At his town hall meeting, last Wednesday, one of Mayor Sam Abed first observations was that he would get questions about the Escondido Country Club issue. The audience was predominantly white, with a median age of at least 50, and evidently made up of many ECCHO members. He was correct in his forecast, there were several such questions. It was fun to watch Abed as he tried to keep the Country Club folks appeased.
The first question was why hadn’t the City Council voted to appeal the Court’s decision against the City, and keep the promise they had made to ECCHO? (For a review of the decision see: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2015/mar/13/escondido-country-club-court-ruling/2/?#article-copy .) Abed meandered through an answer that mentioned: no easy solutions to the complex problem; the defeat of Prop. H was the will of the people; they had to go through the legal process; they would discuss the matter at their closed session meeting on May 20, 2015; and Michael Schlesinger was a difficult person to deal with. His position, he stated, was to create a development on the property that was acceptable to all. He went so far as to warn that the expectation of another golf course on the property was not reasonable. If the City appealed the judgment, the property could sit vacant and uncared for, for many years, and neighboring property values would drop. Abed claimed to have told Schlesinger that he, Schlesinger, was the problem with the development and Schlesinger should sell the property. That, Abed surmised, would create a new environment. He returned to his theme that keeping the property as open space would not solve the problem, it was not a pretty sight. Abed then backtracked a tad, and said he was confident that the City could successfully appeal Judge Maas’s opinion. He ended with another dig at Schlesinger as not a common sense person.
The ECCHO folks picked up on two things in Abed’s spiel. They appreciated his maligning of Schlesinger, and the fact that the City Council would be discussing the possibility of appealing the judgment on May 20.
Another Country Club homeowner said that he and his neighbors would rather see a waste land with a fence around it than to see a housing development. It was the City’s fault that the Country Club owners weren’t protected from such development, since they failed to change the zoning of the golf course from residential to open space. Abed got a bit defensive and said he had not been there in ’64 when the golf course was created. Ah, but Abed was Mayor when the latest General Plan was created and voted upon in 2012.
When asked specifically as to whether or not the Council would decide to appeal on May 20, Abed and City Attorney Jeff Epp hedged. The Council would need to discuss whether or not to process Schlesinger’s proposal for development. My take on their answer was “no”. I don’t think this Council is willing to enrage the ECCHO folks anytime soon, nor do they really want to spend more money on a lawsuit.
Abed was pretty hard on Schlesinger throughout his meeting. One wonders why, if Schlisinger is so difficult, is Abed’s business partner, Dick Daniels, working for him?
I feel sorry for ECCHO members. The owner who said it was City Council’s fault for not changing the zoning was correct—although the fault can been spread over many Councils from 1964 to the present. I also feel a delicious sense of irony in this entire affair. Those great defenders of property rights, Abed, Morasco, Gallo, and Masson, are now being sued for denying Schlesinger’s property rights. The chairman of the Council-appointed committee that developed Escondido’s current General Plan was Dave Ferguson, the go-to lawyer for developers who want to get their projects approved in Escondido. Ferguson’s law partner, Kenneth Lounsbery was the main author of the amendment adopted be the City in 2013 that declared the Escondido Country Club to be open space.
I find it very doubtful that the City would win an appeal. I think the Council realizes that too. The Council cannot win with the ECCHO folks unless they do appeal—all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. I’m afraid I’m enjoying a bit of schadenfreude.