(760) 741-1200


104 W. Grand Avenue, Suite A
Escondido, California 92025

< Back to News

Judge's tentative ruling would void approval of Escondido Country Club project
By J. Harry Jones, November 8, 2018

A Superior Court judge on Thursday tentatively ruled that an environmental report for a controversial housing project on a shuttered golf course in Escondido was inadequate and needs to be revised.

If Judge Ronald Frazier finalizes that decision at a hearing Friday, then the Escondido City Council’s approval of the 380-unit project on the 109-acres of the abandoned Escondido Country Club golf course will be voided. A new City Council hearing would have to be held and a new vote taken.

Frazier could also take the matter under consideration Friday and issue a final ruling later after hearing arguments from attorneys for the homeowners group that sued the city and the developer, as well as lawyers from Escondido.

The judge said he was troubled by the project’s description in the environmental report.

“...The description provided in the (environmental report) is no longer accurate,” Frazier wrote. “The project now contains, for the very first time, the inclusion of 189 condominiums and there is substantial evidence in the record that the developer assured the petitioner that no condominiums would be developed.”

Since the report did not contain information about the condominiums, the public was not given a chance to comment on that feature, he reasoned.

The California Environmental Quality Act requires environmental reports to provide accurate and stable descriptions of the project, Frazier said in the ruling.

However, he said, when the project was submitted to the city’s Planning Commission, it had been modified to develop 191 homes on individual lots and 189 attached and detached condominium units on 31 lots.

The ruling comes as part of a lawsuit filed shortly after the City Council approved the project in November, 2017, by members of the Escondido Country Club Homeowners Association (ECCHO), a group of people who live near the former golf course who have been fighting development plans since 2013.

The lawsuit against the city and the would-be developers, New Urban West, challenges the approval on numerous levels. The judge ruled against ECCHO in the tentative decision on most issues including traffic and zoning irregularities, but not on the environmental report issue.

“I appreciate that (the ruling) recognizes we have some significant issues here,” said Everett DeLano, an attorney representing ECCHO. “It’s a good start. I still think there are some issues I think we should have the opportunity to say more about.”

Attorneys for Escondido declined to comment on the ruling since it is not final.

A spokesman for New Urban West issued this statement:

“We are pleased to see that the Court has rejected nearly all of ECCHO’s claims in this tentative opinion. The minor issue noted by the court regarding the city’s 3,000-page environmental report is not much more than a “fix it” ticket. We are looking forward to our continued work with the city to deliver a great project,” said Jonathan P. Frankel, the company’s forward planning director.

Should the environmental report have to be redone and recirculated, it would likely take six months or longer before the project could come back before the council. There is also a good chance that either side could appeal various aspects of a final decision, which would potentially delay things even longer.

New Urban West has an agreement with property owner Michael Schlesinger to buy the former Country Club land only after the project has been approved and all legal hurdles have been cleared.

Schlesinger could not be reached for comment Thursday.

While some neighbors don’t want the former golf course to be developed — the course has been sitting overgrown and brown ever since being shuttered in early 2013 — others are in favor of the project saying new homes, rather than an ugly abandoned golf course, will increase their property values.

Schlesinger and the community have been at odds ever since he bought the golf course out of foreclosure in late 2012 and almost immediately announced plans to build up to 600 houses on the property.

What followed was an extensive court battle that Schlesinger eventually won. It was ruled that the zoning of the golf course did allow for housing, the result of a zoning oversight made in 1964, and that the city’s adoption of a resolution in 2013 declaring the property permanent open space was a violation of Schlesinger’s property rights.

Before the ruling, Schlesinger collected thousands of signatures and placed an initiative on the 2014 ballot asking voters to approve a 420-unit project on the land. It failed by a wide margin. But then the court ruled in his favor. The city settled the lawsuit by agreeing to have Schlesinger choose a development company to pursue the necessary permits.

New Urban West, a company with a good reputation and track record in Escondido, was selected.

The hearing before Judge Frazier is scheduled to take place at 1:30 p.m. in Dept. 39 of the Vista Courthouse.


Home | Practice Areas | Firm Background | FAQ’s | News | Resources | Attorneys | Contact | About Your Case
Law Offices of DeLano & DeLano ©2018 All Rights Reserved. Site by Sterling Productions