By Doug Porter
The following analysis of Escondido’s Proposition H represents my opinion. The SD Free Press editorial board may or may not agree with me. For all our articles on the upcoming election, check out our 2014 Progressive Voter’s Guide.
The email seemed like the basis for a slam-dunk story. It was an appeal to environmentalists for support in defeating Escondido’s Proposition H, a developer-sponsored initiative allowing conversion of what was previously a golf course into 430 single housing units.
Here’s a snippet from the appeal: “The developer, Michael Schlesinger, dumped raw chicken manure on the property a year after turning off the water. The manure burned the land and created a severe air pollution issue, forcing one homeowner suffering from lung cancer to evacuate his home for 5 days.”
I’d seen a bunch of emails in recent weeks from the pro-Proposition H folks and given that they were coming from a source generally known to work the right side of the aisle and the fact this was about Escondido, I assumed the worst– a cartoonish Papa Manchester character running roughshod over an oppressed community.
Then I started seeing social media invective directed at Olga Diaz, who I thought was a progressive leaning candidate for mayor in Escondido. She was called out
as a “bully” UPDATED : for supporting a “bully” (new favorite word of reactionaries) and accused of “turning your back on your community AND the environment?”
I wondered aloud on Twitter how many votes energy expended in such invective was drumming up for the No on H cause. I wasn’t questioning their cause, just their tactics.
The response: “Sorry you feel that way, Doug. She’s betrayed her community & the environment.”
So the article I was going to write about the hapless homeowners of Escondido being victimized by a ruthless “Beverley Hills” developer became a lot more complicated.
A Dying Sport
In part this story is about changing times. Golf is losing its appeal as a sport.
From Bloomberg BusinessWeek:
More golf courses closed than opened in the U.S. in 2013 for the eighth straight year, according to the National Golf Foundation.
A total of 14 18-hole courses opened last year, up from 13.5 in 2012, while 157.5 courses were closed during the year, three more than a year earlier, the Jupiter, Florida-based organization said in a statement on its website. The organization counts every nine holes as 0.5 of a course.
The Escondido golf course in question went belly up three times in recent years. The current owner cites a study done by golf management firm Touchstone Golf saying the Escondido course needed “$2 million in infrastructural upgrades, owed $130,000 in back property taxes, $100,000 in back water bills, and was losing $35,000 each month. Additionally, membership dropped from 500 to 119 dues-paying members.”
Opponents of Proposition H say the intent of the developer was always to build out the property, citing the club’s refusal to sell new memberships after the acquisition.
What’s at Stake for the Developer
What’s on the ballot now is a yea or nay for a “specific plan” for development of 110 acres previously known as the Escondido Country Club.
Here’s a bit from the City Attorney’s analysis:
Under California law, a specific plan is one step below the City’s general plan in the land use approval hierarchy. Because the adoption of the measure is proposed by initiative, no environmental review of the measure was required under the California Environmental Quality Act.
Here’s a bit from the developer’s vision:
“The Lakes Specific Plan will convert 110 acres of blighted land into designated open space, hiking trials, new single-family homes and amenities including a 10,000 square foot community center, with Olympic-sized pool and tennis courts, and state-of-the-art community playground for all of Escondido to enjoy. Additionally, the Plan will create a $1 million privately funded Open Space Preservation Fund for all of Escondido. It also requires compliance with all state and local environmental protection regulations.”
The developer is currently suing Escondido based on a city council vote affirming a signature campaign for a citizens’ initiative that would forever render the golf course immune from residential development. That lawsuit, on the premise the city’s action deprived the developer of his property rights, will go away if Proposition H passes.
Stuck in the Rough LLC, owned by Michael Schlesinger, has played hardball in defending their plans.
Here’s former city councilman Dick Daniels, writing in the San Diego Daily Transcript:
…in the heart of the Nov. 10 U-T San Diego local news section was a double-page ad headlined “Escondido Faces Bankruptcy,” with photos of three California cities now in bankruptcy. Alongside the BK municipalities was a snapshot of Escondido City Hall, a tacit suggestion the city might be next.
The ad suggested the judge’s decision [in favor of the developer] is a likely precursor to a future ruling that the city did indeed take the country club property without just compensation and that the council’s adoption of the initiative could end up costing the city as much as $100 million, “The City of Escondido now faces a likely bankruptcy.”
The ad didn’t generate its expectation (it listed phone numbers to call) of a flood of outraged calls to Escondido elected officials. But developer Michael Schlesinger’s pay rate of $6 per signature did manage to get 11,000 signatures to put Proposition H on the ballot.
What’s at Stake for the Home Owners
Here’s the opening paragraph of the of ballot argument against Proposition H:
It will cram a 430-unit subdivision down the throats of local residents by overriding the General Plan approved by Escondido voters. A Beverly Hills developer, using money and his well-oiled political machine, created the proposition so he can ignore history and bypass local planning standards and state environmental laws.
Ultimately the argument against Proposition H comes from residents in area surrounding the former Country Club. The closing of, subsequent neglect and plans to develop out the golf course galvanized these residents into forming a non-profit organization, the Escondido Country Club & Community Homeowners Organization (ECCHO.
They cite real estate experts who have estimated that the average home in the country club neighborhood(s) would lose “between 20% and 25% of their current value if the 110 acres of country club green space is converted to homes.”
“With over 1600 homes and an average value per home of $350,000, the loss in property values caused by development of the Escondido Country Club property will be over $100 million dollars.”
Some of the homes in the area were built on smaller than normal lots, based on the adjacent open spaces of the golf course.
On the face of it, ECCHO seems to have a good case. They point to a city study indicating the development of the property would come at costs to taxpayers exceeding the benefits Michael Schlesinger’s public relations experts are touting. (Of course, costs exceeding benefits are not all that rare when it comes to development.)
As with any political debate, hyperbole and exaggeration are rampant in the arguments on all sides. The “ballot measure” is exempt from environmental review; any actual development will have to go through the usual regulatory hoops. The developer’s promise of “open space” includes roads and sidewalks…. And so forth.
The the League of Conservation voters has given the project their blessing. The Escondido Chamber of Commerce has not. UT-San Diego loves it, but then again they like just about anything involving bulldozers.
In reading through the wealth of material out on the interwebs there are also some other opinions traveling with the No on H crowd. Sorry gang, the property won’t become a golf course again. The development is not part of the UN Plan 21 conspiracy. And, no, there is no plan to put “low income” housing in this area. (Maybe there should be.)
Is There a Compromise in the Future?
The thinking of most of the homeowners and their allies is that, if Proposition H can be defeated, a compromise deal can be brokered.
Getting back to Councilwoman/mayoral candidate Olga Diaz, she’s one of the people who thinks the current proposal already represents a compromise, though it should be noted that she was against it before she was for it.
Here’s what she said in her announcement supporting Proposition H:
“I have evaluated the options, removing the emotion of loss (from both parties) and considered only the measurable outcomes to determine that The Lakes Specific Plan Initiative is worth supporting. I believe it is actually a pretty good plan. Not perfect, but good.”
ECCHO didn’t take kindly to this announcement. From UT-San Diego:
Mike Slater, president of the homeowners association behind the “No on Prop. H” campaign, blasted what he called Diaz’s “betrayal.”
“For the last 1½ years Olga Diaz has claimed she supports the homeowners in Escondido. We learn now, on the eve of her mayoral election, that she has abandoned those homeowners and joined forces with an out-of-town developer. This betrayal and abandonment of principles will not go unnoticed by voters.”
I’m not sure the “emotion of loss” will go away no matter what happens with Proposition H.
If I lived in Escondido I would vote No on H, not because of the NIMBY-flavored declarations of it’s opponents, but because I believe backfilling in urban areas needs to be carefully managed to align with the infrastructure of the city surrounding it. The Lakes Specific Plan clearly puts the developers short term interests over that of the community’s long term needs.
And… I would still vote for Olga Diaz, because reasonable people can disagree on the issues without becoming vindictive.
Here is a KPBS mini debate on Proposition H that aired on September 10th.
Brian Brady says
This is a classic case of the saying “voters have interests, not principles”.
This is one of the most tangled webs weaved in County politics. When I saw the ballot initiative being started, my first though (as a principled property rights guy) was “Good grief, these enviro-wackos will stop at nothing to steal a man’s property”. Then, I saw on Facebook that a young GOP-leaning political operative was consulting for ECCHO. Later, I saw that Mayor Abed and the Republicans on the Council were supporting this (and ultimately voted to implement the post-purchase, illegal down-zoning).
Needless to say, I was confused. How could Republican operatives and elected officials get behind, what is clear to anyone who can read, a flagrant violation of a legal development which conforms to both the General Plan and zoning laws?
ANSWER: The homeowners around the golf course are overwhelmingly high-propensity Republican voters.
Olga Diaz has no “interest” in opposing the ballot initiative and plenty of interest in financial support from the developer. Sam Abed has no “interest” in defending property rights and plenty of interest in the votes and financial support from the ECCHO homeowners. Abed and the Republican up for re-election have switched to a neutral stance but the Republican, who is running for re-election in the newly-created district which houses the golf course, is a staunch opponent of the ballot initiative. After all, it’s in his “interest”.
Olga Diaz and Sam Abed hold competing positions because they have competing interests. You Doug, and I hold competing positions on this issue because we have competing principles. That’s one of the reasons why, as wrong as I think you are on policy, I am comfortable reading and commenting on your work–you have principles.
bob dorn says
It’s sort of enjoyable to read from afar a story about Escondido’s dilemma. More to the point, it’s a dilemma between elites. Homeowners surrounding the golf course will lose money when larger lots are carved from the abandoned amenity, making their own smaller lots less attractive; on the other hand, politicians who don’t directly represent homeowners directly hope to preserve their relations with a big money donor whose project is vaguely perceived to threaten home values in the area.
Why not a public park?
Why not mixed-use, including affordable housing?
How ’bout a demonstration of community solar power, recycled water and other on-site environment-friendly development?
Because the people who are interested in those potential rewards don’t count.
Because there is no immediate and big bang for the bucks spent. We don’t perceive the long view. Overnight express payoffs define prosperity for most people working in public view.
Brian Brady says
“Because the people who are interested in those potential rewards don’t count.”
I think “the people” would do well to speak with the developer. The ballot proposition is a compromise proposal which includes a public park and a healthy unit mix. I have no idea about the solar, water, and “green-friendly” proposals but the developer is much more receptive to those ideas than not.
This is a fascinating (and yes, “enjoyable”) dilemma to watch from afar. So-called ‘conservatives” tweeting at a “progressive” mayoral candidate for not opposing what is a (self-described) liberal developer’s plans, makes for good reality television. Unfortunately, it’s more about deploying force rather than seeking consensus.
There is an answer and, because of the Council’s stupidity, the dialogue has to start through the ballot proposition (because the Council adopted a “scorched earth” proposition as law). Defeating this proposition closes the door on anything but acres of unattended land
bob dorn says
Brian I’d so like to believe that ordinary folk in Escondido could “speak with the developer,” as you say. If you know his ph. number, preferably his cell, or his email address, share it with our readers. But something about his threat of a $100,000 lawsuit makes me feel he might not be so “receptive to those ideas” you name as “green-friendly.”
I realize it’s a bit foolish to ask a developer to be conscious of values that lie outside profit and loss. In another world The City of Escondido might have been the entity to pick up the golf course and adapt it to serve the general public, but then again that would have required them to directly represent their peoples’ interests.
Brian Brady says
I don’t know him well enough to have his contact information but, at the bottom of the press release is his PR contact:
She has moved out of state but I believe she still represents him. I know her and feel that she would forward all serious requests for legitimate discussion to him.
“In another world The City of Escondido might have been the entity to pick up the golf course and adapt it to serve the general public, but then again that would have required them to directly represent their peoples’ interests”
Yes, yes, and yes.
In a better world, ECCHO homeowners would have pooled their resources and both the defaulted note for about $1million, like the developer did. Better yet, they would have just bought the Country Club the second time it entered BK (it was in BK three times).
ECCHO homeowners neither supported the Country Club nor cared for the open space until it was threatened to be developed. It’s pretty hard to call people who won’t be stewards, of property they want to control, “victims”
bob dorn says
Yeah, I can agree that the homeowners could have incorporated and bought themselves an amenity that would have made their houses almost as valuable as a sunny outlook. You’re absolutely right, they coulda and shoulda.
Tom Ortiz says
I’ve worked for environmental and land use planning for over 15 years and I can honestly say, I’ve never witnessed a developer so determined to undermine a system and a city as Mr. Schlesinger. And the fact that the council’s lone liberal has somehow managed to give this terribly misleading “Yes on H” campaign credibility is a true mystery. From the onset, I told friends and neighbors to remain open-minded about the idea of developing the property, there is a process and sometimes good things can come from a collaborative effort. And I have always conceded that in this economy it would never be a golf course again. But after attending 2 of Mr. Schlesinger’s CARE meetings led by Mike Crews and Dennis Hollingsworth, I quickly recognized that not only was this not a genuine public outreach effort, but that amazing liberties were being made of quite a few facts. From these disingenuous meetings to the fencing of the property, the creation of blight, the frivolous lawsuits, the chicken manure incident, the deceptive TV interviews and advertisements – and finally… the Olga Diaz endorsement – it is too hard to defend the process any longer. And I’m not angry. But needless to say, I’m tremendously disappointed.
Most of the projects I’ve been a part of almost always include contentious park/open space issues. Why? Because this land use designation is not only limited, it is disappearing.
I worked closely with redevelopment planners, environmental specialists, consultants and the general public on the Chula Vista Bayfront Plan. This project was a real collaborative effort between public agencies, developers and a very diverse Citizen’s Advisory Committee (Escondido’s very own Laura Hunter was part of this process from start to finish). Of the 516 acre plan, 160 acres will be committed to “useable” park/open space with an additional 70 acres dedicated to habitat areas. And while the process took years, the result is a certified plan that all can be proud of and will truly benefit the general public for many years to come.
The Lakes Specific Plan offers very little as an open space compromise considering it will reverse what is currently designated park/open space. Although this designation may be defined slightly different from one general plan to the next, one thing is for sure – it is the only land use designation that allows for the greatest potential benefit to the general public if developed creatively and logically. While Mr. Schlesinger is unhappy that his property isn’t valued to the maximum potential, a park/open space designation is hardly worthless. Mr. Schlesinger hasn’t been denied all economic use of the land and under the Just Compensation Clause, no landowner has the absolute right to the most profitable use of the land. The developer has lucrative options; mitigation banks, private schools, an RV park. Or he could pitch a far less dense plan (which is what he should have done after his 298-unit plan was snubbed) and make a real effort to work with the city and the public. Instead, he once again snubbed his nose at Escondido with a bogus “Open Space and Community Revitalization Initiative” that proposes 430 homes and would ironically eradicate the current “park/open space” designation. Not to mention he would only be revitalizing what he managed to destroy in a matter of months. It is hypocrisy at its very best and it would be funny if it wasn’t so incredibly sad.
In the very front page of Olga Diaz’ website, it states “I have been a tireless advocate for open space, parks, trails…” I ask, sincerely, where is that advocate now and why on earth would she hitch your wagon to such a deceitful outside developer? And what’s more disheartening is that fellow liberal-minded people are on their respective soap boxes selling this critical initiative because of the endorsement. The lawsuit would be a fight, but from my experience and understanding, the city will most likely prevail. I’ve seen takings cases like these and you have no idea how much power local agencies have, especially when it comes to authorized police power in order to regulate land for the health, safety and welfare of the general public. If the developer’s pending $100 million lawsuit was so strong, why pursue such a hard-sell, deceptive initiative?
In sharing the play by play with colleagues, they applauded the city council’s unanimous consensus to amend a general plan that should have been amended many years prior, not to mention that the mostly conservative city council embraced the preservation of open space when more often than not, the profit potential of development carries more weight. But now we are all scratching our heads on the true reasons for an about face from someone who claims to be a champion of parks and open space.
If she took contributions (directly or indirectly) from the Schlesinger camp, I would understand because politics is a very slippery slope and unfortunately it happens more often than not. I wouldn’t like or respect it, but I would understand. But I don’t believe this to be the case and find myself defending these accusations more and more.
I am a fair person. I will be voting No on Prop H but on the fence for my vote for Mayor. And if Prop H fails, I hope this developer chooses to forego the lawsuit and sit at the table with the city and the community. Trust me, I live in the community and there are many of us who just want a real compromise. Will the process take time? Of course. But the results would be a much closer win-win for everyone.
If Prop H wins, the environmental impacts would be irreversible.
Rick Elkin says
I have to say, this is, surprisingly, the most intelligent discussion I have seen in print , anywhere.
Mr. Ortiz, and Mr. Porter have recognized the gross disrespect for collaboration shown by the developer. All the ‘No On H’ people want is a remodel that improves the community. That is the City’s obligation, but using the initiative process to bulldoze the General Plan removes elected officials and the community from the equation. It puts too much leverage in one man’s hands. A man, by the way, who makes it his business to buy low and sell high, fast. He has no ties to the area, and will be long gone before any of the ugly results are realized should he prevail. Not a good formula for Escondido.
Brian Brady says
“And if Prop H fails, I hope this developer chooses to forego the lawsuit and sit at the table with the city and the community.”
He can’t sit down if this Proposition fails. The original ballot initiative, adopted by the Council, can only be reversed by another ballot initiative–that is California law.
You are correct that ECCHO should have addressed this decades ago in the General Plan, It seems tremendously unfair to reverse zoning only after a property owner decides to pursue it.
If you don’t reverse this at the ballot box and soon, this will amount to a Fifth Amendment “takings” by the City. No sane property owner would abandon that lawsuit. The question then becomes, how much will it cost the Escondido taxpayers when that lawsuit is adjudicated? If the judge decides it can be valued as a golf course, maybe $4-5 million, If the judge rules on the legally zoned profit potential, it’s a high 8 or low 9 figure sum–surely an amount which will bankrupt the City.
If compromise is your goal, you best pass the prop and get him to the table in mid November.
Tom Ortiz says
I understand it would need another ballot initiative. This argument has been made. It’s been done before and while it takes more time and isn’t the ideal way, so what? The language in the current initiative would not be something you would approve of.
And I still feel the takings case is no lock for the developer considering the documented history of conditional permits and plans used to develop the original community. Again, if he had and open and shut case, why the initiative? I’m certainly not fluent enough in this area so an explanation would be appreciated. Maybe there was a better reason for him to go the initiative route. One reason it was not was a willingness to compromise. I guarantee.
I will say this — all of the comments I’ve seen posted here are refreshing and well put together no matter what side it comes from. Not the case in other venues.
Brian Brady says
I’ll answer in reverse:
This is the best conversation I’ve had at SDFP (and I’ve had good ones). That’s probably because the traditional partisan alliances are turned on their heads so we have to just argue principles and the outcome of the ballot proposition.
Stuck in the Rough , LLC (S-I-R) has a very strong open and shut case for a takings but he runs a risk as to the value assigned to the property. If it’s a golf course, I’m guessing it’s valued at less than $5 million. If it’s valued at it’s “developed value”, it’s probably $100 million plus. He bought the note for about $1million and probably has another million into the deal (plus carrying costs). Litigating this could award him a VERY small ROI or bring him a huge windfall–that’s a risky action.
Politically, ECCHO’s case has never been weaker. Escondido voters are starting to see a three things: (1) a takings award amounts to a taxpayer-funded subsidy for country club homeowners (2) more housing units equals more affordable housing for residents (3) S-I-R isn’t (as Doug described him) some “a cartoonish Papa Manchester character running roughshod over an oppressed community.”– he’s a real estate note guy with neither development nor golf course management experience.
There is a sense of fair play which is coming out now. S-I-R did due diligence before they purchased the non-performing mortgage–it was legally upzoned when he bought that note and subsequently acquired the property. If you bought a home, zoned for two units, with the plan to build another home on it, then the zoning changed after you bought it, your variance would be grandfathered in (as it should be).
S-I-R was very smart to try to run that property as a golf course. He also acquired StoneRidge CC in Poway and runs that as well. Contrasting the success of the Poway course, to the failure of the Escondido course, demonstrates that there is no support nor demand from the homeowners on the course. In short, the homeowners don’t really want a golf course there, just the benefits of the open space. They won’t pay for the upkeep of that space (country club fees).
Will he compromise? I think he’d have a hard time NOT compromising if he wins with Prop H. He’s offered to discuss compromise from the moment ECCHO filed its proposition. Will ECCHO compromise if Prop H fails? Its actions don’t suggest it will.
Tom Ortiz says
forgot to follow up on my original question because I realized I didn’t quite get the answer — again, why the initiative if his case is so strong? Why pour so much money in signature gathering, endorsements, blanket multi-media, TV appearances, etc. when he could just slam dunk the city? No one has really answered this in a way that makes complete sense.
And I would argue that he was not so smart to run it as a golf course… for only 2 months. Had he come in, established the poor history of previous owner’s and their failed attempts to run it as a golf course, given his prepared research that it was no longer viable as a course and approach the city with the plans he already had in his back pocket prior to purchasing the land, I would have easily respected his intentions. That’s not how this guy works.
But here is the issue with developing it (previous owners had plans to do the same yet understood the complexity) – The original planned development as a whole was built out with special permits that allowed clustering of homes on much smaller lots than what is defined under the R-1-7 definition (a 7,000 sq. ft. minimum) — the very definition Mr. Schlesinger is saying was stripped from him. The smaller lot sizes were permitted only because it was offset by the 110 acres of open space used for the golf course and keep the density in check. It was all part of the original plan used to develop the community. If the area was originally zoned to support only so many homes, how can you go back and say you can now build more?
I’ve seen general plans that define a residential use, yet have a golf course within those delineated boundaries. A nearby example of this is the Ocean Hills Country Club in Oceanside. The golf course is part of a planned community that rests on a MDA-R residential use (medium density A). I’m not saying it is smart to not have a more definitive map in cases like these, but it isn’t completely uncommon either. By the way, Schlesinger wanted to do the same in Poway, but their general plan supported the existing use and quickly put him in his place. He has to run it as a course. Furthermore, when he did announce his true plans, offers were made and he didn’t entertain them. He didn’t accept a single new membership, even when existing members were actively bringing them in. AND, there was serious talk of establishing a new HOA to support the course and clubhouse (not sure on the logistics for that idea) but many people in the community were open to it because paying a monthly fee to use some of the facilities was a nice alternative. But again — Mr. Schlesinger wanted no part so the idea fizzled out. People cared and were willing to explore ways to invest. Instead, he fenced the property and let it rot, deterring any other investor willing to resurrect the viability of a golf course – something no other respective developer, as poorly as they had managed the “business” end – had the audacity to do.
To me, developing land based on a loop hole isn’t good planning. Wouldn’t you agree?
Look, if the current initiative did not propose the same clustering of smaller lot sizes , rather adhering to the R-1-7 minimum as required by the previous definition, AND did not have language that would allow the developer to bypass initial CEQA review, I might be more prone to defend his right to try and develop. Because he would have shown me his willingness to at least consider the environmental issues regarding the currently developed area.
Good grief — I digressed and apologize profusely!
Brian Brady says
What was your question. I think you want my opinion on this?
“again, why the initiative if his case is so strong? “
Tom Ortiz says
Brian Brady says
“again, why the initiative if his case is so strong? “
Winning the case is very likely; the expected award could vary wildly. Winning the election is far more risky but has a much more definitive payoff.
I hope when the people of Escondido restore this man’s property rights, y’all can have constructive dialogue and reach a compromise
Tom Ortiz says
Thanks Brian — maybe you should have lobbied the developer’s cause from the get go.
Still a No on H for me and my gut tells me there is no big pay day in the developer’s future. Even if he wins the lawsuit. Honestly, I think he knows this and that is why he is pushing so hard to get H through.
I’ve seen big developers use muscle and money more wisely — Manchester, Sunroad to name a few — with much stronger opposition to their respective projects and yet they still get it done. Schlesinger doesn’t come close to being as smart and his name is spreading beyond Escondido as someone to stay clear of.
Too bad. He could have played this very differently with far better long term results.
Thanks again for the solid banter Brian.
tom ortiz says
Thanks for the response Brian. I’ll still be voting no on H and hope for the best.
And you are correct… you’re no genius.
Joking, of course. Good dialogue sir.
Tom Ortiz says
“I saw on another forum where you suggested this would be bad precedent because anyone could file a prop and bully the city. Isn’t that what ECCHO did?”
A few things with this statement…
1. I said “lawsuit”, not prop. Very big difference.
2. The City Council adopted the citizen’s initiative unanimously and all had very supportive comments as to why it was the right thing to do to cheers from a rare, standing room only board room. No signs of being bullied if you ask me.
3. I don’t recall ECCHO filing any pending lawsuits threatening to bankrupt the city if they didn’t get their way.
The whole thing is a mess and everyone has a role in it. Sometimes I think it’s all my fault… at least that what by wife always tells me.
Frank Woolridge says
I believe the reason there is negative reaction to Olga’s decision to support
Proposition H is that she has not made it clear why she decided to Support H.
I suggest that she make a statement to the media referring to the following three facts:
1. California Government Code 65901 includes a statement to the effect that in order for a variance or special use be legal, it must be recorded with the county recording office.
2. According to Jay Petrek’s (Assistant Planner) the present city’s approval process does not include a requirement for approved variances or CUP’s to be recorded.
3. The Escondido City Zoning Map still, to this date, shows the Country Club zoned
R1-7. This apparently is the legal basis of the lawsuit filed against the City of Escondido
by the new owner of the Country Club.
Perhaps if Olga would issue a statement that she did not have this information when she
voted for the Open Space resolution and, in fact, only recently became aware of these
facts, perhaps even Soli would change his Opinion.
John Thomas says
This is a great discussion. Even though it is long and informative, it just begins to peel the onion. However, the event at hand is Proposition H.
If Escondido votes yes on H, this unfortunate project will move to the next stage. Years of adversarial fighting can be expected. In the future, a great many houses will be built on the land. Existing houses in the neighborhood will loose value while the construction dust floats over the area and construction crews run around, building new houses on proper lots that make many of the existing houses look shabby by comparison.
If Escondido votes No, the courts will make a judgement call. Take a look at the judges, the case, and the deep pockets of the developer, and perhaps you will see that he will likely win. If he wins, he’ll build.
If Escondido had more effective and forward looking leadership, a creative staff, and an energetic council, neither of these options would need to be on the table. It is clear that the best outcome can only be delivered using a non-adversarial, cooperative planning process.
At some point, I think it would have been possible for city staff to organize community action, purchase the land, and develop a plan. When there is a leadership vacuum it fills in arbitrarily and people become entrenched and defensive. Now it is clearly over the heads and above the pay grade of anybody in or running for local government.
I think the city needs to find a way to raise some money, pay this guy off, and get him to go away. I hear that there is plenty of money in the muni-workers retirement fund to make a loan of this size. Then the citizens of Escondido need to put up additional funds, develop a plan that minimizes the pain and pays back the community. The city should be on the offensive, building a better future. Instead, it is running around looking for the best defense from an outsider. This is a great piece of property that can add revenue to the city if it not used exclusively for houses.
Rick Elkin says
Mr. Brady is ill-informed. There are very strong reasons the City of Escondido is willing to take their case to court. If you read their Impact Report regarding Prop H, you will find answers to the two main issues SITR points to when they claim the property was zoned R1.7 when it was purchased.
Also they address the ‘takings’ claim which supports their position that the City has every right to rezone properties under certain circumstances, particularly when there is an’ implied covenant ‘with residents who paid premium prices for their homes that were located on the course.
Here are the important paragraphs in the report:
“As required by Resolution No. 389, on June 17, 1963, Royart (the golf course and tract developer/owner) recorded a “Declaration of Restrictions” expressly applicable to the legal lots created through the recordation of the final map for Golden Circle Unit No. 1.61 These restrictions were imposed as “mutual, beneficial restrictions under a general plan or scheme of improvement of all the lands in the tract and the future owners of those lands.” The restrictions imposed rules and covenants concerning the permitted and prohibited uses of the single family residences. In addition, Lots 96, 97 and 98 (the community and recreational center lots) were “restricted to Community Center use only.” Lots 99, 100, and 105 (the golf course and open space/park lots) were “restricted to golf course or park use only.”
“A landowner, as a matter of law, has no “right” to develop its property in accordance with the existing zoning or general plan designation (see, e.g., HFH, Ltd. v. Superior Court (1975) 15 Cal.3d 508, 515 holding that mere down- zoning of property does not constitute a “taking” under the United States and California Constitutions, explaining that “the courts of this state and the United States Supreme court firmly rejected the notion that the diminution of value of previously unrestricted land by imposition of zoning could constitute a taking impermissible in the absence of compensation.”
The only time the owner would expect to be compensated for his ‘loss’ would be if the down-zoning eliminated any ‘reasonable use’ of the property. Mr. Schlesinger bought a golf course. He is the only one claiming that use is no longer possible.
I am no lawyer, but anyone can see that this whole conflict is complicated, emotional, and financially devastating to the people in the immediate area. Those citizens are making a heroic stand against almost insurmountable odds. Their position is based on moral principles, not legal exploitations. They have been forced to hire legal council to fight lawsuits. They are not suing or threatening anybody.
I can also offer some personal concerns, and that is using the initiative process via spending large amounts of money to collect signatures from uninformed voters, saturating the media with slick and slanted radio-tv-print media, and making large donations to underdog candidates, is a vey dangerous precedent for future infill projects across the state. The message is California is open season for rich special interests to exploit open spaces that aren’t making enough money for (fill in the blank).
The attack on the Country Club community personifies everything wrong with our state/city government and how we are seeing so much undue influence at all levels of the election process.
At this point, the only safe choice is No on Prop H. Stop this attack on the future of our city and the planning process in any city in California. Stop one man from exploiting a legal loophole simply to make an enormous amount of money, and then we can sit down and reconsider the options available. Hoping for the owner to do that after the election is wishful, and dangerous thinking.
I have spent many hours listening, reading, and thinking on the golf course situation. As a six-year homeowner in the area, I have had the benefit of watching the ducks fly overhead from pond to pond, hearing frogs from the water, and enjoying the egrets that would frequent our neighborhood. We bought a home here as we loved the idea of a golf course community. We moved into a community where we were sold a home with a golf course and country club nearby. The area we moved to was known as the Escondido Country Club. The reduced speeds with posted golf cart crossing signs kept our slower paced streets peaceful and calm. Seeing homes nestled up to the golf course was picturesque, and I was a little nervous for neighbors-watch out for that occasional golfball. But now the tables have turned. I am aware of a coming change. Change is never easy – but I knew that change was needed. The Country Club was run down – we had never gone there to eat. Memberships were down at the golf course. In talking with a now passed WWII Vet that had lived across the street, members had been given a requirement to spend a certain amount of money at the County Club restaurant each month, pushing some members away. (This included my former widowed neighbor.) It was easy to see that the golf course property was not managed effectively. A dedicated leader was needed to come in and take charge.
I was excited at the thought of someone turning the course around. But the tables turned, and the new owner was quick to make it public knowledge that he did not want to take over and restore a golf course. The owner now states that “Yes on H” is a compromise. By definition, a compromise includes two parties. His compromise only includes one position. This David vs. Goliath proposition is a tough one. The money is stacked on one side. But “No on Prop H” is a personal battle. It is your battle – Escondido voter. It comes down to whether a city is going to support an area of its own. It means supporting a neighborhood based on the takeover of some land. It means standing up for a people who were pushed out. It means turning down the plans for a new, updated center that would be an improvement to an area. A new city pool is a huge draw for many people in the area, including my children. But at the cost to other people? Is Escondido a community that works together? It is easy to want the new development. But just because a new prop is out there does not mean it is the best. Being the first one of its kind for this community does not make it the right one. A true compromise means discussing together what will work for the good of all. Mayor Abed even mentioned last year that he was surprised that no one suggested a 9-hole golf course option as a choice.
Change is coming. What change still remains to be seen. Adding traffic lights, more cars, construction noise for several years- these things take away what homeowners in the community originally bought here for.
My trust has to be earned. There have been many words spoken and many actions directed towards the Escondido Country Club community. My hope is that when change does occur, the residents of Escondido will help support the people that live in its city. Please show your support by voting “No on Prop H.”
Tom Ortiz says
Rick and Beth,
great posts and your respective narrative truly exposes how many of us are genuinely open to a “real” compromise. This isn’t a small group of seniors and Country Clubbers wanting their golf course back — this is a very real land use issue that needs a real collaborative effort to move Escondido in the right direction. Hope Mr. Schlesinger is listening because the “No on Prop H” campaign seems to be gaining more and more traction, despite his volume of misleading advertisements, because many people throughout the city of Escondido are actually doing their homework on this issue. And because people like you deliver a strong and educated message.
Michael Schmidt says
Thanks for all the helpful discussion. I honestly feel like I need a law degree to vote on this proposition.
I would quite naturally vote no, just from all the slick flyers that come to me looking like they are from all sorts of nice organizations but which have a return address which says “Paid for by Escondido Coalition for Open Space and Community Revitalization, Yes on H, Sponsored by Lakes at Escondido LLC, with major funding by Lakes at Escondido LLC.” I feel like I’m being bought.
But then I see people I trust, like Jerry Harmon and Olga Diaz, in support of H, and I sense that the cost of the legal fight and the chances of losing it may be worse than I know. And that’s why I’d like to have a law degree before I vote.
Rick Elkin says
I can relate to your sense that this is way to deep for most of us. That is one of the most important, and under-reported problems with this measure: it uses the California initiative process to circumvent local government planning processes. It would open the door for any wealthy special interest to pay for enough signatures to qualify for a ballot initiative/measure that would hand the power to approve massive projects to the voters who probably shouldn’t make such consequential decisions. Voters can be mislead by slick promotional materials and influenced by offerings of free amenities.
Do you think many voters read and understand things like Prop H which is 108 pages of legalese?
As far as well intentioned people like Jerry Harmon and Olga Diaz, they are people too, and though we assume they know how to wade through documents like this one, they don’t really have much experience with local planning, especially with something like the Lakes, which will be unprecedented; it represents the largest infill project every attempted in San Diego county. I have repeatedly asked for, and never received an example of where this kind of massive infill has been successfully completed, anywhere in California! So all of these so-called experts aren’t really so expert on this kind of residential project at all. It is not like this is a country golf course on the outskirts of town! This is literally in everybody’s BACKYARD, so it has engendered fierce resistance from residents who will be intimately affected by it for years to come….
As usual, there are three sides to the situation – the home owners’, the developer’s, and the truth. The home owners want the maintain the zoning and open space, as they have a vested interest in their reduced property lines and lot sizes, traded off for view and open space. Nice, but this provides no “what’s in it for me” (WIFM) to the bulk of Escondido residents. The developer wants to maximize his ROI by changing the zoning for high density (which is not a compromised position) with a teaser olympic pool promise. The pool being the only WIFM. Meantime the increase of traffic, stressed water resources, school crowding and other logistical impacts negate any advantage to Escondido residents.
The city council needs to be fiscally smart in not allowing the potential new tax revenues be viewed as an asset when weighed against the city’s potential new infrastructure responsibilities; and honorable that they view the threat of lawsuits as just that – a threat influencing their informed judgement. The voters need to vote NO to stop a clear violation of the zoning agreements and provide time to resolve a fair real compromise action plan providing legally correct use of the land, befitting of its surrounding neighborhoods. Let’s not just have diverted dreams of a public swimming pool.
What is in it for you East and South Escondido? Will you come up to use the pool? Or will you be stuck in traffic? This high density campaign may be a model to future impaired and improper development of other Escondido neighborhoods.
Tom Ortiz says
One major concern I have with this initiative is the fact it allows for so many short cuts in the planning process, especially when it comes to environmental review.
Mr. Schlesinger likes to make comments and posts like this:
“The Lakes Project, as confirmed by the City’s own email IS subject to CEQA, the Initiative Prop H is NOT, since CEQA, as the law clearly states below, only applies to “projects” and not initiatives.
Section 15378(b)(3) of the State’s CEQA Guidelines (in Title 14 of the California Code of Regulations) provides:
(b) Project does not include:
(3) The submittal of proposals to a vote of the people of the state or of a particular community that does not involve a public agency sponsored initiative.
CLEARLY, a voter-sponsored initiative that is submitted to a vote of the people is NOT a project so it is NOT subject to CEQA.”
Using this method shaves off, at the very least, 2 years from a full environmental review process. Its yet another loop-hole that Mr, Schlesinger is trying to take advantage of in order to bypass his way through the system.
When projects this large affects so many other landowners (especially residential) the process should be very different. A good developer would have worked much harder with the city to come up with a real plan for the area and then engage the community with a true public outreach effort prior to submitting any plans. Mr. Schlesinger started his process by shutting the doors, allowing NO initial public input, submitting plans to the city and expecting everyone to follow along.
I’m not sure how Mr. Schlesinger defines public input.
1. The signing of a loosely worded “Open Space and Community Revitalization” initiative does NOT count as public input (NOTE: he cleverly changed the sign outside the club house to “The Lakes” so signature gatherers didn’t have to reference the country club area, an area Escondido residents would know). They signed a petition that didn’t ask them for input, just ink on a line.
2. The CARE outreach effort was only implemented AFTER the initiative was written, so how can the public give any real input other than, we like the specific plan or we don’t.
And putting so much blame on the ECCHO group for not wanting to compromise is ridiculous. It was a reactionary group that only started when he failed to reach out to the public before moving forward with his plans to develop a high-density project. There were many of us open to good development and willing to be part of the correct process.
But he chose this route and bypassing the initial part of CEQA is only one of many problems with Mr. Schlesinger’s entire execution.
Mr. Schlesinger should have engaged more with the city (yes it can be difficult to work with local agencies, but these projects take time and often involve real consultants to help foster the process) — then, together, the city and the developer would have issued public notice, invite the surrounding communities, businesses, schools, etc. to have real dialogue on the issues (you can’t make everyone happy, but you at least seek to understand) — and maybe even create a citizens advisory committee to represent a diverse group of voices. Take all that input and then move forward with a solid proposal that asks for NO short cuts.
The sad part — the initial part of this route could have cost him less than the $1 million he has invested so far.
Remember Escondido, Mr. Schlesinger put us all in this position — not the city, not ECCHO, not a supposed failing golf course… the developer.
One final point — of all the previous owners who have come and gone with the property, only one has managed to put the property, the community and the city in such dire straits.
Mr. Schlesinger. — Does that sound like someone who really wants what’s best for Escondido?
Tom Ortiz says
For the record — I’m obviously no lawyer, just a citizen trying to do his homework on this issue.