On the evening of August 14, the Escondido City Council unanimously voted to approve a petition submitted by the grassroots organization ECCHO, the Escondido Country Club & Community Homeowners Organization. The 110-acre defunct Escondido Country Club golf course was immediately designated as open space and the 238-home development plan recently submitted by owner Michael Schlesinger cannot be built.
Over 700 supporters clad in green ECCHO T-shirts arrived to fit into a room built to accommodate 250. The overflow crowd utilized the outside patio and Grape Day Park, where additional chairs, TVs, and speakers were set up. Fire marshals and police officers were stationed to maintain order during the emotional but civil presentations of both sides of the issue.
Schlesinger defended his claim to build on his private property. The heart of his argument rested on the city’s zoning documentation — or lack thereof — for the property. He stated, “ECCHO claims that in 1963 a builder was allowed to build more homes on smaller lots in exchange for [building] the golf course. There has been no evidence, no document, no covenant, no correspondence supporting ECCHO’s claim. If such a document existed from a legal perspective, why would ECCHO have to collect signatures?”
In response, ECCHO attorney David Ferguson stated, “We don’t need to go back over 50-year-old planning-commission resolutions; there is just one key fact. The fact is that in 1971 the city adopted its first general plan, the overriding and controlling document for land use in Escondido, and that plan, undeniably, unmistakably, incontestably designated the Escondido CC as open space.”
Of the 40 speakers during the public hearing, no one wanted to leave the decision to a vote in 2014; they wanted the petition accepted and approved immediately. However, about a dozen people called for a 30-day wait to gather more data prior to deciding the issue. Many people recounted the effect the golf-club closure had on them personally. Others argued that it was the people who should decide how Escondido is developed and not developers and the power of money.
Resident Katy Haines said, “[M]y property is losing value daily due to the deteriorating conditions of the golf course. It’s an eyesore after just four months of neglect by its current owner Mike Schlesinger.”
Bob Hawley, manager of the petition drive, said, “Only one-third of our signatures came from the country-club area. We got signatures from over 98 percent of the precincts in Escondido that had over ten registered voters.” The city council acknowledged that both the owner and residents of the community have property rights, but that the property rights of the community and how they want their community developed should prevail.
Mayor Sam Abed said, “I concur with our city attorney’s opinion that the 110-acre golf course that was designated 50 years ago should remain as open space. We disagree with the developer’s position to treat the golf course as vacant land.”
Councilman John Masson stated, “Clearly, the intention from all the documents I’ve reviewed, that this is a golf course into perpetuity. The initiative has my full support.”
In his turn, councilman Mike Morasco stated, “I consider myself extremely pro property rights and I consider myself extremely pro development. But buying the property doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want to do with the property.”
Councilman Ed Gallo said, “Escondido Country Club is part of the fabric of the community, drawing people together from all walks of life. This is what residents are fighting for — it’s quality of life.”
Deputy mayor Olga Diaz said, “[ECCHO] demonstrated that it’s not just a country-club issue; it’s the entire community’s concern for open space and quality of life and property values and amenities, as these are important things everywhere in our city.”
In response to the 5-0 vote to approve the measure, Schlesinger released a statement through his publicist, “Today was a bad day for Escondido taxpayers. The city's gambling with public money on the hopes it will win a risky case and not end up with a taxpayer-funded bailout."