The ongoing…and seemingly endless … arguing over the development (or not) of the old Escondido Country Club site has all the earmarks of our national “dialog” on virtually every issue. The diametric opposition of one side or the other as to the merits of the “Villages” proposal too often is cast in entirely emotional terms, where reasoned, thought out logic is either ignored, or deemed suspicious.
At the Planning Commission on the 24th of this month (which I attended), we heard impassioned pleas about the ruination of the quality of life if the project was built, and if it were not.
Despite a very detailed explanation of how and why the project was designed the way it was, and responding to hundreds of questions surrounding the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), speakers opposed to its approval continued to doubt the merits, with some even suggesting skullduggery on the part of the developer and staff. In some cases, project proponents expressed approval merely on the basis of “something needs to be done”, hardly the stuff of logic.
Land-use planning is a far more complex issue than the average citizen is generally aware. The people employed in this field study for years to learn their craft, and spend their days poring over manuals dealing with myriad arcane rules, regulations, and criteria. Neighbors who express opposition, or approval, are seldom equipped with the same background, understandably, and instead rely on emotions. Too often, these emotions are fueled by rumor, innuendo, and fear.
Sadly, the residents of the Country Club community find themselves divided. At the Planning Commission meeting, this was validated by a count of the number of speaking slips (which also allowed those who did not wish to speak to express their opposition or approval) to be nearly a 50/50 split…the actual count was 60 against approval, 59 for.
The emotions are so high and toxic that many neighbors find themselves ostracized in their own neighborhood. At that meeting, and as a person who has not been bashful about expressing my support of the development and been critical of the ECCHO group (that I feel has fought an unnecessary battle costing all Escondido taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars), I was confronted by one angry individual who told me, “Go f*** yourself.” This was right after another opponent told me they were going to be “nice.”
Meanwhile, we have a sitting city councilman making presentations against the project … not merely expressing doubt or concern…without having seen the final staff report or heard the Planning Commission recommendation, in violation of open meeting rules. In addition, he has publicly stated his goal is to force the landowner to reduce his selling price. That this hasn’t yet set off alarm bells that he may be inviting yet another lawsuit against the city government should the proposal be denied is disturbing. After all, the city has already been involved in one lawsuit involving intemperate remarks made by its mayor prior to a land-use decision.
Few people like change, but change comes to us all.
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Kirk Effinger is a Realtor and Escondido resident. He was an opinion columnist for the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune for several years. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org