Kirk Effinger: Escondido County Club — The only winners are the lawyers

Having ignored the more reasonable alternative of sitting down and negotiating a compromise settlement, both sides in the Escondido Country Club version of the shootout at the O.K. Corral had their first round fought in court. 

To the dismay of area residents — and no doubt city leaders, as well — Superior Court Judge Earl Maas has ruled that the owner of the defunct golf course property had a legitimate right to file a lawsuit against the group organized to defeat his plans and claim his right to develop.

While this case has many more rounds to go, this is an inauspicious beginning for the efforts of the residents within the Escondido Country Club Home Owner’s Association.

And to think it was all avoidable if both sides of the issue had chosen the path of negotiation rather than combat.

By all accounts, property owner Michael Schlesinger has not been, shall we say, the most approachable developer to come to town. Choosing consultants — engineers, attorneys, land planners — to work with who you may be comfortable with, rather than people who have local knowledge and a feel for the community rarely works out well, especially in a region as hostile to new development as this one.

That said, things also rarely work out well for the naysayers fighting a project when they make the mistake of rushing to the lawyers, signaling they are going to the mattresses to not just try to get a better project built on the land owned by another, but essentially render his investment worthless by defeating it outright. It also doesn’t help when lawyers kick the hornet’s nest and fan the resident’s flames of passion with unrealistic characterizations of their rights as homeowners in the area.

To her credit, although she voted with the rest of her City Council colleagues to adopt an initiative to preserve the Escondido Country Club Golf Course as open space and recreational use, Deputy Mayor Olga Diaz did try to bring the two sides together to discuss compromise. Predictably — and regrettably — the animus possessed of both sides has been sufficient to foreclose any possibility of the meeting happening in the near future.

Schlesinger has been acting the part of the schoolyard bully, refusing to yield in his demands for all or nothing at this point. ECCHOA residents and their lawyers have likewise demonstrated and conveyed a complete unwillingness to anything less than taking away the property owner’s rights.

The most disheartening thing about this situation is that thanks to the Escondido City Council’s decision to step into the middle of this with its ordinance, Escondido taxpayers are exposed to the very real possibility they will be saddled not only with legal bills to fight the pending “takings” lawsuit, but also yet another judgment by the courts that will result in civil penalties to be paid. This is because the city’s action to declare the Country Club open space has, by Schlesinger’s own account made it the target of the takings lawsuit.

In the end, the only winners in this will be the lawyers — as is most often the case.

Kirk W. Effinger was born in San Diego and raised in Southern California. He and his family have been residents of San Marcos for the past 30 years. His opinion columns have appeared regularly in the North County Times and, later, the San Diego Union-Tribune since 1995. He can be reached at kirkinsanmarcos@att.net or follow him on Twitter at @kirkeffinger

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  1. Kimber Allison says:

    The unanswered question remains…is the land zoned R1or open space?

    There may be case law that says this was not “taking” by the city unless the city planned to occupy the property.

    In Vista, years ago, the south east corner of Mar Vista Drive was changed from R1 to Commercial and then changed back…either just before or just after someone purchased 6 individual properties amounting at least 12 acres.

    Cities can change zoning, as Sam Abed said to me, “we change zoning all the time.”

  2. John Brock says:

    Sounds like the blame goes to the city council for making an ill informed decision based on poor counsel. How can they not have engaged proper outside council before hastily adopting this initiative. I believe they will have a lot of explaining to do come the 2014 elections or they will be gonners!

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