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Asm. Cristina Garcia Wants to Turn Muni Golf Courses Into Housing

 

Aerial view of Cerritos’ publicly-owned Ironwood Nine Golf Course, which, according to Cerritos’ own budget, basically breaks even. Photo courtesy city of Cerritos.

 

January 21, 2022

By Brian Hews

Last February, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell) introduced a bill that would strip municipal golf courses statewide of their protections as public parks and pave the way for their conversion into housing developments for low-income families.

Almost a year later, the bill is still working its way through the assembly. It targets golf courses in high-density areas with few parks, and the bill would render them exempt from the Public Park Preservation Act and CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act.

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The Public Park Preservation Act states, “No city shall acquire any public park to utilize such property for any nonpark purpose, unless the city pays the legislative body sufficient compensation or land, or both, as required by the provisions of this chapter to enable the operating entity to replace the parkland and the facilities thereon.”

CEQA a statewide policy of environmental protection passed in 1971.

This bill would, upon appropriation by the Legislature, require the Department of Housing and Community Development to administer a program to provide incentives in the form of grants to local agencies that enter into a development agreement to convert a golf course owned by the local agency into housing and publicly accessible open space.

 In order to be eligible for a grant, the agreement with a developer must meet certain requirements:
 The agreement ensures that at least 25 percent of all new dwelling units developed on the former golf course are  lower-income units.
At least 15 percent of the development is publicly accessible open space. Space used as a golf course shall not be considered open space.
Of the remaining 85%, no more than 33%  of the development can be dedicated to nonresidential uses. Parking shall be considered a nonresidential use.
Rental units developed will be subject to a deed restriction that mandates the units designated as lower-income are continuously available to or occupied by lower-income households at affordable rents, as specified, and monitored by the city

The bill, formally known as AB 672, was introduced Garcia, who argues that municipal golf courses are an inefficient use of government funds.

“In my district, the City of Bell Gardens, one of the most densely populated and park-poor cities in LA County, is expected to build hundreds of new housing units in the near future,” said Garcia. “AB 672 is a sensible and creative public policy answer to the housing and open space crisis and puts our tax dollars to better use in communities like mine.”

Part of the bill reads as follows:

“Upon appropriation by the Legislature of $50 million dollars from the General Fund, the Department of Housing and Community Development shall administer a program to provide grants to cities, counties, to incentivize making publicly owned golf courses in densely populated areas available for housing and publicly accessible open space.”

More specifically, Garcia’s bill would:

— Remove municipal golf courses from protections of the Public Park Preservation Act.

— Provide an exemption to the California Environmental Quality Act or CEQA.

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— Make it easier to rezone public open-space land for housing.

The Northern California Golf Association and the Southern California Golf Association are leading the fight against the bill.

“The fees and charges [at municipal golf courses] routinely cover all the costs of operation, all the costs of replenishing the infrastructure,” said Craig Kessler, governmental affairs director for the SCGA. “$12 million every year goes into the coffers of County Parks and Recreation, which subsidizes those swimming pools, trails, picnic areas, and soccer fields that don’t pay for themselves.”

“Golf courses preserve open space, sequester carbon, provide habitat, promote biodiversity and allow rainwater to get into groundwater basins,” said the NCGA. “Municipal golf courses provide these benefits almost entirely in densely packed urban environments where they are most needed, and in communities disproportionately identified as ‘park poor.’ Converting them to hardscape exacerbates both problems.”

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Other criticisms of the bill include the impact on jobs statewide as well as existing vendor contracts. A vote is scheduled for late January, and the NCGA urges citizens to reach out to their representatives to make their voices heard.

According to the Southern California Golf Association, California has approximately 1,100 golf courses of which 22 percent are publicly owned. This legislation only applies to publicly owned courses or roughly 250 courses.

At a relatively moderate density of 10 units per acre, the space held by California’s municipally-owned golf courses could contain approximately 375,000 units of housing.

Several municipal and state audits conducted between 2010 and 2021 found municipal golf courses frequently require subsidies from the local general fund to cover operating expenses.

According to its own budget, Cerritos’ Ironwood Nine basically breaks even.

Currently, the bill has passed out of the  Housing and Community Development Committee and the Local Government Committee and is now in Appropriations, something critics did not foresee months ago.

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