ESCONDIDO — More than a year after chicken manure was spread all over the defunct Escondido Country Club, developer Michael Schlesinger is forced to pay $100,000 in penalty fines to the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District.
According to representatives at the district, Schlesinger paid to have about five tons of chicken manure spread over the golf course, which, at the time, Schlesinger said was for maintenance.
Between early April and early May 2014, the county received 63 complaints from 46 people about the strong odors, according to District Director Robert Kard.
He is suspicious that the manure was used for maintenance.
“This country club was defunct for well over a year, probably closer to two years and there’s really no maintenance needed when (the grass is) dead and not watered,” said Kard.
Michael Schlesinger’s attorney in the case, Ronald Richards, said the Stuck in the Rough Board decided on using the soil enhancer after hearing from “the nation’s most respected.”
“It was a dried product that was sold by a licensed agricultural specialist in San Diego County,” said Richards. “We don’t dictate what products are recommended to enhance soil, that is up to the experts.”
The country club has been a point of contention within the community after Schlesinger announced plans to build more than 600 homes on the site through his company, Stuck in the Rough.
Residents surrounding the golf course formed a group, Escondido Country Club Homeowners, or ECCHO, and asked city council to declare the golf course permanent open space.
The council did so and was then met with a lawsuit by Schlesinger, which he won in March.
The country club reverted back to its original zoning.
Some believed the chicken manure was a move by Schlesinger to retaliate against the homeowners, which his attorney, Richards, denied.
“It sounds like sour grapes to me. We won the courthouse, the resolution was struck down as being arbitrary and capricious,” he said referring to the case against the city, which Schlesinger won.
While the odors were extremely strong, Kard said they weren’t toxic unless ingested.
“It was a nuisance odor,” he said.
The odors did cause nausea and watering eyes in some nearby residents.
The penalty fine will go towards funding the district’s programs.
An example Kard gave was the annual lawn-mower trade in. Residents can bring in a qualified gas-powered lawn mower and receive a brand new Black & Decker mower at a quarter of its ticket price, $99.
The penalty was settled on because, Kard said, the fine needed to be hefty enough to hurt financially.
The fine could have been much higher, because the violation lasted for 26 days and the county could have fined him $75,000 a day for the nuisance.
Attorney Richards said he and Schlesinger are elated and ecstatic about the outcome.
“The money is specifically used for air quality improvements and we couldn’t be happier,” he said.
The latest proposal from Schlesinger is to build 270 homes with lot sizes ranging from 7,000 to 16,000 square feet.
A representative of Stuck in the Rough, Dick Daniels said the company is “currently selecting a homebuilder who will handle community outreach, processing and entitling the 270-home land plan.”