NO on H
1451 Industrial Ave
Escondido, CA 92029
10:00 AM – 4:00 PM Monday-Friday
NO on H FAQs
Proposition H, the so-called “Lakes Specific Plan,” will be on the November 4th ballot in the City of Escondido. If passed, it will create significant negative impacts in our City. Many friends and neighbors of the No on H campaign have raised questions about the measure that we are responding to in this FAQ:
Q: How long has the Escondido Country Club and Golf course existed?
A: Over 50 years.
Q: Are the homes in the neighborhood intended to be benefited by the open space?
A: Yes, absolutely. Homes were built around and in the vicinity of the golf course with the specific intention of having the open space as an amenity. In fact, the homes around the course were built on lots significantly smaller than many of the other lots in Escondido and designed so that the course would be their back yard. Homeowners paid higher prices for their homes based on the promise that the open space would be part of their lots.
Q: How has the golf course property been zoned all these years?
A: The zoning history is interesting. The base zoning is R-1-7 but, for 50 years, there has been an Open Space overlay applied to the property. That fact was confirmed in a 36-page report prepared by the City. The City created the open space in 1963 when it allowed homes around the golf course to be built on small lots, and it recently confirmed the open space designation.
"The property rights really lies with the homeowners because they bought this as an open space," Escondido Mayor Sam Abed said in a Q&A published Sept. 17, 2014 in the U-T San Diego. "I have been disappointed with the way the developer has treated the community."
Q: Who owns the course now?
A: In December of 2012, the course was bought by a Beverly Hills developer named Michael Schlesinger. He formed a development company called Stuck in the Rough, which took title. Schlesinger also formed an entity he calls CARE, also controlled by Schlesinger.
Q: What happened after the purchase?
A: The homeowners watched Schlesinger drive the operation of the club into the red. Within three months of the purchase, Schlesinger announced he was closing the course, even though homeowners and club members had proposed measures to increase the profitability of the property.
Q: How did the homeowners and the community react; what did they do?
A: The homeowners mobilized. They prepared an initiative petition to preserve the property as the open space it had been for 50 years. In just a few weeks, using only volunteers, they obtained enough signatures, which they presented to the City Council to force an election and vote on a measure reaffirming the property as open space.
Q: What did the Council do?
A: By a unanimous vote, the City Council decided that an election was not necessary. Instead, it unanimously adopted the measure and the historic open space status of the property was again confirmed.
Q: How did Schlesinger react?
A: He was furious. He brought a lawsuit against the City claiming $100 million in damages. He sued 26 of the homeowners around the course, focused mostly on those who had opposed him. He stopped watering the trees and grass, all of which have died. He erected a chain-link fence around the backyards of homeowners whom he blamed. And, in a final fit of anger, he dumped raw, unprocessed chicken manure on the abandoned fairways behind numerous homes abutting the shuttered golf course. For that, Schlesinger was cited by San Diego County’s Air Pollution Control Board, which recently sent him a settlement offer, giving him 30 days to pay a fine or be sued.
Q: Did Schlesinger stop there?
A: No. This wealthy but inexperienced developer, who has said he’s never built anything, is proposing to build 430 high-density housing units on the property.
Q: How can he do that if the property is now open space?
A: Schlesinger is proposing his own election initiative, which would completely nullify the citizen’s open space measure unanimously adopted by the City Council. He calls it the “Lakes Specific Plan.” He paid for the signatures he gathered and the initiative is on the November 4th ballot. It’s Proposition H.
Q: What will happen if Proposition H passes?
A: Schlesinger will have the right to build 430 high-density housing units on 110 acres of open space, and no one can do anything about it.
Q: Has anyone done a study to determine the impacts of such a project?
A: Yes. Before the City Council was forced to call the election on Proposition H, it ordered the preparation of a 36-page impact study.
Q: What did the report say?
A: It detailed some very alarming impacts, particularly about traffic. Here are some of the details.
- 430 housing units could be built on 79 acres of what is now open space
- Many lots would be 3,650 square feet, much smaller than standard R-1-7 lots
- The project would jam our roads and freeways with MORE traffic – 5,000 daily vehicle trips are expected – and street improvements could require condemnation of private property.
Q: Did the report address water issues?
A: Yes. It pointed out that the “lakes” referred to in the plan are actually just retention basins which are necessary to hold the surface water run-off in the flood plain. And, in terms of fresh water, this project would consume more water than was required for the golf course – 453,048 gallons per day! That’s 173,585 more gallons per day – a 62 percent surge in daily water use – than the golf course used.
Q: Did the City’s report discuss impacts on schools?
A: Yes. The project would add hundreds of new students to already overcrowded schools.
Q: What amenities does Schlesinger offer as part of the project?
A: That’s an interesting issue. He says he’ll build a pool, a clubhouse and trails, and give the City $1 million. But his plan makes it clear that someone else – likely the taxpayers – will have to foot the bill. By the way, the open space in the plan is mostly streets and sidewalks and, according to the City, the $1 million “gift” wouldn’t be enough to pay half of the recreation budget for one year. In fact, it would cost $500,000 every year, just to maintain the pool Schlesinger would build, so the City’s maintenance budget would be increased.
Q: Has there been an attempt to meet with Schlesinger to find a middle ground?
A: Yes. From the very outset, community members tried to meet with him to improve and support the operation of the club. Schlesinger wouldn’t hear it. Then a band of community members formed as investors and offered to buy the property at a fairly appraised price. Again, Schlesinger stonewalled the offer.
Q: What will happen if Proposition H does not pass?
A: We know of at least three investors interested in buying the land, and one has submitted a letter of intent to purchase. We have a plan and it starts with defeating Prop H. If we're successful we will sit down with whomever owns the property and collaborate on a project that makes sense for the community and the developer. The plan on the November ballot only benefits the developer, who didn't include us in his planning process.
It’s important to note that the community was never involved in the planning of Michael Schlesinger’s plans for the property. Developers up and down the San Diego County spend a year or more working with the community to develop plans that work for everyone. In this case, the exact opposite occurred. In fact, Michael Schlesinger hired guards to exclude community members and homeowners from meetings regarding the fate of the golf course. We were literally locked out of the planning process.
If this out-of-town developer is allowed wins in November, no neighborhood in Escondido will be safe. The message will have been sent that developers can get super-dense housing projects approved in Escondido by filing lawsuits and threatening residents.
Q: Can’t the city or state step in and stop this developer?
A: If voters approve Prop H the development would trump city “plans, ordinances and guidelines” and would be “exempt from CEQA’s environmental review process,” according to the initiative’s official language.
Q: The developer says this is a compromise. True?
A: No. The City told the developer his plan for 298 housing units was too dense and he responded by submitting a plan for 430 units.
Q: Is anyone supporting this developer?
A: This wealthy developer will stress that he has support from a handful of outside organizations, but that leaves out important context. He writes large checks, and we simply can’t match his spending power. We expect this developer to outspend our grassroots campaign by 50-1. Yet not one community group in Escondido, including the Escondido Chamber of Commerce, supports his plan.
Q: Back to the litigation. What will happen in the lawsuit against the City?
A: This amateur developer has brought dozens of lawsuits against Escondido homeowners, and he has named the City in at least two other suits. Yet, as his claims are heard by the courts, they have ALL been rejected. One remains – his claim of $100 million in damages against the City for "taking" his property. But, his claim cannot and must not be taken at face value. It is likely to go the way of all his other claims.
In fact, the City has prepared and filed pleadings that would deal an early knock-out blow against the takings argument. A hearing is set for early November - right after the election.
We can only surmise that the developer didn't want the court to decide his case before the election because the outcome would deprive him of a campaign argument.
Further, experts in this field of law predict that the City’s case is very strong and that Schlesinger is highly unlikely to succeed with his claim.