Southern California developer Wilson Gee and Pulte, the nation’s largest house developer, may be upending local neighborhoods with their development scheme — but the neighbors are stirring like hornets and stinging back.

Gee fenced off The Lakes Golf Course, plundered its greens and starved wildlife and trees of water, then as they died, cut the trees — before giving up developing himself when Save the Lakes threatened suit. Now that Gee’s degraded the neighborhood and thrown in the towel, he’s trying to sell to mammoth Pulte and shift the argument to say: it’s Pulte, or nothing.

The answer to Pulte or nothing is fairly easy, as the neighbors heard when Save the Lakes met Jan. 28. The publicly-available record makes it clear that (from the document “Pulte promises”):

• Pulte dodged legal responsibility when its subsidiary’s development near San Antonio (Texas) caved in, endangering 80 homes that required immediate evacuation.

• Pulte misled and shifted costs to home buyers in Anthem and elsewhere, as a federal judge determined.

• Pulte copped a settlement to charges of predatory lending lodged by the Arizona Attorney General.

• Pulte committed Clean Water Act violations, and cut down trees from coast to coast.

Confronted with this bizarre record at the same Jan. 28 meeting, Pulte Vice President Mike Brilz confirmed it. Of Pulte’s trail of broken promises and wrongdoing, he said, (quoting Brilz): “I was surprised you couldn’t find more.”

As if Arizonans hadn’t had enough of crooked lenders the past few years, Brilz said of Pulte settling its Arizona predatory lending case and paying to make the charges go away: “I don’t know any lender that didn’t get fined … ours wasn’t too bad.”

Finally, Brilz said that if the neighborhood doesn’t roll over and play dead, Pulte will use its might to defeat the CC&Rs and roll over the neighborhood (quoting Brilz again): “We’re hopeful Save the Lakes votes to be part of the process. But we’re going to get 5,000 votes and get it done.”

Answering Brilz directly, Save the Lakes members tallied votes 4:1 this week to hold fast to their CC&Rs that legally bind the golf course and the surrounding property. The Gee/Pulte attempt to extort the neighbors by strangling the golf course has so infuriated them, they remain ready to sue at the first sign of development.

In the meantime, a new group of Concerned Citizens has sprung up, going door-to-door with an independent petition drive, neighbor-to-neighbor. In 200 initial house calls last week, the group found near unanimity in neighborhoods opposing Gee/Pulte — neighborhoods beyond the immediate Lakes’ residents perimeter.

Now, convinced that developing The Lakes is but Gee’s first move, a group of 40 Ahwatukee golfers have begun boycotting Gee’s four other courses: Foothills Golf Course, Ahwatukee Country Club, Club West Golf Club, and The Duke at Rancho el Dorado. The golfers have concluded: what Gee has done to The Lakes, he’ll likely do unto others: stop him before he does!

Supporting the neighbors, City Councilman Sal Di Ciccio wants city officials to take up the cause as a policy issue.

As he wrote colleagues Jan. 29: “More and more this becomes an extortion attempt by the owners to pressure surrounding neighbors to accept zoning changes they would otherwise oppose... There are currently courses in Districts 3, 5 and 6 where this could or is occurring.”

This fight looks increasingly like little Ahwatukee David facing a Gee/Pulte multinational Goliath. Yet Ahwatukee residents seem to be reaching for just the right stone, starting the wind up of a sling to deliver a knockout punch to Goliath’s temple. Stay tuned!

• Ahwatukee resident Bill Israel is a member of Save the Lakes.

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