Trump Stories: The Golf Course When Donald Trump came to Rancho Palos Verdes in Southern California in 2002, he was greeted as a "white knight." Trump was buying a golf club that had gone into bankruptcy when the 18th hole had literally fallen into the ocean. But what followed was a decade of public insults, lawsuits, and broken rules. Follow Kelly McEvers on Twitter @kellymcevers, Sonari Glinton @Sonari, and Embedded producers Tom Dreisbach @TomDreisbach and Chris Benderev @cbndrv. Email us at embedded@npr.org and find us on Twitter @nprembedded.
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Trump Stories: The Golf Course

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Trump Stories: The Golf Course

Trump Stories: The Golf Course

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Hey, I'm Kelly McEvers, and this is EMBEDDED. One day in June 1999, Tony Baker was walking on a cliff right next to the ocean. This is in Southern California. Tony had done a bunch of work on the cliff over the years. He's a conservationist. And one of his jobs was to plant native grasses and brush to help preserve the land. That day, he had his dog and his camera.

TONY BAKER: I was trying to get a photo of some swallows. And then all of a sudden, things started popping and rumbling (imitating popping). And then it was like (imitating rumbling) and there was, like, a deep rumbling. At first, I thought I was imagining things or something. Then I started seeing cracks opening up around me.

MCEVERS: Cracks opening up in the ground and all this dust coming up out of the cracks.

BAKER: Then it was really loud because you have, like, these cliffs that are crashing down into the ocean, you know. And I was like, OK, I need to figure out how to survive this.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: So he holds onto his dog's leash and starts running. And he starts to realize he's in the middle of a landslide.

BAKER: And as I was running, there were actually cracks opening up all around me. And when I first started running, I jumped over some cracks that were probably three feet wide that were opening, that were still moving and opening. So I was, like, running and jumping. My dog was jumping with me.

MCEVERS: Tony is running away from the ocean, and at one point, he turns around to look and sees that the edge of the cliff where he was just standing is sliding into the water. A place that he's made it to is sinking down and forming this sheer wall that he can't climb up. He's basically stuck. And this place where he's standing is actually part of a golf course that's under construction.

BAKER: At that time, some guys from the golf club that's maintenance guys had actually run out. They'd been not too far away, and they'd run over to the edge, and they were looking down. They could see me down below, and they motioned me to go over to the sand trap near the 18th hole there and told me to stay there.

MCEVERS: They told him a helicopter was on its way. A little while later, the helicopter arrives with rescuers from the fire department.

BAKER: They came down, didn't really touch the wheels to the ground, but they'd get - they'd just, like, come down and they're right there. And the guy opens the door and just motions me with his finger hop in. So I threw my dog in and jumped in afterwards.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: And as he flew over, Tony saw that this huge swath of the cliff, this beautiful Southern California bluff overlooking the ocean, was just gone. And a lot more of it had sunk in or sloped down. Tony gets out of the helicopter. He walks right by the TV reporters who've made it to the scene. He gets in his car and drives to this lookout point and just sits for a while.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: Not long after the landslide, the company that was developing the golf course on that land goes bankrupt. They just couldn't afford to repair all the damage. Tony and some of the other environmentalists hadn't been super thrilled about this golf course, but at least it was being built by local developers. Now, after this landslide, the land is worth a lot less money. It becomes what's known as a distressed property, which would provide an opportunity for a new developer who was looking to expand his business, a developer named Donald Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: All of this happened in a city called Rancho Palos Verdes. It's about as far south as you can get in LA County. It's pretty wealthy, about 40,000 people who live in mid-sized houses on a hill overlooking the ocean. At the time of the landslide, Donald Trump mostly had properties in New York, New Jersey and Florida. And his company had already been through four bankruptcies and was looking for new investments. Golf was becoming a major part of The Trump Organization and would go on to be one of its best generators of revenue. There are now 17 Trump golf courses.

We wanted to tell the story of how one of these golf courses came to be. It's all part of our latest round of episodes about the president and his advisers because to know how Trump does business helps us understand how he runs our country. And the way he did business in Rancho Palos Verdes and with some of his other golf courses was to fight, like, at every turn - insults and lawsuits all along the way for years. We should say here there is some language in this story. I mean, by now, we are all used to the fact that Donald Trump plays hardball. What's interesting about this story is what people did in return and how that did and didn't affect Donald Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Check, check, check, check, check, check - let me...

MCEVERS: So this story was reported by Sonari Glinton. He's a business correspondent here at NPR.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Yeah, I hear it.

MCEVERS: And by Tom Dreisbach, a producer on our show.

DREISBACH: You might want to put some headphones on so you can hear the tape.

GLINTON: Oh, OK.

MCEVERS: And the story starts a few years after that landslide. The old golf course is still there, but part of it is still destroyed. Tom starts first.

DREISBACH: So we're in 2002. It's been three years since that landslide. And so that's three years with a nonworking golf course that they were all excited for and had been planned for a really long time. So the city is kind of desperate. In walks Donald Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: OK, musical chairs. Well, Mr. Trump, would you like to come up and sit on this side, please?

(APPLAUSE)

DREISBACH: Donald Trump decides to make an appearance in this town, and they get everyone from the city government to get together for - a community leaders breakfast is what they call it. And the room is packed.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: At least an equal number of people have been turned away.

DREISBACH: And it's funny, when you watch the video of this, which we got, you can see there's almost like a giddiness in the air, that people are like, oh, wow, Donald Trump, like a real celebrity in our town.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, good morning, and it's wonderful...

DREISBACH: There was this one councilman - Doug Stern is his name. He gets up, and he asks kind of this jokey question.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

DOUG STERN: Mr. Trump, you're the person for me to ask. I've heard it said that money can't buy happiness.

(LAUGHTER)

STERN: Thank you. Thank you for coming. And thank you, Mr. Trump.

(APPLAUSE)

DREISBACH: Wait for it.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

TRUMP: But it helps.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: And here's Sonari.

GLINTON: I think that that clip shows that people were really expecting this great celebrity. They were surprised. They were cowed in some ways, and that's sort of the mismatch that starts.

MCEVERS: OK.

DREISBACH: So Trump goes up to speak to this huge crowd.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

TRUMP: Well, after all that, I'll speak very, very quickly and shortly.

DREISBACH: He actually speaks for 40 more minutes.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

TRUMP: We're going to build something that I believe will be, in the end, one of the great courses anywhere in the world.

MCEVERS: All right, so what happens?

DREISBACH: Well, there's just some hints when you watch this video of just little cracks in the relationship. Like, Trump tells this one story about this golf course that he built in New York state. It's in this town called Briarcliff Manor. And he talks about his relationship with the town back then when he was first taking over that golf course.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

TRUMP: But if you would have called the mayor of Briarcliff Manor five years ago and said, what do you think of Trump? Probably wouldn't have been so great. We hadn't gotten the approvals. We were fighting them real hard. But if you call him up now, he'll say it's the finest experience they've ever had. And everybody in the town loves us. And...

DREISBACH: The fact that he brings up this relationship that he admits went bad early on...

MCEVERS: If you're sitting in that crowd, like, if you're really listening, you're kind of like, hmm.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DREISBACH: And we looked into what Trump said about his relationship with the mayor of Briarcliff Manor. Turns out, Trump had gone through several years of fighting with the mayor, but that relationship did get better. It's not like they completely stopped fighting, though. While he was giving this speech in Rancho Palos Verdes, he was also fighting Briarcliff in court because he wanted to lower his property taxes. Now, remember, it's 2002. Trump has been through several bankruptcies at this point. It's before "The Apprentice," and it's pretty early on in Trump's development of golf courses.

GLINTON: So what's happening is that we're starting to see the beginning of a pattern form in the way that he does business with these small towns and cities, which several golf experts told us is definitely not the norm. But for Rancho Palos Verdes, this was all new. They had no idea what was coming.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

TRUMP: It was an honor, and I hope that in a year from now, you'll all be back and you'll say, Mr. Trump, you gave us your word - and I'm giving you my word - you gave us your word and you more than fulfilled your promise. And thank you all very much.

(APPLAUSE)

DREISBACH: At this point, the people of Rancho Palos Verdes are still thinking, this golf course is a great idea. And here, we're going to introduce you to a former city councilman who will help us tell this story. His name is Tom Long.

TOM LONG: You know, a hole fell into the ocean. The golf course is ruined. I didn't think there was any realistic possibility of it recovering.

GLINTON: And then in the way - I mean, in this part of the story, (imitating trumpet fanfare)...

LONG: Yes.

GLINTON: Here comes in...

LONG: In comes the white knight, or at least that's I think what everyone felt at first. And when he said the only changes he wanted were to make the golf course better, everyone looked at those plans and said those plans are great.

GLINTON: Tom Long is a Democrat. He says back then in 2002, this all made sense. Trump buys this distressed property, rebuilds parts of it, and everybody wins. Trump would make money, and the city would make money as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DREISBACH: But then, Trump gets in his first big fight with Rancho Palos Verdes. And this fight was with the school district. So the school district technically owns some land on the golf course, and Trump was supposed to start paying them fees, like rent. But he didn't want to until the course was completely finished. The school district didn't want to wait that long. So Trump sued, and officials in Rancho Palos Verdes are upset because this is the school district, and the legal fees alone cost them money that could go to teachers or school repairs.

In the end, the two sides eventually settle in court. The school district got $5 million, and Trump got the land. But still, Trump does not let it go. So it's early 2005. There's this groundbreaking event at the golf course for some houses that Trump was building on the property. There's a stage, a bunch of TV cameras, and all the city council members are up there, including Tom Long, that councilman we heard from earlier.

LONG: I was on the dais, and what we were basically doing is saying to the leader of the organization who had sort of rescued a third of the coastline in our city, we were trying to say thank you.

DREISBACH: And then Donald Trump basically out of nowhere mentions that old lawsuit with the school district and the lawyer for the school district, this guy named Milan Smith. Now, during the lawsuit, Milan Smith had called Trump, quote, "pompous" and arrogant in the press. But remember, by this time, that lawsuit was settled.

LONG: Why Donald Trump decided to focus on that lawsuit, I don't know. But what he did is he then focused on that lawsuit and commented that the school board's attorney, Milan Smith, was an asshole.

DREISBACH: The way Tom Long puts it was asshole. The local paper actually reports it as, quote, "an obnoxious asshole" is what Donald Trump called this guy. And it's important that's in the local paper because, remember, this is in front of a room with the city council, members of the media, local people. This isn't Donald Trump in a backroom laughing about an old lawsuit. This is a public event to thank everyone for being part of this amazing, new community project.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: Three people who were there that day told us this story, and we should say Milan Smith is this really respected lawyer in Rancho Palos Verdes, a lawyer who later is confirmed by the United States Senate in a unanimous vote to be a federal judge on the 9th Circuit Court. And the 9th Circuit, that's the court that's been hearing challenges to the Trump administration's travel ban on people from several majority-Muslim countries. Trump has insulted the court saying it's in chaos and in turmoil. We asked Milan Smith for an interview to talk about all this, but he turned us down. We also asked the White House for comment. They declined to answer our questions. We called and emailed The Trump Organization many times, but they did not respond.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DREISBACH: OK, OK. Donald Trump calling someone a name - not such a big deal now. But, remember, this is 2005. These people thought they were going to be dealing with this professional guy. By this point, Donald Trump was on "The Apprentice" where he looked like this really successful businessman. So I asked how Long, the councilman, how people up on that stage reacted that day.

LONG: I was so stunned. I wasn't really paying attention, so I was just trying to figure out what do I do now. And just figured I should just stay here and just keep eating my salad or whatever I was doing and move on.

DREISBACH: Just look down, try not to catch anyone's eye.

LONG: Exactly.

MCEVERS: Just keep eating my salad. This is how the town dealt with Trump's insults, at least in those early days.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GLINTON: And in some ways, this was a cultural class, right? Big Manhattan developer comes in and uses tactics that work in Manhattan, his world, and tries to use them in the new world, California. Other developers who did projects in this very community did not act this way. So people in Rancho Palos Verdes is were offended, but they seemed willing to deal with it up to a point.

DREISBACH: I think at this point, they're kind of willing to accept it for just finishing the golf course. The golf course, at this point, still is not done, so they just want to finish this thing and maybe Donald Trump won't be around so much anymore. But, like, we'll have a finished golf course and a place for this community to meet.

MCEVERS: It's not like the town is going to cancel the whole deal. So Trump should just stop fighting, right? After the break, Trump doubles down again and then the town changes tactics.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: OK, we are back. Tom Dreisbach and Sonari Glinton are telling the story of how Donald Trump's golf course in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., came to be.

DREISBACH: All right, oh, here we go.

MCEVERS: Welcome to Rancho Palos Verdes - wow.

GLINTON: This is one of those car commercial roads, right? It's on the coast.

MCEVERS: Yeah.

GLINTON: It's kind of windy.

MCEVERS: Is that Catalina right there?

GLINTON: Yep.

MCEVERS: Oh, gosh.

DREISBACH: And to your left now you can actually see - this is sort of the edge of Trump National Golf Club.

GLINTON: So as you can tell, the golf course did finally open. It is a real thing, and we should say, right here, this is a beautiful golf course. It's just beautiful. The views of the course are unbelievable - in the clubhouse, on the golf course, at the driving range. There is so much attention to detail, and you can see why some people would want to pay $300 to play a round of golf here.

DREISBACH: And that is a lot of money for a round of golf, even at a place where you can see the ocean from every hole.

MCEVERS: So, yeah, we're taking a left on a road called...

DREISBACH: Trump National Drive.

MCEVERS: Trump National Drive. You're looking out over this - right? - this completely unobstructed, beautiful view of the ocean and of Catalina. And there is one thing that sticks up.

GLINTON: Oh, yeah, look there.

MCEVERS: One thing.

DREISBACH: The American flag.

MCEVERS: It's a 70-foot flagpole.

DREISBACH: Yeah. It is by far the biggest sort of landmark around here. And it points you straight towards Trump National Golf Club, the main part of the clubhouse.

MCEVERS: This flag is the next big fight that Donald Trump has with Rancho Palos Verdes. So it's back in 2006, and the major construction on the golf course is complete by this point.

DREISBACH: And one day, essentially, a flagpole just appears on the golf course right over there.

MCEVERS: Like this flagpole?

DREISBACH: That exact flagpole.

GLINTON: And it's not one of those things where everybody in a city doesn't realize it's there, right? Because as you can see, from every view on this side of the hill, that flagpole is fairly prominent.

MCEVERS: This thing is huge.

GLINTON: And there's sort of here in Rancho Palos Verdes an absolutist view, like nothing over a certain height. Don't block anybody's views.

DREISBACH: In the 1980s, they passed a law basically that said you - if you're going to put up anything over a certain height that could conceivably disrupt someone else's view, then you have to go to the city and get a permit because people's views are so important to them and so important to the value of their properties. If you can see the ocean unobstructed, your house is worth a heck of a lot more. Now, what Donald Trump would say is - and he has said, I don't think you need a permit to put up the American flag.

MCEVERS: And then the whole debate goes to the city council.

DREISBACH: Right.

GLINTON: And that's where the fight begins.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: Here's how that fight goes. At first, the town is like, you can't break the rules like that. You have to get a permit. But Donald Trump is not going to give in. He turned it into a fight about the very presence of the American flag and all it stands for, as he puts it in a letter he sends to the city council. In public, he says it's about honoring America's veterans. And we see him do this again months later at one of his golf courses in Florida, where he also puts up a flag without a permit.

His critics say he starts these fights over the American flag to get attention but then knows he will win because it's the American flag. Anyway, Trump's tactic actually starts to work in Rancho Palos Verdes because it divides people. Some people are like, well, we can't take down the American flag. It's the American flag. And other people are like, no, Donald Trump has to follow the rules.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Thank you, Your Honor. We're now moving on to...

MCEVERS: By the time it gets to the city council, people are pretty upset.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: A proposed solution to the unpermitted Trump flagpole and flag at Trump National...

GLINTON: First, you'll hear Tom Long. And then you'll hear the second city council member who helps us tell the story, Steve Wolowicz. They're both really upset at the letters that they've been getting from people.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LONG: At one end of the spectrum someone telling me that how dare I even consider voting to take down the flag, and if I did do so, I should be taken out the next morning and shot.

STEVE WOLOWICZ: That was a quote to all of us.

LONG: And yeah. And at the other end of the spectrum, I was told that if I voted to keep the flag there, I was voting for lawlessness.

WOLOWICZ: Then there was a very long letter. As a matter of fact, this writer saw fit to send us four different letters that this is a litmus test of our own patriotism. It reminded me of shades of McCarthyism because we wouldn't pass this writer's test.

GLINTON: And in the end, the council votes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Councilman Gardiner.

PETER GARDINER: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Councilman Clark.

LARRY CLARK: Yes.

GLINTON: ...To keep the flagpole.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: The motion passes.

WOLOWICZ: I take this issue regarding the flag pole very seriously. And to this day, people will stop me in the community and say, weren't you the guy who voted against the flag? And I'd take the time to explain to people that local laws, state laws and federal laws are there to protect us, and I can't ignore those.

GLINTON: And that voice is Steve Wolowicz. He was on the city council at the time. And he is the accountant who starts one of the biggest accounting firms in the town. He is a member of every board you can look at and imagine. We're talking Chamber of Commerce. He's one of those people, proper Republican. And he has lived in this town for 40 years. That moment - Wolowitz was actually offended by this moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: At this point, the town is divided. Officials like Steve Wolowicz are offended and upset. But Trump is clearly winning most of these fights. People in town might have thought he was going to stop there but he doesn't. He presses on. And this time, the town finally reaches a breaking point.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: By now, it's 2007.

DREISBACH: They were hosting the Michael Douglas & Friends Celebrity Golf Tournament. I actually have a little tape of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Team Kenny G puts it away again, the winners of the 2007 Michael Douglas & Friends Tournament.

MCEVERS: Wait. Wait. Wait. Team Kenny G?

DREISBACH: Team Kenny G.

MCEVERS: What does that mean?

GLINTON: Kenny G is a famous saxophone player.

MCEVERS: Thank you.

GLINTON: And apparently, he also plays golf.

DREISBACH: Very well.

GLINTON: Very well. He led a foursome at Trump National Golf Course.

DREISBACH: He brought his saxophone.

MCEVERS: No, he didn't.

GLINTON: Yes, he did.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAXOPHONE)

DREISBACH: Like, this is actually, for Donald Trump, kind of a big moment. This is sort of a big presentation of his brand new golf course to the world. And he's going to have a bunch of celebrities there.

GLINTON: Televised.

MCEVERS: Aside from Kenny G and Michael Douglas.

DREISBACH: Michael Douglas's wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones. Who else was there? Alice Cooper, who is apparently Kenny G's arch rival on the golf course.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Not exactly the kind of music that Alice Cooper is accustomed to.

DREISBACH: So ahead of this, one of the most important people that was going to come was Tiger Woods. And Donald Trump thought, Tiger Woods is coming, we've really got to make this course as nice as possible. So one day, he's looking out across his driving range that he built. And he sees at the end of the driving range his neighbors effectively. There's houses that are at the end of the driving range. Now, they're far away. It's 360 yards away. They're really far.

MCEVERS: Three football fields and change, yeah. It's a lot.

DREISBACH: Three football fields - more than, almost four. And he looks at them and he says, these houses are ugly. I don't want Tiger Woods to have to see these houses. This is literally what he told the local newspaper. So he instructs his staff to plant a row of ficus hedges in front of their houses. Now this was supposed to be temporary, but he kept them up even after the golf tournament with Michael Douglas. And people in the neighborhood were like, you're blocking our views.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: The ficus bushes were around 10 feet tall, right on the edge of the golf course property and right in front of these people's houses.

DREISBACH: So after all these complaints from the neighbors, the council decides to set up a meeting. They're going to have a meeting with Donald Trump. They're going to go meet at Trump National. They are going to walk over across that driving range and meet with the neighbors. So Donald Trump would actually physically see what was happening to their views.

GLINTON: Remember, this is a town that has a median income over $100,000. These were million-dollar-plus seaside homes. People feel offended that a celebrity comes to their town and is talking about their homes.

MCEVERS: Yeah.

DREISBACH: He's calling this home horrendous. It's worth more than a million dollars.

WOLOWICZ: So what happened was they all went to this one house that was really complaining about this because she had the most to lose in terms of view.

DREISBACH: This house they were talking about, it's in a gated community, like a three-bedroom-ranch-style house. And it's not super ritzy, but it's nice. And Steve Wolowicz, the former councilman, he wasn't at that meeting that day, but he heard all about it from city officials who were there.

WOLOWICZ: So Mr. Trump comes in and he looks around the place and he looks at her. And he says, this looks like shit. He's doing this, by the way, in order to get these people to accept his offer of putting up his ficus trees and being OK. So I guarantee you that if I were to come into your house and use that kind of language and leave, if your mom was there, I think I wouldn't get further than the front doorstep without getting brained. OK. Gives you a little insight to the kind of person that he appeared to be.

DREISBACH: I talked to three people who were there that day. They asked for anonymity, a couple of them because they're worried about getting sued by Donald Trump. And two of the people confirmed Steve Wolowicz's story. One of them remembers it slightly differently. That person says Donald Trump said, quote, "your house is ugly. My customers shouldn't have to look at your ugly house." And, again, we contacted both the Trump Organization and the White House for their side of this story. They did not respond to our questions about this or anything else you'll hear in this episode.

MCEVERS: You talked to three people who were there.

DREISBACH: Yeah.

MCEVERS: What did they say happened next?

DREISBACH: One person said there was sort of a stunned silence. Everyone was kind of stunned that Trump would say this to people to their faces. And they just kind of moved on. It was the Donald Trump show effectively. So he moved on to something else and there was kind of no time, just like with the asshole comment, there was kind of no time to react and it just moved on from there.

GLINTON: But it landed, clearly, because people remember it.

MCEVERS: For Steve Wolowicz, this buttoned-down civic-minded Republican, this was just too much of an insult to the good people of Rancho Palos Verdes. And here's where things start to change. It's not just city officials, people like Steve Wolowicz, who were mad. More people in town are starting to get mad too, so mad they showed up at a city council meeting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Historically, the Trump Organization has tended to conduct itself defiantly, self-servingly and with reckless disregard for the planning and building codes of our city. Since purchasing this property, the Trump Organization has done what they want, how they want and when they want it with complete disregard for its governing authorities.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Based on what I've seen where there's been flagpoles put in without permission, trees put in without permission, little by little, you start to lose a little trust.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: This concept of doing things first and then asking questions or getting approval later, it's just not right.

MCEVERS: And for the first time in this saga of Trump versus Rancho Palos Verdes, Trump actually loses.

DREISBACH: And this time, it goes to a vote. And they vote unanimously that Trump has to take out the ficus trees.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: So Donald Trump has finally lost a fight with a city. And you'd think this would change things for both sides, right? Like the golf course is there, but people in town aren't going to be pushed around anymore. That is not what happens. The final battle, after the break.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: OK. We are back. And now, it's 2008. And like I said, the city finally has one win the battle of the bushes.

DREISBACH: Then Donald Trump gets in another big fight with the city.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DREISBACH: This time, it's about where he can and cannot build more houses on the golf course property. The city is pretty cautious about all this because the land isn't super stable. Remember, there was a huge landslide. And the city rejects some of Trump's plans. So Trump decides, if he can't persuade the city council, then he'll take them to court.

He sues the city for $100 million. The lawsuit even accuses the city council of fraud and violating Trump's due process. And Trump actually sounds excited about the lawsuit. He tells the local paper, quote, "we've been treated very unfairly, and we've been looking forward to this day for years."

MCEVERS: So the city has two options - right? - fight with him again and maybe win again, or back down. And the city eventually backs down. One reason for this is, there's a change in city government. People like Tom Long and Steve Wolowitz are coming to the end of their term limits, and a new guy comes in.

DREISBACH: This is Brian Campbell. He's a Republican member of the city council who was elected in 2009 - so right in the middle of this Trump lawsuit. And basically, he felt like all these members of city council up to that point were doing a disservice to the community by fighting with Donald Trump all the time. He took much more Donald Trump's side on a lot of these issues. And he actually ran, in his campaign, on a platform of, let's improve relations with Donald Trump's golf course.

BRIAN CAMPBELL: It's not in the best interests of our residents to engage in an endless war with anybody, let alone the Trump Organization. Ultimately, they've got more money than we do. Ultimately, they've got more attorneys than we do. Ultimately, they would prevail. What's the point? Even if we did prevail, what's the point there? We would've alienated them forever.

DREISBACH: So one day, he actually goes over to Trump National to have breakfast with Donald Trump and sort of hash out his views on a way forward through all this.

CAMPBELL: I asked him if he could guess at what my greatest fear was in any given morning when it came to thinking about his organization. And he responded that I'm going to win, and you won't have the money to pay me. And I said, actually, no. I said, that would not be good. I said, but that's not going to affect me so much, personally. It would wreck our city, for sure.

I said, no, what worried me most about his organization is that I would wake up one morning and read in the newspaper that the Trump Organization has finally had enough of dealing with this city called Rancho Palos Verdes, and they were selling their golf course to some no-name golf operator out of Scottsdale, Ariz., and it was just going to be another golf course. I said, I...

MCEVERS: Why would he care so much about that? Why would that matter?

GLINTON: In part because of the celebrity of who this is. The idea was, not only did Trump bring money and all this stuff...

DREISBACH: He brought Trump.

GLINTON: He brought Trump. Yeah, there it is. He brought a glow. There is - you know, this company is good at providing luxury.

DREISBACH: I mean, there's a reason so many other deals were licensing deals where they're selling the Trump name to other companies. That name is valuable. And to Brian Campbell in Rancho Palos Verdes, it was also valuable, and he didn't want to lose it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DREISBACH: So he basically comes up with a new strategy. We will continue to fight the lawsuit, but we're not going to fight as hard.

CAMPBELL: We were going to back off and defend ourselves, but less aggressively.

DREISBACH: No more letters to the editor, no more talking in city council meetings in a negative light about Donald Trump. And then he basically comes up with part of the plan to give one thing to Donald Trump that he had always wanted, which is to rename the street that leads into the golf club. It had been called Ocean Trails Drive. Trump wanted to call it Trump National Drive. The city council had, for years, said no. Brian Campbell says, let's do it.

MCEVERS: Let him have it.

DREISBACH: Let him have it.

CAMPBELL: My goal was long-term peace with this organization - happened to be called Trump. And I didn't want the name of that road to be used as a bargaining chip. I wanted to just give it to him - no quid pro quo, just giving it to him. And within - if I recall, couple of weeks after that is when the lawsuit just went away.

MCEVERS: Trump and the city settle this big lawsuit. The city actually loses no money, and Trump doesn't get everything he asked for. But he gets one thing - that street sign with his name on it.

DREISBACH: And I asked Brian Campbell, like, are you sure this was the right way to go?

Do you see how some people would hear that story and would say, you know, we're capitulating? He's a bully. He sued us, he's sued the school district in the past. He does this to get his way. Why shouldn't we defend ourselves as vigorously as we possibly can?

CAMPBELL: I would point to the result as proof that what we did was the right thing. As a municipality, I mean, we're dealing with the taxpayers' time and money. It's not our job to teach people a lesson. I certainly didn't think that we were going to be teaching Mr. Trump any lessons.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: So yeah, the city capitulates, and Donald Trump finally stops fighting. Now he's actually a lot closer to people on the city council. He's donated a thousand dollars to every member of the current council. They all say these donations have no effect on their votes. Either way, this is the last of the big fights over the golf course in Rancho Palos Verdes.

So does all this mean that bullying works? Like, when you're dealing with someone who fights with you, insults you, even sues you, first, you just look at your salad or you look away. Then you fight back. But then at some point, you just get worn down and give in. Like, is this how it's going to go for Mexico, the NFL, Republicans in Congress? Sonari says this style has worked for Trump for so long in business, why would he change it?

GLINTON: Well, you know, if you think about what his role has been - I mean, like, I think we talk about Donald Trump as a businessman, as a CEO, and we forget sometimes that there are different kinds of businessmen and there're different kinds of CEOs, right?

He has never had sort of a board or a large swath of employees like, say, the head of Ford might. If you're real estate developer and someone puts up the chandelier, you don't like the chandelier, they better take it down. That's how - that is literally how that business works, often.

DREISBACH: And I should say, like, even with the battle of the bushes, which he did lose in 2007, several years later, that new city council - the Republican city council that was much more friendly to him - they let him plant a different set of trees in there. So even that fight, he did get his way.

MCEVERS: Wow. Like, I think about it in terms of, like, consequences and rewards. Did Donald Trump - were there any consequences for doing this in Rancho Palos Verdes?

DREISBACH: Yes, in two ways. The first way is - has to do with just the business. I mean, this golf course is doing a lot worse than it used to be doing and had its peak, in terms of revenue, in 2006. You're able to see this in the tax records that we got from the city. And it's far down from that peak.

And whether that has to do with politics of right now, or a combination of that and people's feelings over these fights over the years or just their feelings about the golf course in general, it's hard to say. But we do know that it's down compared to other golf courses too, which are doing better right now.

MCEVERS: OK, and what's the other way?

DREISBACH: The other way is in terms of his popularity. So there's no poll, exactly, we have of the city. No one really polls a city of 40,000 people. But we do know how they voted in the 2016 election. So this is a town that in 2008 voted for John McCain. In 2012, they voted pretty overwhelmingly for Mitt Romney. And in 2016, they voted for Hillary Clinton.

Now, we can't draw a direct line between that and all of these fights that Donald Trump had with the city of Rancho Palos Verdes over the years, but I talked to a political science professor about all this and about what might be going on. And he says that this shift in the vote isn't about demographics. There wasn't a big enough change in voter registration in these years. He says it might have something to do with California Republicans, who generally tend to be a bit more moderate than Republicans in other parts of the country.

But he says it's also reasonable to think that what happened between Donald Trump and the city Rancho Palos Verdes over these years had an impact on the way people voted. Obviously, this is California. There's no way it was going to go for Donald Trump in the 2016 election overall. But it just tells us how people were feeling in this town when it came time to vote on this person they knew.

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GLINTON: Well, given these general trends around Rancho Palos Verdes, we went to actually get specific with Steve Wolowicz, the Republican city council member.

I mean, so you had a lot of experience dealing with the now-president. What do you think this group of stories or this episode - what do you think it tells you about the president?

WOLOWICZ: I think that the short - in my opinion, I think the shortcomings that I saw at that time definitely impacted my opinion about casting a ballot for him. Some of my friends and colleagues would hear and see everything I heard and saw, and they still supported him. I didn't. That's from - coming from a lifelong Republican, by the way.

GLINTON: But I wonder, as a lifelong Republican, as someone who, in this community for 40 years - how does that make you feel? I mean, do you feel at sea?

WOLOWICZ: I feel sad.

MCEVERS: So is Steve Wolowicz saying he did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016?

GLINTON: He wouldn't tell us who he voted for, but he did not vote for Donald Trump, no.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DREISBACH: I'm just going to capture the sound of golf clubs. Oh, there it is - the driving range.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOLF CLUB HITTING BALL)

GLINTON: That's a hook.

DREISBACH: I mean, if that flag was the hole, it'd be a great shot.

GLINTON: Yeah, yeah. That's - how - the idea is straight. That was...

DREISBACH: (Laughter).

MCEVERS: This episode was reported by Tom Dreisbach with help from Sonari Glinton. And it was produced by Tom. It was edited by me, Neal Carruth, and Jane Marie and Dann Gallucci of Little Everywhere with help from Meghan Keane, Neva Grant, Chris Benderev, Brent Bachman (ph), Jinae West, Arnie Seipel, Marilyn Geewax and Mark Memmott. Our technical director is Andy Huether. He had help from Patrick Boyd (ph). Our lawyer is Ashley Messenger.

Big thanks to Jean Krikorian (ph) Raphe Sonenshein (ph), Al Peterson (ph) Joel Biers (ph) and Randy Youngman (ph). Digital production for this episode was by Alexander McCall, fact-checking by Greta Pittenger and Mary Glendinning. Our theme song is by Colin Wambsgans. EMBEDDED is executive produced by me, Chris Turpin and Anya Grundmann. You can hear more NPR on your local public radio station on a show I host called All Things Considered.

Next week on EMBEDDED, we take a look at someone who, before he worked in the White House as a chief strategist, spent a lot of time in Hollywood, where the making of this one movie changed him.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I would never in a million years open a documentary quoting Cato from the Roman Republic. That is pure Steve Bannon.

MCEVERS: If you haven't done it yet, subscribe to this podcast and leave a review. That's all. I'm Kelly McEvers. Thanks for listening.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOLF CLUB HITTING BALL)

DREISBACH: That was pretty good.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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