Asm. Cristina Garcia wants to turn Muni golf courses into housing – Cerritos Community News

Aerial view of Cerritos’ Ironwood Nine public golf course, which, according to Cerritos’ own budget, is breaking even. Photo courtesy of the City of Cerritos.

January 21, 2022

By Brian Hews

Last February, Congresswoman 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 estates for low income families.

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

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The Public Parks Preservation Act states:No city shall acquire a public park for the use of such property for any purpose other than the park, unless the city pays the legislature sufficient compensation or land, or both, as required by the provisions of this chapter to allow the operating entity to replace the fleet and the facilities therein.

CEQA a national environmental protection policy adopted in 1971.

This bill would require, after approval by the Legislative Assembly, 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 housing agency and open space accessible to the public.

To be eligible for a grant, the agreement with a promoter must meet certain requirements:

The agreement ensures that at least 25% of all new housing built on the former golf course is low income housing.

At least 15 percent of the development is open space accessible to the public. Space used as a golf course should not be considered open space.

Of the remaining 85%, no more than 33% of the development can be dedicated to non-residential uses. Parking should be considered a non-residential use.

Developed rental units will be subject to an in-act restriction that requires units designated as low-income to be continuously available or occupied by low-income households at affordable rents, as specified, and monitored by the city

The bill, officially known as AB 672, was introduced by Garcia, who argues that municipal golf courses are an inefficient use of public 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 homes in the near future,” Garcia said. “AB 672 is a sensible and creative public policy response 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:

“After the Legislative Assembly appropriates $50 million from the General Fund, the Department of Housing and Community Development will administer a program to provide grants to cities and counties to encourage the provision of public golf courses in densely populated areas for housing and public accessible open space.

Specifically, Garcia’s bill:

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

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

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— Facilitate the rezoning of open public spaces for housing.

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

“Fees and charges [at municipal golf courses] routinely cover all operating costs, all infrastructure re-provisioning costs, said Craig Kessler, SCGA’s Director of Government Affairs. “Every year, $12 million goes into the coffers of County Parks and Recreation, which subsidizes swimming pools, trails, picnic areas and football fields that don’t pay for themselves.

“Golf courses preserve open space, sequester carbon, provide habitat, promote biodiversity, and allow rainwater to enter groundwater basins,” the NCGA said. “Municipal golf courses deliver these benefits almost entirely in densely populated 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 across the state 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, 22% of which are state owned. This legislation only applies to public courses or approximately 250 courses.

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

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

On its own budget, Cerritos’ Ironwood Nine breaks even.

Currently, the Bill has passed the Housing and Community Development Committee and the Local Government Committee and is now in the appropriations, something critics did not expect months ago.