Stuck In The Rough recently won a decision by Judge Earl Maas to vacate the Citizens Property Rights (CPR) Initiative legislation, which was designed to memorialize the original Special Use Permit (SUP) that is at the center of the property rights controversy. The SUP that was recorded by the original developer, as part of a land use agreement between the builder and the City of Escondido that designated the golf course property as Open Space/Golf course for all future owners.The Judge decided that none of the older covenants and restrictions should apply, not because they weren't legal, but because the application of them would be unfairly applied to only one man and his solitary piece of land, thus making them unconstitutionally discriminatory.
Unless the city invests another potential half million dollars of taxpayer money to appeal Maas' ruling, there is no recourse for local homeowners. Not only have their efforts been squashed by a Judge's very narrow legal ruling, but their constitutional right to have the people vote on their citizen's initiative, was also derailed.
So far, David has won some significant concessions, but Goliath has the upper hand. But questions continue to come up about how we got where we are now and will the locals ever be invited to participate in the continuing process?
Information has come to my attention that at least one or more Escondido city council members privately favored the closing of the Escondido Country Club golf course because it would eliminate Schlesinger's 'takings' suit and reduce the competition for the two city owned golf courses, The Vineyard and Reidy Creek. Those feelings were expressed off the record sometime after the Proposition H housing tract plan was defeated by a near 2 to 1 margin and Stuck In The Rough had subsequently filed a 'takings' suit in November of 2014.
This news has to be incredibly disheartening and disturbing to the people who worked so hard to save the neighborhood from being turned into a massive housing tract. The City always said they were very confident in defending the Citizens Property Rights Initiative. Community leaders believed they had the full support of the city's legal team, but legal laymen will never know just how aggressive and potent their defense of the initiative really was.
So the question has to be asked, whose side is the City really on now? Did the City really want to win their case? It is no stretch to believe Escondido leaders had good reason to avoid a massive $100M lawsuit that could wreak financial havoc on the city.
That's a pretty big conflict of interest... Since they lost, the politicians whose heart was never really in the game can say 'sorry folks, we really, really tried.'
Beyond that, many media stories characterized the Council's adoption of the citizens initiative, and specifically Mayor Abed's leadership, as inept, shortsighted, and small town political pandering. In hindsight, it would probably have been better for the City to have at least ordered further study of the initiative and then simply allowed the citizen sponsored ordinance to go before the voters. In that circumstance, the Judge would have laid the discrimination issue at the feet of the voters instead of the Escondido City Council.
Instead, the Council chose to adopt it outright.That was a popular thing to do, but was it the most strategic and prudent thing to do? In hindsight, it may well have denied the locals any chance of having skin in the game about what the nature of their neighborhood is going to look like in the future.
A quick and cynical way for City leaders to sidestep further scrutiny and criticism from the community, would be to drop their appeal and let Judge Maas' ruling effectively neutralize the entire movement. That won't go over too well with a lot of Escondido voters, but it will be a couple of years before elections give them a chance to express their outrage.
They say in politics, time heals all wounds.
I think the Council and the Mayor want to see a fair and positive resolution to this property rights battle. I don't challenge their intentions. But it is also fair to say that the results so far have not aligned with the community and the only powerful ally the community had struck out with the bases loaded.
As it stands now, all of the efforts of the Country Club community, forming a corporation, electing a board of directors, rallying support from the neighbors, organizing and directing an entire volunteer force to gather signatures, making thousands of phone calls, walking neighborhoods, lobbying local business and social organizations, and collecting hundreds of thousands in contributions to support advertising and legal fees, have all gone up in smoke.
Since Escondido lost the CPR case, Schlesinger's 'takings' case has been rendered moot. Why hasn't his suit been dropped with prejudice, meaning should Maas decision be overruled, he could reinstitute it?
Today, Stuck In The Rough filed a plan with the Escondido Planning Department to build 270 homes on the property. My hope is that the City is in no hurry to approve anything until they know where they stand regarding the 'takings' suit. As long as that legal gun is pointed at their proverbial head, they can't be too eager to settle anything.
The other side claims that the new plan is drastically less dense and incorporates a significant number of improvements over previous plans. It is definitely a much better plan, though there are very few, if any, amenities designed to specifically serve those who already own homes in the area.
It does not address any of the more pressing needs of the area, such as senior housing facilities.
Will the recreational features and services be available to the surrounding community, or will they only serve the new homeowners? How can the water features conform with recent use restrictions, or are they really just dry concrete drainage ditches? Will any of the iconic eucalyptus trees be saved? How will the increased traffic be mitigated?
Let's hope the City values the citizens efforts and concerns enough to give serious consideration to appealing Maas' decision, and at the very least keeps the pressure on the planning department to root out answers to all the questions going unanswered.