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City asks judge to dismiss ECHHO lawsuit, says it no longer exists

The city of Escondido has asked the judge to dismiss the case Escondido Country Club Home Owners (ECCHO) brought against it in December. The city attorney claims ECCHO no longer exists in a legal sense because it hasn’t filed the proper paperwork and paid its taxes.

ECCHO  sued the city over its vote to approve New Urban West Inc.’s “Villages” Country Club development. The suit challenged the City’s approval of the 380-home development known as The Villages Project (Project). The residents of the Country Club area have been fighting for nearly five years to prevent the development from going through in its current form.

ECCHO’s board says that its death has been greatly exaggerated. In an email to its members earlier this week the board declared, “To All ECC Neighborhood Homeowners and Residents,

The recent claims being made by New Urban West, Inc. in the ECCHO lawsuit are based on an administrative issue that is being corrected. ECCHO will be taking all actions required to keep the lawsuit on track. Updates will be provided as events occur.”

The Times-Advocate asked the city attorney, Michael R. McGuinness,  to clarify this issue.  He commented: “On March 9, 2018, the City filed its demurrer to ECCHO’s complaint.  This statement in the brief fairly states the City’s position:

“A corporation’s right to initiate and prosecute litigation in a California court is dependent on its meeting its tax obligations.  ECCHO’s prosecution of this action is in violation of California law as its corporate status is suspended by the Franchise Tax Board. Despite this violation, ECCHO attempts to use CEQA and other land use and planning laws to delay, financially prejudice, and scuttle the development of the Project’s 380 residences and the associated beneficial uses in contravention of the express legislative policies codified in CEQA, the Planning and Zoning Law, and the Subdivision Map Act.  Dismissal of the Petition and each cause of action by demurrer is proper as ECCHO lacks capacity to sue; the statutes of limitations have expired; and there is no cure for these defects.”

We asked McGuinness why the Villages project hasn’t moved forward.  “I think the leading obstruction to project movement is the actual sale of the property to New Urban West.  That escrow has not closed.  Mr. Schlesinger and NUW can best speak to the reasons behind that process,” said McGuinness, the city attorney. “At this time, only a lawsuit has been filed; the court itself has not stopped the sale or development.”

However, New Urban West clarified that it is waiting for the lawsuit to be concluded.

Jonathan Frankel, project manager for NUW told the Times-Advocate: “The lawsuit prevents us from proceeding with the purchase of the property and any work on the project.  Once the lawsuit has been dealt with and the grading permits have been issued, then escrow can close, and work can begin.”

The city’s demurrer is scheduled to be heard May 4.

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