Over 35 years ago, when I was a newlywed, I worked from home. My wife would come home from work for lunch and we would watch Days Of Our Lives together as we ate.
At first I had a hard time getting into the seemingly mundane narrative of the small town characters and their conflicts. Over time I began to appreciate the acting, the writing, the moral dilemmas and the never ending drama of neighborhood conflict. Every once in a while, 54 years later, I will catch an episode and think "Wow, they are still going at it?"
Shortly after moving to Escondido I joined the Escondido Country Club. A few years later my wife started working at the clubhouse as a cocktail/special events server. For the next 20 years we lived in our little version of Salem. The drama never stopped between member cliques, member boards and the management. Like the characters on the TV show, owners and members came and went, lived and died, and some left and came back again.
And like the show, we got used to it and ultimately found solace in being a part of a community of like-minded golfers and local homeowners. We shared more than just a golf experience. The club sponsored all kinds of charity events, tournaments, estate sales, financial services workshops and holiday and graduation parties. Our kids used the pool and tennis courts, and many friends were married under the towering eucalyptus trees.
Our community centerpiece survived ownership changes, recessions and lawsuits until one day in 2012 when everything changed. Since that day half the community feels betrayed, and the other half feels, well, betrayed...
We both call each other names, scream invectives and claim one side is holding the other side 'hostage'. An outsider might think they were watching the latest iditoration of Days of Our Lives, but we are only one soap opera of many.
Meantime, while lawsuits continue to stop the current owner from redeveloping the abandoned golf course property with a high density city-within-a-city, we can all agree the current situation is tragic and sad.
If there is one thing that leaves me annoyed, just as the storyline of weekly soap operas often do, it is the total lack of dignity the various characters show for each other. They shake each others hands at community events, then turn around and trash talk about them privately. They assign preposterous motivations to "suspects" in nefarious plot machinations, then a few years later watch their kids get married!
Until I actually lived it, I never bought the idea that people actually did stuff like that. Now I know I was wrong. Maybe that is what attracts daytime soap opera viewers: Exposing the dark side of otherwise nice neighbors next door.
Television is fantasy and requires unrealistic plot twists to keep an audience, but our community drama is very real and as I have often said, a human tragedy that was never intended to be so destructive to people who were otherwise minding their own business.
Having said that, there is evidence that the producers of the series are spinning off many other soap operas of a similar plot because the series is very profitable, so if anyone wants to look at who is benefiting most from the storyline, it isn't much of a secret.
"This is not the first time Bobby Heath or Michael Schlesinger have devastated communities in order to sell homes. Golf properties in San Diego, Escondido, Corona, Rancho Mirage, and others have been owned or operated by Heath and/or Schlesinger and shut down in order to force the local residents to allow additional development of homes, hotels, apartments, etc. WGP and Michael Schlesinger purchase, invests in, or controls golf courses as a modern-day land-grab. If the local residents resist their efforts, they destroy the community." - Mike Konrad, https://www.victoryforvellano.com/
Stay tuned, the script is still being written...
(The presentation I made to the community meeting on Monday night January 28th, 2019)
I have always said this property dispute was an assault on our community.
We have been in a war on the soul of our retirement paradise for over six years, and we are now at a Time of Reckoning…
Currently in San Diego county, at least 8 golf courses have closed, and several more are teetering on the edge of destruction. In virtually every case, the neighbors are confronted with a dilemma: do they put up a fight or roll over and accept a community remodel they don't respect?
Like us, those groups will all have to make some difficult decisions...
Six years ago a group of local homeowners formed ECCHO to defend the community from a bully who was out to flip the community's centerpiece golf course to make a lot of money.
We all know that recently the Escondido City Council approved The New Urban West plan for 382 new homes by a slim 3 to 2 margin. Council members Mike Morasco, Ed Gallo and Olga Diaz said the concerns of the community had been adequately addressed. But they never denied that the project would:
Nevertheless, according to our City Council and the developers, the deal was done….
ECCHO appealed that approval, and as you know, Judge Roland Frazier ruled against us.
But ECCHO's lead attorney, Everett Delano said the judge totally misunderstood the meaning and intent of a key provision of the Escondido General Plan. A provision called Proposition S. We just heard former Mayor Jerry Harmon talk about that important amendment to the General Plan, and why it is vital to the future of our city.
Additionally, we believe Judge Frazier overlooked an inadequately researched and poorly documented Environmental Impact Report. The leaders of ECCHO made another tough decision: they decided to challenge Judge Frazier's ruling.
So here we are, still battling, still trying to do the right thing for the future of this neighborhood.
Many of you want to know, "What have we accomplished in six years?"
Well, up until just a few days ago, we still had
People ask me, "Why haven't we had more success?"
When major land development disputes occur, we turn to our elected officials to help protect our interests and investments. We expect them to represent our interests in proportion to those of the property owner. And we expect them to respect the integrity and dignity of our community.
But the truth is, all this time, we have been fighting with one arm tied behind our back.
Every indication is that City officials, the mayor, some council members and some planning commissioners never really supported our efforts. They were projecting an illusion designed to soften the impact of the conversion of the golf course to housing.
They knew their "Open Space" actions would be overturned. Their own attorneys told them that. I believe they were making a political play, to calm the community temporarily.
When they decided it would be too expensive to challenge the Citizens Property Rights Open Space Initiative ruling, the illusion was revealed. Ever since that ruling, the City has been more aligned with the interests of Michael Schlesinger than with our community.
The bottom line is, New Urban West has been given permission to do exactly what Michael Schlesinger always wanted to do. To build as many houses as he could get approved on the now fallow fairways.
'The Villages' plan is Proposition H with lipstick…
I am sure a lot of you are wondering,"why do we keep fighting?"
The answer is, it's all about respect. Golf course repurposing is very contentious because it can totally change the nature and character of a long settled neighborhood. People who have invested their life savings in that neighborhood ought to have some say about how those changes are made.
I think we can all agree that our community has been disrespected by both the property owner and the City.
Michael Schlesinger said he was willing to compromise. That never happened. Then Mayor Abed claimed he sympathized with our situation. He told us to "trust the process." Every indication is the Mayor, on one hand encouraged Schlesinger to build houses on the golf course. while on the other hand, he was telling us the City would protect our interests.
They both misled and disrespected our community.
So now, we have to use the court system to force the City to respect us and to respect Proposition S!
So it is our contention that in their rush to get this ugly and expensive battle behind them, the city violated the terms of the General Plan they wrote! By approving the Villages Project without voter approval the council ignored the 1998 General Plan provision that specifically requires new project upzoning must be approved by the voters. Since The Villages Plan calls for attached and multifamily condominiums on land designated as single family residence only, it clearly upzones R1-7 zoning restrictions.
That means it should have been placed before the voters.
The City can disrespect us, but they cannot disrespect the law, unless we let them get away with it. That is why we must appeal Judge Frazier's ruling. We must demand the Judge show respect for the Escondido General Plan!
Someone once said, "No one wins in court. It's just a matter of who gets hurt worse."
Our community has been very fortunate to have had excellent legal representation since the very beginning. We must trust our capable legal professionals to navigate the court system to protect our rights and the future of our community. Of course, we all know our justice system favors those with deep pockets because they can sustain a protracted court battle. That is where we find ourselves right now. We are David fighting a financial Goliath.
But there is another important reason why we must stay the course...The Escondido Country Club battle is the tip of the spear in golf course repurposing battles that are happening all over the country. Our battle is a petri dish and we are being watched by other anxious homeowner organizations.
In the end, it may well come down to the will and determination of the community members. It is a critical moment, and as in any battle, there comes a Time of Reckoning.
This is that time.
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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