ESCONDIDO — When the Escondido City Council unanimously approved an initiative to keep the Escondido Country Club and Golf Course as open space and a golf course in August, they thought the matter was closed.
But a new petition has forced city council to put the country club owner’s proposal to build over 400 homes and a community center on the property to the voters on the November ballot.
Hundreds of residents attended Wednesday night’s city council meetings to show their opposition to the development and support of the original open space and golf course initiative.
Developer Michael Schlesinger’s company, Stuck in the Rough, LLC, bought the country club in 2012. The country club was closed on April 1, 2013, and shortly after Schlesinger announced his plan to replace the club and golf course with homes.
Residents of the nearby country club rallied together as the Escondido County Club Homeowners Organization to oppose the development and petitioned the city to keep the land as a golf course and open space. That led to city council approving their petition initiative in August.
But Schlesinger fought back with a petition of his own, with the initiative to build 430 homes and a community center complete with a pool and tennis courts. The petition garnered over 11,000 signatures, almost 9,000 of which were verified by the San Diego County Registrar of Voters.
The proposal came before city council on Wednesday night.
Because enough signatures in support of the petition were gathered, the city was required by California Election Code to place the development proposal on this November’s ballot.
City Council did have the option of ordering a report on the facts surrounding the initiative and proposed development before the initiative is put to voters.
Schlesinger did not attend, but several of his business associates spoke on the proposal’s behalf. They lauded the development proposal for bringing jobs and millions of dollars in economic benefits to the city of Escondido.
Former state senator Dennis Hollingsworth pointed to the ongoing multi-million dollar litigation Stuck in the Rough, LLC, filed against the city last year. He said that sending the country club matter to the voters is more favorable than continuing with the lawsuit.
A handful of ECCHO representatives spoke on behalf of the hundreds of members that attended the meeting to advocate for the study.
The speakers acknowledged that the home development proposal had to be put on the ballot by law, but asked that the study of the proposal be completed. They expressed hope that an impartial report by city staff would clarify matters including how such a development would impact surrounding traffic, schools, and infrastructure.
“We’ve heard an awful lot of claims. Those claims need to be tested,” said Ken Lounsbery, an attorney for the local residents.
The City Council unanimously voted in favor of obtaining such a report.
The report will be presented to city council at its July 23 meeting, at which time the initiative will be formally placed on the ballot.
“Now we are sending an initiative to the voters,” Mayor Sam Abed said. “It’s not about a few dollars or revenue to the city. This is about the interests of the country club community. Period.”