Busy Escondido Tuesday: Library lawsuit filed, ATF country club fire inquiry continues

Save Our Escondido Library Coalition supporters rally outside Escondido City Hall Tuesday, Nov. 28 as a lawsuit was filed to stop the proposed privatization of the public library/Twitter

Two hot-button Escondido issues got all pumped up Tuesday, Nov. 28 as opponents of the controversial Escondido City Council decision to privatize the public library filed suit to stop the plans while the ATF was continuing to investigate last week’s suspicious fire at the abandoned Escondido Country Club clubhouse.

Legal shoe drops on Abed’s library privatization effort

Despite mass protests by residents, the Escondido City Council, led by Mayor Sam Abed, in October voted 4-1 — Olga Diaz opposing — to sign a 10-year contract with Maryland-based Library Systems & Services (LS&S).

The library’s 30 employees who now are city employees would be forced to transfer to the private company or leave employment. Alan Geraci, a San Marcos consumer attorney also running against state Rep. Marie Waldron (R-75th District), filed a lawsuit against the City of Escondido for entering into an improper outsourcing agreement for the Escondido Public Library.

Geraci and local library activists announced the lawsuit in front of the Escondido Public Library, downtown, along with 50 library supporters who were on hand to support the legal challenge.

“The City of Escondido has broken the law, Geraci said. “By forcing privitization of our library, the City Council failed the community, failed the library workers, and failed to follow the law.”

The suit claims that the contract the city entered into with LS&S was improper and must be rescinded.  The legal action was brought on behalf of Roy and Mary Garrett of Escondido, 46-year residents and library supporters, who spoke at the event.

You can read the lawsuit here: Lawsuit Garrett v. City of Escondido

Roy Garrett said: “The council majority destroyed our branch library in the face of virtually universal local opposition. Now the city manager, the mayor and City Council majority have broken faith with all the Escondido residents, taxpayers, volunteers, library employees and donors who created and nurtured this heart of our city, our 100-year-old public library, and turned it into a profit center for a corporation. Neither the law nor the citizens of Escondido can allow this to happen without challenge.”

Save Our Escondido Library Coalition spokesperson Debbie Resler said to the crowd: “Our community has been consistent and clear; we do not want a private corporation with a bad reputation ruining our library.”

After the news conference announcing the lawsuit, library activists marched to City Hall to serve the lawsuit to city officials.

The contract with LS&S was adopted by Abed and councilmembers Masson, Gallo, and Morasco, with Olga Diaz voting no, after a long, and bitter, hearing on Oct. 18.

The outsourcing was opposed by over 4,000 petition signers, the American Library Association, and the Escondido Library Board of Trustees. Since the decision to move forward with the LS&S outsourcing, many experienced librarians have quit in protest.

John Donel, a senior librarian who submitted his resignation last week, effective Dec. 2, spoke at the news conference.

“As a lifelong public employee who has always worked to meet the needs of the public, I cannot in good conscience continue to work for a city government that has dishonored what it means to be a public servant,” Donel said.

“The decision to allow a poor-quality company with non-transparent management and financial practices, like Library Systems & Services (LS&S), to make a profit from a free public library, has already had a negative impact on library staff and services, as nearly 100 years of professional staff experience has been lost since the process of privatization began,” Donel said.

Brenda Townsend, a life-long resident of Escondido and frequent library user said, “We will continue to fight as long and as hard as we have to, to make this Mayor and Council accountable to the people of Escondido and give us back our library for the public good.”

ATF delving into suspicious fire at abandoned clubhouse of Escondido Country Club

So much for the abandoned Escondido Country Club clubhouse/Escondido Fire

And now for the gift of a continuing Escondido Country Club developer/s versus residents dispute that keeps on giving, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is on the job.

Karma, natural disaster, accident or even arson, the shuttered clubhouse at the Escondido Country Club property that has been the center of years of development controversy burned, baby, burned to the ground beginning just before 5:30 a.m., Wednesday, Nov. 22 — and happy early Thanksgiving, folks.

A well-known gathering place for local homeless people, fire investigators said they found fire accelerants at the clubhouse that burned to the ground in a 2-alarm blaze that took 10 engines, three trucks, three ambulances and three battalion chiefs, and 100 firefighters 12 hours to contain.

ATF on Tuesday continued an active investigation into whether arson took place, according to Escondido fire spokesman  Jeff Murdock, who said numerous samples from the fire scene were sent a laboratory for testing that may take weeks or months.

“Until the test results come back from the lab, we really don’t have anything,” Murdoch said to a local newspaper. “Everything is on the table at the moment.”

Electricity to the clubhouse has been shut off for a number of years and the property has been the subject of great concern in the neighborhood because teens, drug addicts and transients have broken in and used the abandoned property.

Escondido Fire Chief Rick Vogt said there have been several much-smaller fires in the past few years inside the clubhouse. Most were restricted to the fireplace where transients presumably had started a fire to keep warm at night.

The 12,000-square-foot clubhouse, built in 1964, once housed a restaurant and bar, two banquet rooms and a golf pro shop. It had fallen into disrepair in recent years and graffiti stained the walls surrounding the empty swimming pool.

Coincidentally, the week before the blaze, a highly contentious Escondido City Council resulted in approval of a plan to build 380 additional homes on the property, seemingly ending the 5-year saga.

Residents of the development that has seen costly litigation, previously endured a citywide vote on the development question and even witnessed a former developer’s dumping of chicken manure over the club grounds to make some kind of point.

Escondido Country Club & Community Homeowner’s Organization (ECCHO) members in 2015 up in arms over their development’s fate, the subject of much of the May 17 Escondido Town Hall/Facebook.

The latest development plan was fiercely opposed by many residents, including a coalition of about 300 neighbors who live near the golf course who are plotting a legal challenge to fight the city’s decision.

The country club was closed about five years ago after Beverly Hills businessman Michael Schlesinger bought the property in 2012. Under the project approved last week, Schlesinger will sell the property to developer New Urban West and that company will build “The Villages” tract.

The country club was closed about five years ago after Beverly Hills businessman Michael Schlesinger bought the property in 2012. Under the project approved last week, Schlesinger will sell the property to developer New Urban West and that company will build “The Villages” tract.

Schlesinger has faced opposition at several San Diego County sites where he purchased golf courses with plans to develop housing projects there. Earlier this month, voters in Poway resoundingly rejected a ballot measure which would have allowed Schlesinger to build 180 luxury condominiums at the StoneRidge County Club.

Poway’s Measure A was defeated 62 percent to 38 percent, and the next day Schlesinger followed through on threats he made before the election to close the facility.

Be the first to comment on "Busy Escondido Tuesday: Library lawsuit filed, ATF country club fire inquiry continues"

Leave a comment