The City of Escondido’s view: “A landowner has no right to develop…”



I had not read the City of Escondido Report on the Initiative Measure to Adopt “The Lakes Specific Plan”, before attending last Wednesday’s council meeting. Several comments during the discussion of that item, #15 Receipt of elections code section 9212 report, submission of proposed ordinance to be place on the ballot for the general municipal election—November 4, 2014, and budget adjustment, made it clear that this report was definitely required reading.


The first speaker, retired State Senator Dennis Hollingsworth, blasted the report. Half of it, he said, was irrelevant to the proposed initiative. The half he referred to was a lengthy, documented history of the development of the Escondido Country Club. The history was indeed relevant to the City’s argument that the Escondido Country Club community “evolved over time [and] was approved with substandard home sites specifically on account of the fact that the Country Club provided the open-space and green-space corridors needed to offset the substandard, overbuilt nature of the home sites…”[1] Now by substandard, the report is referring to the reduced lot sizes, and increased density of many of the homes around the Country Club, not construction standards, although, as Deputy Mayor Olga Diaz noted later in the meeting, a less pejorative term than substandard could have been used.


Hollingsworth avowed that the report underestimated the property tax revenue, and overestimated the water use, and number of new students “The Lakes” would generate. He claimed that, contrary to the report, the area was not in a flood plain. He labeled the report biased, and failing to state that there was no stated restriction of the area as open space in the General Plan.


Five Country Club residents reiterated previous objections to the development. It would squeeze in 430 homes in the middle of a planned unit development. It would use 75% of the existing open space. It would increase water and sewage demand, and crowd the roads with more traffic. Ken Lounsbery spoke last, pointing out to the Council that they had received the votes of 60,000 residents, asking how many they expected to receive from the developer.  


The City’s report is astounding. The report states without equivocation that “a landowner, as a matter of law, has no “right” to develop its property in accordance with the existing zoning or general plan designation…”[2] To someone who has pleaded in vain that the rights of future generations to enjoy the native habitats of San Diego County should outweigh the rights of a property owner to develop those habitats, it was difficult to believe that this was a report generated by the City, not the Endangered Habitat League. The report cites several court cases which do not find down-zoning of a property to be a taking. Amazing! This from a City that had recently given a nod to begin the process of the annexation of County property, a parcel of pristine natural habitat, near the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park, in order to build over 500 houses. The City Council Majority’s argument for giving the node to this Safari Highlands possibility was that the rights of a property owner must always be respected.


Another startling admission in the report, something I never thought I would see issued in writing by a City run by the current City Council Majority, was the admission that the property tax revenues generated by the new development “would be offset by maintenance and operations costs for City facilities and services to serve the new residents, including police and fire service, road maintenance, library, parks and open space.”[3]


Diaz expressed some surprise at the language of the report. She had hoped the report might address what the consequences would be if the ordinance passed or didn’t pass. What would the next steps be?


Councilman Mike Morasco was critical of the report’s “editorializing”. He noted that a specific plan would take precedence over the General Plan.


Councilman Ed Gallo preached that it was not about money, but what was the intent of the law from the beginning. The properties around the golf course had been clustered because they were on the golf course. Councilman John Masson chimed in with Gallo that the Escondido Country Club was a master planned community that had smaller lots because of the open space the golf course created.


Mayor Sam Abed could hardly contain his admiration for the report. He had really enjoyed learning about the history of the Escondido Country Club. He somehow managed to applaud his original plea to reach a compromise, and stating that a compromise would be necessary, while avowing that the integrity of the community built around the golf course must be maintained at all costs. He managed this Orwellian doublespeak without raising a single eyebrow from the members of ECCHO. They all clapped for him when he paused. Well you can fool all of the people….. Hope he doesn’t fool enough people to get reelected.

[1][1][1]   -see July 23, 2014, P. 183

[2] Ibid

[3]   -see July 23, 2014, P. 204



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