Escondido, CA
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City loses Escondido Country Club lawsuit

Beverly Hills based developer Michael Schlesinger always predicted that a judge would declare that the city of Escondido had overstepped its legal bounds when it put the old golf course portion of the Escondido Country Club into open space. He always said that it was an unconstitutional “taking.”

Turns out he was right.

However, as Yoga Berra once said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over” and one judge’s ruling can and often is overturned on appeal.

On March 13 Judge Earl H. Maas III ruled that the city erred by putting the 110-acres of the Escondido Country Club into open space.

The question is, will the City of Escondido appeal? At Wednesday’s city council meeting, as one wag observed, the most interesting item occurred in closed session. City Attorney Jeff Epp later reported that the council is now studying its options. That means the city is considering an appeal.

However, the city has so far spent $500,000 on legal fees in this battle. It may not want to continue the drain on the city’s resources.

ECCHO (The Escondido Country Club Homeowner Organization), which led the successful fight to handily defeat Schlesinger’s Prop. H at the ballot box in November, is fearful that the city might throw in the towel and sit down to talk with Schlesinger.

Quoted by the San Diego U-T ECCHO President Mike Salter said, “We were afraid this might happen, that the city might just lie down on it so they didn’t have the takings case against them.” He added, “Sam (Abed) may not get elected the next time around if that happens.”

Talks between ECCHO and Schlesinger in the past have not ended happily, since each side has taken a position diametrically opposed to the other.

Buoyed by their electoral victory, the Escondido Country Club residents to a large degree maintain their demand that some sort of golf course go in at the property. Schlesinger says he won’t settle for anything less than being able to put some houses where the greens once grew and where, for a short time, during the height of the war of words between him and ECHHO, a pile of chicken manure sat stewing.

Judge Maas has sided with Schlesinger. He ruled that the main problem with the amendment to General Plan was that it was obviously aimed at one and only one person and that it discriminated against Schlesinger’s Stuck in the Rough by designating the land as an “open-space park.”

ECCHO’s reaction is that Judge Maas has overturned their constitutional right to change the law by initiative.

This is the complete statment:

“ECCHO is extremely disappointed in Judge Maas’ ruling on the lawsuit.

“Judge Maas’ ruling raises important questions about the Constitutional right of voters to participate in the initiative process.

“The City Council approved ECCHO’s initiative 5-0 in August, 2013 when we gathered enough signatures of registered voters in the City. The voters then defeated STIR’s initiative in the election of Nov. 4, 2014.

The ECCHO statement concluded, “We intend to be part of the land use decision that reflects the will of the entire community and hope the City Council will honor the wishes of the voters in Escondido.”

Maas noted that slightly more than a year before the amendment that the newly adopted General Plan allowed for single family residences of up to 5.5 units per acre on the property.

In his statement issued following the ruling Schlesinger took a conciliatory tone. He called on the city and the country club residents to negotiate.

The golf course was built in the 1960s after the city granted a special use permit for the property, which had been zoned residential. Fifty years later the golf course was increasingly unprofitable. Schlesinger’s company Stuck in the Rough purchased the 110 acres in 2012 in a foreclosure sale.

He and the residents of the country club area never hit it off. He started off with a proposal for 600 homes, which he later lowered to 430 homes. This was the number that he was hoping that the city’s voters would approve. However Prop. H was defeated by a large margin.

Recently Schlesinger recently unveiled a 270-unit proposal, although he has not yet submitted that plan to the city.

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