2017-02-17 / Editorials

Developer has earned ‘bully’ reputation

Golf is a difficult sport. But for the homeowners who ring the Camarillo Springs Golf Course, the toughest battle facing them right now has nothing to do with what’s on the course and more to do with who owns it.

Ron Richards, a Beverly Hills-based attorney and real estate developer, bought the 180-acre property last year for about $4.3 million. His company wants to develop the 18-hole course. Though the plans are mostly vague, the prospect of homes on the fairways doesn’t sit well with either the homeowners or the Camarillo City Council.

Last month the council unanimously denied a general plan amendment referral by New Urban West Inc., the Santa Monicabased developer hired by Richards.

Councilmember Tony Trembley took umbrage with what he called “implicit” and “explicit” threats by the wealthy attorney to close the course and allow it to become fallow if the request was denied.

If history is any indicator, Richards’ threats have a way of becoming reality.

“We are dealing with a man who is a bully, who tries to intimidate people,” said the president of the Escondido Country Club Homeowners Association in a 2015 Los Angeles Times article chronicling a battle between residents who lived next to the San Diego County golf course and Richards, who represented Stuck in the Rough, the company that bought the property in 2012.

That tussle included 5 tons of chicken manure Stuck in the Rough dumped on the course and called fertilizer. Because of the long-lasting stench it created and the environmental hazard it caused, the move cost Stuck in the Rough and the course’s previous owner a $100,000 fine by the county’s air pollution board.

The company also went so far as to map out the course’s boundaries and threaten to sue some 64 residents who had walls or landscaping that encroached on the property, according to a 2013 article in the San Diego Reader.

Richards, who news reports show has been involved in the purchase of at least six golf courses in California and Nevada, also put up a chain-link fence around the course. The course is set to be developed, as the Escondido City Council and New Urban West are presently negotiating the size and details of the project.

Richards regularly turns off the water to golf courses he’s bought, causing the grass to turn brown and the water features to go dry.

He’s done so at courses in Palm Springs, Las Vegas and San Diego County, according to reports. Lawsuits have sprung up like weeds over the action.

City Manager Dave Norman is aware of Richards’ tactics but said, “I don’t believe it is in the community’s best interest to speculate about Mr. Richards’ future actions or telegraph to Mr. Richards what actions the City Council might take in response.

“However, it is the city’s practice to pursue the judicial enforcement of the city’s nuisance codes when necessary.”

Requests by the Acorn to speak with Richards went unreturned.

There’s little doubt Camarillo will be drawn into litigation with Richards, and we bet the battle over the local golf course will take some ugly turns.

Let’s hope the City Council has the courage to stand up to this apparent bully. For him, Camarillo is just another business deal. But to us, it’s home.

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