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Oct. 20, 2017

Escondido's YIMBYs may set us on a better path

San Diego County desperately needs new homes to meet demand and, if approved, this compromise plan for the Escondido Country Club will inject critical housing inventory into the North County market place.

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By Mick Pattinson

Next Tuesday, the City of Escondido has the opportunity to lift some of the housing gloom that has engulfed our region for so long. A compromise plan for the development of 392 homes at the Escondido Country Club comes before the city planning commission and it is strongly backed by local citizens.

The Escondido Country Club has made lots of headlines in recent years, usually for the wrong reasons. The financial failure of the golf club during the recession, the arrival of an out of town developer with big ideas followed by a resistance campaign from local NIMBY groups leading to an ugly stalemate. Bad blood between the rival groups led to the city backing residents over new homes and the property closing in 2013 as it fell into disrepair.

Neighbors grew tired of the financial meltdown they suffered through the loss of home value and the damage to their neighborhood from the overgrown golf course, neighborhood blight and the derelict club house. They grew tired of the vagrants and vandalism and drug dealers in their back yard. After years of decline, the NIMBY's (Not in my Backyard) gave way to a fledgling YIMBY (Yes in my Backyard) group determined to put their community back together again.

Today the fledgling YIMBY group has grown into more than 300 citizens determined to take control of their own destiny and next week's city Planning Commission hearing should reward their determination with approval of a new plan. Replacement builder New Urban West, working in conjunction with community members, is proposing 392 new homes, far fewer than the 600 originally contemplated and called for in the city's General Plan. All homes will be powered using solar energy and the development will contain 44 acres of open space plus four miles of trails, bike lanes and traffic mitigation measures. A brand new $10 million clubhouse with pool and fitness center will also be built.

San Diego County desperately needs new homes to meet demand and, if approved, this compromise plan for the Escondido Country Club will inject critical housing inventory into the North County market place. But approval of this heavily backed plan will do much more than that.

It will demonstrate to local pro-business and pro-housing advocates that there is an audience for their message. The YIMBY movement has arrived. People see through the selfish politics of NIMBYism, one of the biggest curses developers and property owners face.

Our city leaders will see that the tide is turning. After years of giving way to the obstructionists it is time for government to take seriously the needs of the "have nots" and solve our housing needs through the free market - meaning supply must equal demand and our built in shortfall of homes must be addressed.

Approval of the Escondido Country Club plan will demonstrate that land uses must constantly adapt in the face of economic change with housing always top priority as the replacement use. We live in a world where retail, manufacturing, transportation, hospitality and the leisure industries - and before we know it others - are changing before our eyes. Housing, in all its forms, stands ready to fill the void.

Let us use the example of this failed golf venue as an example of what can be achieved if we dismiss the negative instincts of a few and promote the need to constantly listen to our neighbors. Let us remind ourselves what this property looked like during five years of abandonment and what it could soon become - 109 acres of recreation land turned into 392 "state of the art" homes and still 44 acres retained as open space with trails and bike lanes and a modern country club.

This is a scenario that can be repeated time and time again across our region and across our state. Nowhere has housing supply been suffocated more than here in California with one rule, regulation or law on top of another blunting well-intentioned people and their desire to build.

The results are all around us. High-priced homes in short supply with too many people underserved or not served at all. The YIMBY's of Escondido may be about the set us on a better path.

Mick Pattinson is past President of the San Diego Building Industry Association and the California Building Industry Association. The opinions expressed here are his own.

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