Thank God we have the Escondido Times-Advocate local newspaper because we will never get both sides of the story told accurately by the Unionist Tribune. Check out the explanation of the SLAPP injunction and the reaction to it by the neighbor hood hijacker's legal team.
How can Escondido City Councilmember Olga Diaz reconcile her seemingly contradictory positions on new residential developments in Escondido? She has been the nemesis of the Escondido Country Club community that is fighting Beverly Hills property speculator Michael Schlesinger's attempt to place nearly 400 new homes on the abandoned fairways of the former golf course. In August 2013, she supported keeping the land 'Open Space' by voting with the entire council to unanimously adopt the Citizens Open Space Initiative that designated the golf land as permanent open space.
In August 2015 when a judge vacated the CPRI initiative as an "unconstitutional" taking of the zoning allowance, she switched her position and has consistently supported the owners proposals to redevelop the grounds. She was one of the three council members, none of whom represent the community, to vote for approval of "The Villages" project last November.
She recently reiterated her opposition to Concordia Development's proposal called "Safari Highlands", saying the density would be 'inappropriate.' Concordia would build 550 luxury residences on 400 acres of a near 1000 acre property.The land would have to be annexed to Escondido, and much new infrastructure would be required of the builder.
Yet she thinks inserting 400 new homes into a long settled, mostly retirement oriented neighborhood of the Escondido Country Club community, would be 'appropriate'. Go figure...
The planned new communities proposed by New Urban West at the now dead or dying green belt, would dramatically increase pressure on the existing community service providers, fire, police, schools and water supplies. It would subject the community to years of dust and noise disturbance from construction, and destroy the view corridors purposely designed into the golf course layout and housing configurations. It would rob the existing golf course homes of millions in equity, effectively transferring it to the pockets of the new neighbor.
And then there is the traffic issue...
The Safari Highlands project, on the other hand is just east of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The builder claims it would fill a need for new semi-rural family homes. It would have to provide improved streets and bring new services to an otherwise undeveloped area. It would also put new demands on roads that were built decades ago for mostly agricultural needs. I do not suggest whether it is, or is not, appropriate for the area. But the difference between the two projects are enormous.
The New Urban West 400 unit project is imposing a whole new lifestyle, a different demographic and architectural style, on a community that was one of the most desirable places to live in the area. It is proposing to do a facelift on a patient that doesn't need one.
If you see Olga, challenge her reasoning. She is against new homes in undeveloped areas, but good with the idea of wrecking existing communities with new high-density tract homes at the expense of the current residents.
Whose side is she on?
She will probably say we need to move on, to modernize the area and bring it into the 21st century. I wonder, would she make the same rationalization if the project involved putting a new freeway through an established immigrant community?
The former Escondido Country Club is comatose. The scientists are trying to figure out how to reanimate it. Everyone wants something to happen. The question is, what kind of THING will we get?
The Escondido City Council adopted The Villages, the Special Planning Area initiative by New Urban West Inc. It allows for 383 homes in a variety of configurations, including unattached single family homes, some patio homes and some attached condos. It includes 3 different villages, with a variety of architectural designs and price ranges. There is controversy over whether it is too dense and modern to assimilate into the existing community.
But there is a bigger question that is still unanswered.
The question is, was the Council acting legally when they adopted the NUWI Special Planning Area ordinance? Did they exceed their authority under the Escondido General Plan?
After the Planning Commision agreed with the builders recommendations, the City Council adopted their initiative reducing zoning limitations to include R1-12 lots. This means that some units will be built on lots that are only 3200 sq. ft., or half what the original R1-7 zoning overlay allows.
But here is the rub; Proposition S, which was approved by Escondido voters on a ballot measure during the 1998 election and became effective January 1, 1999, clearly states that any increase in local zoning allowances, when applied to existing communities like the Country Club area, must be voted upon by the citizens, not simply adopted by the council.
The People of the City of Escondido do ordain as follows:
Proposition S SECTION 1. AMENDMENT OF THE GENERAL PLAN.
A. The following shall be added to the General Plan as GP Amendment Policy E 2.3: Permitted land uses in the residential areas of the City shall be intensified only when the voters approve such changes. No General Plan Amendment or new Specific Planning Area shall be adopted which would:
1) increase the residential density permitted by law,
2) change, alter, or increase the General Plan Residential Land Use categories,
3) or change any residential to commercial or industrial designation on any property designated as: Rural Estate Suburban Urban unless and until such action is approved and adopted by the voters of the City at a special or general election, or approved first by the City Council and then adopted by the voters in such election.
Seems clear to me…so how did this happen? The planning commission, which is essentially volunteers vetted and appointed by the council and made up of people who have a basic understanding of urban planning, was clearly smitten by NUWI and overwhelmingly recommended their plan be approved.
The council voted 3 to 2 to adopt the initiative. The member who represents the Country Club community voted against it, as did the Mayor. Locals homeowners were essentially disenfranchised.
ECCHO, the community organization that has been battling this project, claims that environmental issues were given short shrift too. So they have filed a suit to have a judge review the entire process to determine if laws were violated and if so, what does that mean about the status of the project?
Specific issues addressed in ECCHO’s lawsuit include:
The Escondido Country Club community is zoned (from the General Plan):
Urban 1 Estate: (up to 5.5 dwelling units per acre) "Detached single-family homes, characteristic of much of Escondido, constitute this medium density category. In addition, mobile homes, patio homes, and zero-lot-line developments are permitted in this category. Typical development at this density is found along Country Club Lane and between Ash and Citrus north of Washington. The minimum lot size shall be 6,000 square feet unless the development is clustered in accordance with the provisions in Chapter VII Implementation."
NUWI wants to increase the density to:
URBAN II Estate: (up to 12.0 dwelling units per gross acre). "This residential classification allows a wide range of living accommodations, ranging from conventional single-family units to mobile homes."
The General Plan states clearly that higher density projects should only be allowed when "adjacent to parks and other open spaces, along transit routes and major and secondary thoroughfares, and near recreational activity centers, libraries, shopping centers, and entertainment areas. Development at this level of intensity normally would be semi-detached or attached units, and include duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes. Urban II serves as a buffer between low density residential areas and areas of higher density, commercial activities with greater traffic and noise levels. Typical Urban II development is found on North Broadway between Lincoln and Sheridan Avenues, and Cirrus Avenue between Valley Parkway and the Flood Control Channel."
The golf course land is not a 'buffer' zone. It is integral to the existing single-family, retirement-themed community. The Villages plan is in direct conflict with the Country Club neighborhood, which has little open space (once the golf course goes away), no rapid transit, no recreational activity centers, libraries, shopping centers, or community entertainment areas. Any new recreational facilities would be reserved for use by the homeowners, or dues paying outside members.
NUWI suggests that amenities like the pool, the herb & veggie garden, and the outdoor theatre would all be open to use by anyone who pays a membership fee. But that belies the claim that the golf course had to close due to lack of community support. What happens if not enough people buy in? Do all of these community amenities dry up? Will the city have to step in? Who is going to pay for pool lifeguards? Or a stage manager for the theatre, or gymnasium operators? If the costs are ultimately the responsibility of The Villages HOA, you can be sure there will be no one from the 'old' community using them.
How is that 'restoring' our community? Sounds like a lot of pie in the sky promises that builders are known to make and seldom keep.
If we accept the fact that the property must be redeveloped, and I think we can all agree we have, then the only reason there is a legal conflict is to determine what the nature of the new community is going to be. I think it is also fair to say that everyone wants the community to be restored to a functional community. Meaning all of us living together with shared interests and goals.
One of the difficulties is that there is no precedent for this kind of restoration. That's because it is not restoration. When you put a modern urban development inside a fifty-year-old sub-urban development, you get a Frankenstein.
Nearly a thousand golf courses have closed across the country in the past ten years and many more are about to face their swan song.
Since the closing of Escondido Country Club, Carmel Highland, San Luis Rey Downs Golf Resort, Stoneridge Golf Club, Salt Creek in Chula Vista, Sun Valley Golf Course in La Mesa and Fallbrook Golf Club have all been abandoned. Meantime negotiations are ongoing concerning Reidy Creek in Escondido, Chula Vista Municipal Golf Course and Cottonwood Golf Course in El Cajon. Like many courses, they are all losing money and the owners are looking for a way out.
Meadow Lake Golf Course, in north Escondido, (now renamed Boulder Oaks Golf Club) underwent water saving redesign two years ago. Part of that agreement with the city and the municipal water district that provided much of the funding for turf removal and modernization of the drainage and sprinkler system, allowed the owner to set aside approximately 30 acres of land for future development. Rumor has it that the owner can't get an offer over $4M for the entire property because of the zoning and the cost to water the grass. But he has had an offer of $10M for the 30 acre parcel contingent on approvals to redevelop it into residences.
Many other courses across California and Nevada are in serious trouble or are already scheduled to close. Lost Canyons Golf Club in Simi Valley, the Mountain Course at Robinson Ranch in Santa Clarita and Empire Lakes Golf Club in Rancho Cucamonga, are all gone now. Central Valley has lost three layouts since 2014. Diablo Grande Golf & Country Club in Patterson and Ridgemark Golf & Country Club have shut down half of their 36 hole layouts.
The once-exclusive Malibu Golf Club closed in 2015 and the 36-hole Rancho Canada Golf Club in Carmel, a rare affordable place to play on the pricey Monterey Peninsula, will close its two courses in December after its land lease expires. That is really sad as they were gorgeous tracts and reasonably priced for their locale.
Palm Desert and La Quinta said goodbye to Santa Rosa Golf Club and Rancho Mirage Country Club, where our friendly Neighbor Hood Hijacker took over.
San Geronimo Golf Club, a public course in Marin County a few miles north of San Francisco has been closed and purchased by a trust. The new owners plan to let it go back to its natural habitat, which will be heavily wooded but afford some great fishing. Property owners are none too happy. A review on GolfAdvisor said, "It's really so sad an area so beautiful will be just wild growth in a year. I feel for the people with the beautiful houses looking over the course. Soon it will just be wetland and they will lose serious money."
Las Vegas is under pressure to reduce its golf course inventory too. The Wynn Golf Course on the Strip will close in December and be converted into a Wynn Paradise amusement park, featuring a 20-plus-acre lagoon with a beach, possibly another hotel tower and casino and extensive dining and nightlife attractions. At $500 per round, not too many people will notice the loss. The Legacy Golf Club, Badlands, and Black Mountain Golf and Country Club are all under assault by developers and involved in litigation of some kind or another. Silverstone Golf Club, owned by the Neighbor Hood Hijacker group, is closed and in court with some homeowners
Making golf courses disappear has become a popular act for aggressive redevelopers. And adding some fireworks to the show is part of the illusion. Phoenix’s Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course closed in 2013, when a California businessman put up fences, and told anyone who would listen the land would never be a golf course again. Homeowners complained the owner was turning the course into an eyesore in order to win approval to redevelop it into single-family homes, so they sued. Then in 2016 the clubhouse burned down. Then a local television station reported that the clubhouse fire was set intentionally. The deputy chief of fire investigations, was quoted saying "the investigation is ongoing and no determination has been made."
The same thing happened to abandoned clubhouses in Kentucky, Florida, Nevada and Bakersfield California. There does seem to be a compelling series of coincidences regarding the disposition of bankrupt golf courses. Across the country, developers acquire troubled golf acreage, create an ugly eyesore, maybe let the clubhouse suffer spontaneous combustion, then recommend to the angry and demoralized community that only they can come to the rescue by redeveloping the land at gigantic profit margins. Unfortunately, none of the depressed property values ever seem to recover and the developers never offer to share in their profits.
Locals lose big, developers win big.
It appears to be an industry MOI to buy low, destroy the community continuity, depress property values, and drag out the process to inflict as much pain as possible. When the local resistance runs out of money and patience, they put a resolution on the ballot to get approval to turn the golf course into a money making residential or commercial development.
It is a magic trick David Copperfield would be proud of.
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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