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Escondido Golf Course Dispute Could Become Landmark Private Property Rights Case

A lawsuit filed by a developer against the city of Escondido is shaping up to be a landmark property rights case.

Aired 11/14/13 on KPBS News.

A legal battle between the city of Escondido and a private developer over the future of a golf course is shaping up to be a landmark property rights case.

A headline in the U-T San Diego newspaper this week screamed, “Escondido Faces Bankruptcy.” The double-page ad was taken out by Stuck in the Rough, a developer that bought the Escondido Country Club golf course and now wants to build 283 homes on it.

The city of Escondido adopted a petition from neighbors who want to block that development.

Erica Holloway, spokeswoman for the developer, said club membership has dropped off and water rates are too high to keep the golf course open. She said Stuck in the Rough is suing the city, saying attempts to block building plans amount to an illegal “taking” of property.

“If the judge says, ‘I believe it is a legal taking, I believe you now own this property,’ they would have to pay,” she said, “and they don’t have the money to do it. “

Holloway said that would leave Escondido on the hook for up to $100 million.

But Ken Lounsbery, an attorney for the neighboring homeowners group, ECCHO, said the ad is a scare tactic. He said the petition does not amount to a “taking of private property” because the city would allow other reasonable uses for the land, just not building houses.

“It has to be of interest to any property owner whose home adjoins the golf course — it was an asset for which they paid,” Lounsbery said. “Anyone in this position, I don’t care where they are, would be interested in this dispute.”

Lounsbery said the developer has hired an LA-based attorney that specializes in cases of unconstitutional "taking." The suit is moving from the state to the federal court, elevating this case from being a matter of local zoning and planning into the larger theater of federal private property rights.

If a compromise is not reached, the case could go to trial next year.

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