A bill in the California Legislature authored by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) is proposing to convert California public/municipal golf courses into affordable housing. Assembly Bill 672 provides $50 million in developer subsidies to redevelop California’s municipal golf courses into affordable housing complexes.
Yes, it’s a real thing. Assembly Bill 672 says:
Publicly owned golf courses: conversion: affordable housing.
Existing law establishes the Department of Housing and Community Development and requires it to, among other things, administer various programs intended to fund the acquisition of property to develop or preserve affordable housing.
This bill would, upon appropriation by the Legislature, require the department to administer a program to provide incentives in the form of grants to local governments that make publicly owned golf courses available for housing and publicly accessible open spaces, as specified.
GolfWeek reported the 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.
• Make it easier to rezone public open-space land for housing.
Assemblywoman Garcia’s AB 672 “Fact Sheet” below states, “Golf courses proliferate in and around California’s urban centers. As golf declines, the state can craft a ‘grand bargain’ to encourage redevelopment of golf courses in a way that promotes equity and affordability, and fights climate change.”
Golf is declining? In California?
The “Fact Sheet” also states, “In the 80s and 90s, golf was on the upswing; but as the National Golf Foundation reports, since 2006, golf is declining. Golf courses struggle to stay open. Some locales subsidize municipal courses. It is reasonable to expect their decline will continue.”
This information is cherry-picked from a lengthy list on the National Golf Foundation website replete with statistics and data supporting the growing popularity of golf in the country. The rest of the information said “SINCE 2006, there has been a cumulative contraction of approximately 11% which has been disproportionately concentrated in value-priced courses (less than $40 greens fee).”
Assemblywoman Garcia’s “Fact Sheet” for AB 672 states, “Golf courses are labeled as open space. Who can access golf courses? Only those who know how to or can afford to play golf. Pay-to-play leisure activities do not serve low and moderate-income Californians.”
Yet she’s proposing to further diminish or totally do away with the value-priced golf courses if her bill were to pass – golf courses that do serve low and moderate-income Californians.
The Globe has read reports that golf is up 30% in 2021, and particularly at municipal courses open to the public. According to the National Golf Foundation, 36.9 million people played golf in 2020. And, the Golf Foundation says of the 16,100 golf courses in the country, “Golf remains highly accessible, with 75% of facilities open to the public.”
Land Use in California
California is made up of more than 104 million acres of land throughout the state. Of that, the federal government owns slightly more than 45.8 million acres – approximately 40% of California.
The Assemblywoman’s “Fact Sheet” states, “California is home to 921 public and private golf courses. They vary substantially in size; but often consume about 100 acres of land.”
That’s 92,100 acres of land Assemblywoman Garcia wants to remove from public access.
California also has a surplus of state-owned property, including land and buildings. The misnomer that builders are running out of land is not the case in California, but may be in other states. However, states and the federal government have impressive real estate portfolios, owning vast swaths of land, structures and buildings.
On January 15, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Executive Order N-06-19 ordering the California Department of General Services (DGS) and the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) to identify and prioritize excess state-owned property in order to pursue cost-effective housing projects. The idea was to make state and local public lands available for affordable housing development including:
- An executive order to make excess state land available for affordable housing (Executive Order N-06-19)
- Connecting affordable housing developers to local surplus land and strengthening enforcement of the Surplus Lands Act (AB 1486, Ting, 2019)
- Requiring cities and counties to inventory and report surplus and excess local public lands to include in a statewide inventory (AB 1255, Robert Rivas, 2019)
Following that order, Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) authored Assembly Bill 1486, to “Expand surplus property requirements for both the state and local agencies.”
“Surplus land” is land owned by any local agency that is determined to be no longer necessary for the agency’s use, except property being held by the agency for the purpose of exchange or property meeting other exemptions.
The golf courses named in AB 672 are municipal golf courses – open to the public. Why would Assemblywoman Garcia set her sites on 92,100 acres of open space land which includes public golf courses? This seems a rather cruel and deliberate attempt to do away with the only golf courses in the state where members of the public from all walks of life can play golf for relatively low costs.
In Sacramento, there are four municipal golf course facilities on city-owned land, operated by Morton Golf. The Morton Golf Management company has programs for the physically or mentally disabled and the blind, military veterans, stroke survivors, a Special Olympics program, junior golf, 30 different local high school boys and girls golf teams, 13 women’s golf groups, the First Tee golf program, the First Tee Year Round After School Program, Latino Junior Golf Program, an At-Risk Youth golf Program, a Girls Play league, and many more programs aimed at providing the public access to the sport of golf.
Assemblywoman Garcia adopted the lie that golf is on the decline in order to justify taking over and converting public golf courses into housing, when the state has untold amounts of “Surplus Local Land for Affordable Housing,” according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
According to Forbes, golf is big business, “directly driving $84.1 billion in economic activity across the U.S. in 2016, according to a study commissioned by the World Golf Foundation. The findings reflect a 22% increase from $68.8 billion in 2011, the last time the U.S. Golf Economy Report was released. The game also supports almost 1.9 million jobs and $58.7 billion in compensation.”
AB 672 originated as a land use bill in February 2021, but was then heavily amended, hasn’t had a hearing yet or any committee analysis done on it.
There are many problems with this bill. What about the economic impact golf has on California tourism?
In just Sacramento, municipal golf has provided more than $4 million dollars in property tax, employment tax, sales tax and rent to the city and state.
What about the impact to California golf tourism with public golf destinations like Torrey Pines in San Diego, Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, Spanish Bay and the NCGA-owned Poppy Hills Golf Course, all on the Monterey Coast? Or the public golf courses in Palm Springs, Palm Desert and Indian Wells? There are public golf courses on the Central Coastal and in the many wine regions.
What about the huge increase in golf since the COVID pandemic? Most golf courses report a significant increase in golf activity since March 2020, and especially the public/municipal golf courses.
There are plenty of ways to free up California land and buildings for affordable housing, starting with local governments setting aside their myriad permitting hoops developers and builders must jump through, as well as excessive fee structures. Government should not be in the real estate business anyway; the idea that the state compiles a list of “surplus land” is a much more appropriate and reasonable starting point for affordable housing locations than targeting public golf courses.
The Globe contacted Assemblywoman Garcia’s office to ask if the bill has a sponsor, or a list of supporters, but we did not receive a reply by close of business.AB_672 Fact Sheet PDF
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