Like it or Not, Change is Coming

By Jeff Fischer

Change can be difficult.

There’s nothing like moving someone out of their comfort zone to get a reaction out of them. The human reflex responses of “fight or flight” kick in and, we either run away from change or we hunker down and resist it as much as possible. Residents of the now defunct Escondido Country Club have chosen the latter and have been successful, thus far, in resisting any attempts by the new owner, Michael Schlesinger, to develop the land that he owns.

The residents have taken up a new battle cry. Their mantra is, to a paraphrase an old saying, “The grass should be greener on the other side of the fence, and it better damn-well be a golf course.” After the defeat of Proposition H in November 2014, their cries are no longer tentative, but hubris-filled demands. And like Sancho Panza tilting at windmills, the residents – and their collective group ECCHO – continue to fight against the legal owner of the property doing anything other than what they want.

At a public workshop meeting held on March 5, 2015, the green shirt group was present again to let the city know exactly what they want to happen to the land that was the Escondido Country Club. If you guessed a golf course, you’re right.

The city is moving forward. But before we go forward, perhaps we should review what has happened. When Schlesinger decided that he wanted to close the Country Club and build homes, ECCHO decided to fight. An initiative was proposed, signatures were gathered, and after verification of said signatures, the council opted to enact the initiative without putting it on the ballot.

The initiative changed the land use for the property that Schlesinger bought. Where once the land use was open to development of housing, the new land use – Open Space Park – created a use that would only allow for recreation related activities.

The city now needs to approve the zoning for the new land use. The list of appropriate zoning choices is quite specific. Open Space – Park allows for a “…golf course, recreation, and appurtenant uses” meaning that the city – through the adoption of the ECCHO initiative – has boxed Schlesinger into building a golf course.

Mayor Abed has added to this excess of arrogance. He sided with ECCHO (when it was politically expedient) and demanded that the legal owner of the property come back to the table to negotiate. He continues to stoke the fires of hope that the golf course will come back. This is folly and ECCHO is falling for it.

At the public workshop, many gave their vision of what the Country Club property should become. One woman suggested that the Country Club become a Catskills-like resort straight out of the movie, Dirty Dancing, complete with restaurants that close at 10, amenities that cater to the well-to-do, and return Escondido to the 1950’s. She suggested that “while the men play golf, the women will lounge in the spa.” The only thing missing from her vision was the all minority staff and, of course, a no Jews allowed policy.

This entire process creates a very bad precedent for the City of Escondido. Michael Schlesinger, the legal owner of the property, has been told by neighbors that he has no rights to build on his land. In fact, they’ve gone farther and told him exactly what he’s allowed to develop. When you push away the associated hype, the “out-of-town, Beverly Hills developer” or “Mr. Chicken Poop”, you find that a group of citizens has denied a person his rights. What makes you think that this can’t, or won’t, happen to you?

The changes were made by initiative. Simply collect enough signatures and you can force the city council to either adopt your initiative or put it on the ballot. If your neighbor doesn’t like the tree house you’re building for your children, or the fire-pit you’re building for entertaining, or anything else that you’re doing on your private property, they can just collect enough signatures to force you to do something else.

Is that an overly simplified example of the problem? Perhaps it is. But consider this: maybe you want to build a new home, or add on to your existing home, and have five bedrooms. What if your neighbors don’t like that density and/or potential increased traffic, or the fact that your mother-in-law is coming to live with you? A simple change in the land use, or creation of a new land use (as was done in the case of the country club) and you’re prohibited from building.

The ramifications of this entire process are far reaching and onerous. It is a sad day indeed when we, as a mob, can legislate what our neighbors can or cannot do. We should hope that the judge agrees with the legal owner of this property and allows him to do with it what he wants. We need to have a council that understands that long term implications of their actions, not just harvesting votes for the next election.

To paraphrase another old saying, “Elections have consequences, and boy did we mess up.”

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