Though we have won an enormous battle in the War on Escondido, the War is far from over.
Like the War on Terrorism, winning a battle here and there is encouraging, but it needs to be looked at in the context of the big picture. This war may well be a war of attrition. Both sides seem determined to stay the course until the last man is standing.
Our fears of seeing wall-to-wall, micro-sized tract homes starting construction in the Spring are now relieved by the defeat of Proposition H. But the owner of the Country Club property has made it clear he doesn't care what the voters said about his tract home plan. He is determined to get his way through court action.
He has said many times the property is not, and will not be, available for sale. He has also said many times there will never be a golf course there again.
That means the whole dispute will be mitigated in court. So, it is reasonable to expect NOTHING will happen for several years, because no matter who wins in court the first time around, the decision will be appealed.
History tells us it will be years before the condition of the property improves to the degree that it will help restore property values and stop the massive deterioration of the Country Club residential community.
Of course, there could always be an unforeseen change in attitudes, but for now, we have to assume the worst: the stand-off will continue, and homes will have to be sold well below the selling price of similar homes in north county that are not in the Country Club area. Many will be purchased by investors, as many have already, and the trend of turning the whole community into a transient demographic will continue.
The massive increase in the number of renters is indicative of the collateral damage this War has caused. The human tragedy of many of our neighbors goes under the radar. The loss of life savings, the forced abandonment of their homes by many elderly owners, and the negative impact the transient population explosion is having on the very nature of the neighborhood is just astounding, and depressing!
What just a few short years ago was considered a premium neighborhood, the resort-like Country Club area, is rapidly losing its sense of community, safety and peacefulness. The incidence of crime is climbing fast, and neighbors are now scared to confront young, sometimes tattooed, noisy and vulgar renters packed into homes that were once pristine and now look unattended and cluttered with cars and trash.
Since the Escondido Country Club was shuttered and abandoned by the Beverly Hills based property owner, the effects of the economic downturn of 2007 have been dramatically multiplied. The Clubhouse, which served as the activity center of the area, is now boarded up, so there are no longer weddings and graduation parties there.
The community is a Golf Cart zone with traffic controls to quiet cars and slow their speed to protect locals who would use their golf cart to zoom back and forth from the Club to home. Now, kids race through the neighborhood with impunity. Drug deals are going down around the course because there is no one there to notice. Many of the homes in the area are abandoned, or at least look that way because the occupants are running crack labs out of them.
For the new owner, the golf course was simply a vehicle to claim an enormous return on what the bank described as the weakest part of his investment. Since the course was purchased as a part of a much bigger real estate portfolio of troubled properties, his cash out of pocket costs were extremely low. He could afford to spend some serious time and money to try to rezone it to add value. If he could accomplish that, he would be able to subdivide the property and sell it off in pieces for a multimillion dollar profit.
Michael Schlesinger could hardly afford to let the local human impact of his decisions get in his way; the potential payoff was just too big. He rationalized the destruction to the neighborhood by claiming his development plans would be the Elixir to revitalize the community. He turned his head to avoid seeing some of the tragic personal destruction occurring all around the course.
So now the remaining homeowners, especially the older, long term owners who were planning on using the equity from their homes to finance their golden years, are in a no-win situation. If they sell, they will take enormous losses. If they stay, they face the daily stress of watching the neighborhood deteriorate, and the fear of clashing with the new subculture that is quickly taking over. Either way, all of their plans for the last chapter of their lives has vanished.
It is easy to pat ourselves on the back for such a great neighborhood effort to defeat Prop H, but we have to get right back into battle to save this community treasure.
The War On Escondido is far from over.