an enormous social challenge. That is why New Urban West is proceeding so cautiously. If they can't build a consensus, building hundreds of homes can become financial quicksand.