What began as a battle between the residents of the Escondido Country Club community and, Stuck-In-The Rough, LLC, the relatively new owners of the now-shuttered golf course from which the neighborhood derives its name, has escalated into an all-out war.
The blame for this sorry state, as is often the case, lies primarily with lawyers…primarily, but not solely.
While tempers flare and lawyerly egos clash, the political “leaders” in Escondido have chosen to sit on their hands, accepting the opinion of their city attorney that there is simply nothing that can be done but watch things play out, quite possibly in court.
First of all, let’s replace the words “can be done” with “should be done” and let’s consider for a moment that this fiasco isn’t just about one little pocket of homes in the northeast corner of Escondido but has the potential to affect the pocketbooks of every taxpayer in the city. This is because both sides have made it very clear they are fighting this issue to the death and in the case of Stuck-In-The Rough, their representatives have made it clear they will sue the city itself if they are denied what they believe are their rights as owners of the property.
Unless the court forces the owner to keep the property as a golf course…an unlikely result…somebody has to pick up the tab for acquiring and maintaining the property. This means either by the city in its entirety, or through formation of a Community Facilities District (CFD) for that specific purpose.
The city will be involved, whether they like it or not. It seems to me the logical thing to do is to act as a facilitator to get both sides to sit down…along with at-large citizens of Escondido as additional potential stakeholders…to try to negotiate an agreement that works for everyone. The City Council wouldn’t get directly involved but would show its leadership by establishing such a group.
It seems to me a citizen’s task force made up of these folks, along with a few experts from city staff and elsewhere to help answer questions about financial matters, legality, and so on, could go a long way toward reaching common ground. Getting people in the same room talking to one another rather than at one another. Negotiators do the former, lawyers do the latter.
There will be no winners in this if it goes to court. There will be no final decision either. Given the animosity and vitriol on both sides, an appeal of the decision is a virtual certainty no matter what the court decides, meaning more agony for the residents and property values diminished further by an abandoned golf course gone to seed.
Through inaction, Escondido’s City Council is ceding the city’s fate to another power…a court system that understandably has no stake in the overall issues that govern the city or affect its populace. It’s time for Escondido’s leaders to lead.
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. Along with being active in community affairs he has published local community magazines and a North County lifestyle magazine. His opinion columns have appeared regularly in the North County Times and, later, the San Diego Union-Tribune since 1995.