Beware of Developers Bearing Gifts of Golf Courses

 

So, it seems the Escondido Country Club saga has a new chapter, with New Urban West the protagonist who will come to the aide of the golf course in distress. Last October the City Council had settled their lawsuit with Stuck in the Rough (SITR). Their settlement included the provision that while SITR would remain the owner of the golf course, another developerwill act as the lead representative on any future development application for the former Country Club property and to accept proposals for development from the surrounding community.”  (I wrote about that meeting: https://ablueviewescondido.com/2015/10/07/ecchos-in-the-council-chamber/ ) J. Harry Jones covered this new development well http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2016/mar/11/escondido-county-club-development/ Logan Jenkins had some great analysis of New Urban West’s public relations’ statement. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2016/mar/12/pulling-country-club-from-rough/

The Escondido Country Club debacle isn’t the first time residents became upset by the closing of a golf course. Back in the ‘80’s, there was a golf course by the intersection of Rincon and Ash called Osbrink’s. In the words of someone who made their first eagle on the course, it was “[p]ossibly the worst-designed and maintained executive-length course in the history of golf, but what do you want for $5?” http://www.4gea.com/forum/lmessages.php?webtag=GEAFORUM&msg=30220.47 Regardless of its shortcomings, Osbrink’s was very popular with seniors and students. The privately owned course was eventually developed into residential housing. Osbrinks’ patrons begged the city council, at the time, to buy the course to keep it open. That didn’t happen, but there was a vague promise made to Osbrink’s patrons that the city would eventually build a public golf course in the northeast of the city. Never happened.

Then in September of 2000, the City of Escondido approved a Development Agreement with Ironwood at Escondido L.L.C. for development of Brookside. (New Urban West [NUW] was the managing member for Ironwood.) The copy of that agreement is not available on line, but I was able to receive it through a request for public records. It makes for some interesting reading. Article I, “Recitals”, section 3 “Intent of Parties” (a) (1) “Providing the city and the community with a public eighteen-hole executive golf course that will be owned by the City, (ii) with flood control facilities that will help alleviate severe periodic flooding conditions along North Broadway and Jesmond Dene Road, (iii) with habitat protection and mitigation areas including buffered, enhanced, revegetate and maintained wetland areas in and directly adjacent to Reidy Creek and (iv)with roadway improvement to the north half of Rincon Avenue, including curb, gutter, sidewalk, equestrian trail, and landscaped parkway…” Curbs, gutters, sidewalks, equestrian trails and landscaped parkway were also to be constructed for the south half of North Avenue, East half of North Broadway, and Cleveland Ave around the proposed development.

Sounds like a wonderful deal for the City until you look at who’s paying for what. While NUW was “contributing” 32 acres to the “golf facilities”, designing and building a clubhouse “not to exceed 2,000 square feet”, rough grade the total area for the golf course, and build a fence between the golf course and their housing development, the city was to pay for the design and building of the golf course, and the storage and maintenance buildings. The city reimbursed NUW for all their costs building the detention basin, habitat restoration, and culverts under North Broadway. The city shared the cost of many of the other flood control measures. NUW did construct sidewalks and equestrian trails, if you can consider trails that are less than three-foot wide, to be equestrian trails—goat trails would be more descriptive.

And so the 222-home gated Brookside Community was built. In 2001, the City Council voted to float a $6.3 million bond to build the Reidy Creek Golf Course. The City has spent hundreds of thousands a year to service that bond, and in 2013 refinanced $4.83 million to pay off the bond and secure new bonds. The cost to the city for that bond service in the 2013/14 budget was $360K. http://escondido2014.com/2013/12/09/clarifying-the-facts-on-reidy-creek-golf-course/

When the Council approved the bond in 2001, they anticipated that revenue from the new course would pay both the operating costs and the service of the bond debt. By 2004, it was apparent that would not be the case. Not only did the city pay $415K to service the bond in 2004, but $120K to cover operating expenses as well. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2004/jun/20/city-owned-reidy-creek-golf-course-has-tough/all/?print

There has not been one year since its construction that the Reidy Creek golf course revenue has done more than just about cover its operating expenses. Hopefully the current council will be aware of this history they are reminded of every time they approve budgets that cover the cost the golf course bond, and will beware of NUW bearing gifts of golf courses. But, NUW has some very persuasive sales people, and who knows how attractive they can make their version of a Trojan horse.

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18 thoughts on “Beware of Developers Bearing Gifts of Golf Courses

  1. kirkweffinger

    Where did you come up with the idea New Urban West has plans to include a golf course in the development. And why would you think the city negotiating a golf course as a condition of development (in the past or in the future) as a condition of project approval is a “Trojan horse”? There is a reason these golf courses don’t make financial sense…which is also the reason developers don’t want to own and operate them.

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    1. mmliles Post author

      I did not say the NUW had come up with such a plan. I’m warning against any such occurrence. And, if you don’t understand what a Trojan horse the Reidy Creek golf course was, then I guess I’m not as good a communicator as I think I am. The Reidy Creek golf course wasn’t the city’s idea, it was NUW’s.

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      1. kirkweffinger

        My recollection is that the Reidy Creek course was proposed as a way to preserve “open space” as a part of the development approval process. As residents of the Country Club area have learned to their dismay, preserving open space without placing it in the hands of either, 1) the property owners; or, 2) local government, opens it up to the possibility that that “preservation” (as a golf course or some other income-generating enterprise) becomes financially infeasible and forces the Hobson’s Choice of either allowing it to go fallow, or changing its use.

        My recommended solution to the Country Club mess had always been for the property owners in the area to form a special assessment district and purchase the land. If they wanted a perpetual golf course (or any other use) to preserve their views, let them pay for it. As you point out, the city has had a bad experience with other public courses and I, for one, would be very vocal in my opposition to the notion of the city taking over the property at my expense. Absent this solution, the only one that makes sense is to allow development of the site with as much sensitivity to the surrounding community as possible while still allowing the project to be economically viable.

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  2. Tania Bowman

    NUW is taking the bad taste of development, giving it a new and improved flavoring and dishing out exactly what the residents haven’t wanted – a housing development in their backyard. And the exact way in which NUW is accomplishing their ultimate goal is to give the residents hope that a housing development will still include a golf course.
    Ms. Liles got it right and is warning about a developer making promises that it simply does not intend to keep.

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    1. kirkweffinger

      No, she didn’t. I doubt there will be a golf course at the end of the day, because the absence of one doesn’t materially affect the majority of people who live in the community and, unless that community wants to put skin in the game, there is no support for it, economically. The folks who passionately want a golf course don’t want it passionately enough, or they would have stepped in to support it or buy it years ago.

      By the way, I thought infill development was the kind of “smart growth” you wanted? I guess that’s just talk. I keep forgetting developers are the spawn of Satan in some eyes. Who “developed” where you live, work, and shop again?

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      1. mmliles Post author

        I, personally, agree with Tom Mullaney of Friends of San Diego, who said that smart growth is an oxymoron. I am amazed that otherwise intelligent people seem to believe that you can have infinite growth in a finite world. I think that the expectation of population growth is a self-fulfilling prophecy. And, it is very possible to have the economy expand without population growth–Italy increased its GDP fifty times in about as many years with a stable population. Because the suggestion of population stabilization is a non-starter, I have favored so-called smart growth. And, I have said before that it would be much better to build houses on the old Escondido C.C. than to build it on natural habitat or agricultural land–like the exploitative proposed developments Safari Highlands Ranch and Lilac Hills.

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        1. kirkweffinger

          In a macro sense, I agree that growth cannot be infinite. However, development doesn’t encourage growth…it accommodates it.

          One way to stop population growth is by stopping births and, at the local level, stopping immigration. Or eliminating jobs.

          The surest way to stop development isn’t by putting up artificial barriers. It’s by eliminating employment opportunity.

          It’s no mystery why people…tens of thousands of them…commute every day from Southwest Riverside County to San Diego every day. They are driving to their jobs from the only affordable place they could find to live…thanks to growth restrictions that have made, and continue to make, our region’s housing decidedly unavailable and un-affordable. It’s a constant source of wonder to me that the same people who profess to be on the side of working-class families are so very often the same people whose attitude toward development has been almost entirely responsible for the elimination of affordable workforce housing in our region. A region which now ranks as the third-least affordable housing market in the nation.

          Unlike Italy, our nation’s population grows in no small part because of immigration. As for that country’s economic growth, you need to consider where it started from. It’s easy to have exponential growth if you are starting from near zero.

          As for the idea that you are in some way “protecting” agricultural lands by discouraging development in rural area, if the land in question was still economically viable (if ever) for agricultural use, it’s very likely it wouldn’t have been sold in the first place.

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          1. mmliles Post author

            The county’s GP has allowed for 70K housing units in unincorporated areas. There is no need to destroy habitat or agricultural land to add housing. If the growth industry didn’t promote population growth, insist that it will happen, I doubt that it would happen. The immigration from Mexico has dropped significantly because the birth rate in Mexico has dropped to replacement levels. We constantly support development with our tax dollars, paying for infrastructure required for new development. We should support farmers, because once farmland is developed, it pretty difficult to replace, and global warming will make food production more and more difficult. We should protect habitat even more than farmland. In the 3.5 billion year history of life on this planet, there have been five major extinction events, we are now in the sixth such event due to human overpopulation. We evolved with the web of life that developed after the last major extinction event. That web of life is what supports our life, we should do everything we can to save species from extinction. People like Sam Abed constantly speak of property rights, but, just as my right to wave my fist ends at your nose, the right of property owners should end when it robs future generations of being able to enjoy wildlife other than in a zoo. That time is now.

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          2. kirkweffinger

            So, if I understand you correctly, it’s DEVELOPERS that insist on baby-making. Interesting.

            The immigration from Mexico has dropped because of a combination of factors, most of them economic. Job creation in Mexico and a struggling economy here for the last seven years are two major ones. Population growth may be slowing there…that’s a good thing.

            As for preserving agricultural areas and natural habitat, also a good thing too, within reason. We produce more food on less land than ever, thanks to modern technology. And, unless I’m missing something, our total land mass in this country (3,805,927 sq. mi.) is largely uninhabited. I don’t think we’re in danger of condemning our children or grandchildren to only seeing animals in zoos. Besides, I’m pretty sure there would be extinctions without our help. As you’ve already noted, they’ve happened before. I could argue that our standing in the way of this process is harming evolutionary progress.

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          3. mmliles Post author

            Only a very small fraction of the earth’s surface, including what’s available in this country, is suitable for farming, and we plow up thousands of acres of that each week. It is humanity that is causing this extinction, as it is causing global warming. Suggest you read about Easter Island, or Jared Diamond’s books. Anyone who would argue that standing in the way of human “progress” is harming the natural evolutionary progress has very little knowledge of evolution.

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          4. kirkweffinger

            “Anyone who would argue that standing in the way of human “progress” is harming the natural evolutionary progress has very little knowledge of evolution.” How typically liberal. Dismiss a different viewpoint with condescending liturgy. Patronizing comments do not win converts.

            Consider for a moment an alternate reality: that our planet’s climate evolution is quite likely exacerbated by human action but was also to a degree inevitable…since the planet has never really been in stasis.

            Now, also consider that mankind is a part of nature and that, for better or worse, human activity is a PART of natural evolution. Plants and animals do what they do, humans do what we do.

            If we had been around and able to stop the extinction of the dinosaur, would that have been a good thing? Is it possible that other species might evolve to survive the changes to the world brought by human activity?

            I am all for our taking steps to bring balance to human-induced changes to our environment. However, since our having the ability to do so is part and parcel of our human evolution, stopping it altogether is denying natural evolution.

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          5. mmliles Post author

            I’m speaking from a background in biology–B.A. plus well over 100 graduate units, GPA 3.9, much of that before grade inflation. Evolution and science is something I know something about. And, comments such as you make, make it clear that you know very little about the science. I don’t have the time or energy to spend hours with you, trying to educate you. To say that the way humans are changing the planet is a part of natural evolution is simply an excuse not to address this very dire problem–there was an article in the L.A. Times just this morning “A look at melting ice sheets” by William Yardley, page A2, summarizing a recent article in Nature, that stresses the problem. I believe in science, and believe we should heed the advice of scientists, not the advice of the fossil fuel industry and their political prostitutes. I respect your intellect, but not your views on this subject. We must agree to disagree.

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  3. Tania Bowman

    NUW is taking the bad taste of development, giving it a new flavoring, sprinkling with fairy dust and accomplishing the exact same thing: a housing development in ECCHO’s backyard. The way the NUW is accomplishing their singular goal of developing this land is by meeting with and “listening” to residents, giving them hope that a golf course might still be included.
    Ms. Liles got it exactly right!

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  6. Liz

    Great Writing! It confirms what I’ve been feeling about The Trojans- “New Urban West.” They are hard at work over here in Camarillo Springs, rolling over the trusting hearts of my neighbors who fear the threats of the Golf Course owner. Our homes line up along a once lush Golf Course. The beautiful wildlife- deer, rare birds, rabbits, raccoons etc. have allowed us to share their territory for 35 years or more. Even the Mountain Lions have lived peacefully here. Today I watched a family of deer in front of my house. That’s why we moved here.
    But the new Golf Course owner has made it clear he wants to turn the Golf course into a development of over 300 homes. He is paying New Urban West to smooth over his threats of letting the green and trees die, with a chain link fence surrounding it if he doesn’t get approved by the Community and City Counsel. New Urban West is showing us drawings of a nine hole golf course, Walking paths, and a lot less homes bordering the far side of the green. Some of my neighbors believe them so they are willing to compromise. Growing up in L.A. I’ve seen this same tactic used before, Like you’ve written New Urban West is looking to me like a Trojan Horse. I’m concerned that what my neighbors see as a gift will kill their last years of health and peace, along with our abundant wild life.
    Thank you for sharing your view!
    EC

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    1. kirkweffinger

      Utter nonsense. Golf courses are dying all over the country, due to overcapacity and a decline of the sport. The developers are trying to meet people who are in denial of this fact somewhere in the middle. This could easily be avoided. If you want the “lush” golf course in your backyard, buy it.

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