A bill that would have created a grant program to convert municipal golf courses into housing and public lands, died in the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Thursday, ending a nearly month-long threat to effectively remove municipal golf courses across the state.
Assembly Bill 672, authored by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), would have created a program funded by $50 million from the state’s General Fund under the Department of Housing and Community Development to create a grant program to entice cities and local governments to convert publicly owned golf courses in urban areas into areas for housing and open public space.
In order to make it happen more effectively, AB 672 would have removed golf courses from protections of the Public Park Preservation Act, would get a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemption to more easily build denser housing, and make it easier to rezone golf courses to residential zoned areas.
Assemblywoman Garcia wrote the bill to create more housing and parks, as well as to increase more affordable housing units in urban areas in California. She also claimed a decline of golf in California, low to middle income Californians not being served by golf courses, and how municipal golf courses had disproportionate land usage compared to denser housing nearby.
“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 earlier this year. “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.”
However, as the California Globe pointed out last month, Garcia’s arguments for converting the golf courses are either deeply flawed or outright wrong, such as municipal golf courses being the exact courses catered to meet the needs of lower-income players. Garcia also ignored the positive economic effects that golf courses had on areas, how they are an extremely effective green area in between urban areas, how they provide vital emergency services such as an open area for small planes to land for an emergency, and how the public can still use much of the land surrounding the courses for leisurely activities.
Numerous golfing organizations came out against the bill, including the Northern California Golf Association (NCGA) and the Southern California Golf Association (SCGA), as well as a highly diverse field of people ranging groundskeepers to pilots to inner city high schools that rely on the courses for athletics.
“I’d love whoever came up with this to be the one to tell a Latino construction worker relaxing on his day off playing golf that she wants to get rid of one of his only forms of leisure,” said Muhammad Kamal, an inner-city activist in Los Angeles who has fought to keep various athletic areas available within reach for minority citizens of the city, to the Globe on Friday. “I’d love her to tell a high school golf club from the poorest part of the city hoping to be the next Tiger Woods that she wants to remove their only course they can get to. I want her to tell the mom who uses a park bench near the course, a rare place filled with trees here, that she wants to remove it for more buildings.”
“We do have a housing shortage, but my God, we also have a shortage of green space, for kids to play sports that otherwise only wealthier families would enjoy. These places give kids, minority kids especially, a good place to start the sport. We need someone to give this more than ten seconds of thought to make these bills. Whoever wrote this doesn’t have a clue on what these places really mean.”
A bill to convert municipal golf courses killed
The golf groups also noted the positive economic and environmental effects of golf courses.
“The fees and charges at municipal golf courses routinely cover all the costs of operation, all the costs of replenishing the infrastructure,” said SCGA governmental affairs director Craig Kessler earlier this month. “$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,” added the NCGA in a statement. “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.”
Last week, the bill moved forward through two Assembly committees, but faced a fair amount of opposition, with multiple Assembly members voting against the bill. Despite increased opposition, it moved to the Appropriations Committee, where it was finally voted down on Thursday. The votes from those committees are shown below.
“We dodged a bullet,” noted Kamal. “I can’t believe people ever thought this was a good idea. Whoever tried to make this happen really needs a reality check and a history lesson on what the real damage of this. Without municipal and public courses and courts and fields and parks for sports like this, you’re basically condemning generations of black and Latino kids. Shame on them.”
While it didn’t pass on Thursday, and is now officially dead as it didn’t pass in the past two years, a new version of the bill can be introduced in future legislative sessions.