Judge: Land trust must ‘maintain status quo’ of decaying golf course as lawsuit moves forward

The next hearing on the case is currently scheduled for March 2023. Unless that hearing is moved up, improvements to the land, including planting of more than 200 donated trees, appear to be on hold.
Plans to finish the creation of a nature preserve on land formerly used as a golf course in Palm Springs appear to be in limbo after a judge’s ruling last week.

A Riverside County Superior Court judge late last week agreed that parts of a lawsuit filed by a homeowners association have merit, temporarily preventing work to convert the Mesquite Golf and Country Club golf course into a nature preserve from moving forward. The leader of the group driving the project, however, said the ruling is “a speedbump” that will not prevent the end goal.

In a 677-page civil suit filed in August, attorneys for the Mesquite Country Club Condominium Homeowners Association (HOA) claim a lease agreement with the previous owner of the golf course adjacent to their homes must now be honored by Oswit Land Trust (OLT), which was gifted the land in July.

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The HOA’s attorneys point out that the agreement forbids making significant changes to the golf course without first negotiating with the HOA, which continues to collect fees from its members that are used in part to maintain the land.

On Friday, Judge Carol Greene wrote that she believes “the Association has shown a likelihood of success” with the part of the lawsuit that deals with the lease agreement. Greene denied OLT’s motion to dismiss the suit, as well as a motion by the former owner to strike portions of it, but ordered the HOA to put up a $5 million bond.

“(T)he plain language of the Lease requires that Landowner will not seek to develop in any substantial way … the Golf Course, without obtaining the prior approval of Tenant,” the judge wrote. “There is no dispute that Oswit did not obtain prior approval of its plan to transform the Golf Course into a nature preserve from the Association. Thus, even if Oswit intends to maintain the Golf Course as open space, it may not develop the Golf Course in any substantial way without the Association’s prior approval.”

OLT has been actively working to turn the land into a wildlife sanctuary named Prescott Preserve. The project is named after Brad Prescott, who appeared with OLT president Jane Garrison this summer when the announcement was made that he had purchased the property and was gifting it to the preservation organization.

For now, the land trust must “maintain the status quo” at the property as it existed on July 22, 2022, when it was purchased from Ramin Saghian, operating as Palm Partners, which is also named in the suit.

For years, HOA members said they struggled to get Saghian to maintain not only the golf course but the clubhouse, tennis courts, and other amenities at Mesquite that their monthly HOA fees support. Many of those facilities were not included in the sale this year and remain in poor condition.

The HOA’s board, in a letter to residents linking to a survey of their opinions, wrote that it was “pleased that the Court acted to protect our homeowners’ rights before Oswit’s destruction of the golf course goes any further.”

HOA members opposing the lawsuit said in a separate letter, however, that “owners have not been provided with enough information to effectively answer the questions asked in the survey.”

“The most important question has yet to be answered,” they wrote. “If we prevail in the lawsuit, what outcome can we expect? Will the court require the sale to be unwound and require Palm Partners to spend the millions of dollars it would take to rebuild a clubhouse and golf course so that it would be commercially viable?”

Garrison said Monday OLT, along with many neighbors of the defunct golf course, have also been left scratching their heads. OLT has been actively working on the land in the months following its sale and transfer, erecting signage and recently accepting a gift of trees for the property valued at $700,000.Visible signs of progress, including the return of wildlife, have been noted at the property in recent months.

“It won’t go back to him,” she said of the chance the HOA reverses the purchase from Saghian. “We bought the property fair and square. … Most people are baffled by (the lawsuit). Most people will reach out to us and wonder, what do they want? They don’t get the property back. It doesn’t work like that.”

What may be driving the HOA, she said, is a desire to see the land developed for housing instead of bringing the golf course back to life.

“We know those HOA board members were in conversations with several different developers,” she said. “The only thing we can wonder is how far was the relationship with the developers.”

In the lawsuit, however, the HOA states it simply doesn’t want thousands of dollars in fees it collects from its members being used for something it never agreed to support — a nature preserve instead of a golf course. Furthermore, if OLT fails to complete the preserve, HOA members, through their attorneys, said they fear the further devaluation of their homes.

“Oswit admits that the conversion of the Golf Course is illegal in that it violates the Association’s property and possessory rights in the Golf Course Property,” the HOA’s attorneys wrote in the lawsuit, “and then asks the Association to fund unknown amounts toward the conversion project!”

“Defendants’ acts and omissions threaten irreparable harm to the health and safety of Mesquite Country Club residents,” the attorneys concluded. “In addition, they threaten to do substantial and permanent damage to the salability and property values of Mesquite Country Club homes by turning the Property into a blighted eyesore and health and environmental nightmare and by discontinuing golf course operations.”

The next hearing on the case is currently scheduled for March 2023. Unless that hearing is moved up, improvements to the land, including planting of more than 200 trees that were recently donated, appear to be on hold.

“It is truly the definition of biting your nose to spite your face,” said Garrison.

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