REGION — Golfers across the state took a collective sigh of relief on Jan. 20 when a bill proposing to convert publicly-owned golf courses into affordable housing failed to pass the California State Assembly’s appropriations committee.
The legislation, which was introduced by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), would have authorized the California Department of Housing and Community Development to provide voluntary incentives, such as grants, to local agencies who enter into development agreements.
The proposal further required a minimum of 25% affordability for housing projects developed on a former golf course. According to Garcia, the state has 921 total golf courses, many at least 100 acres in size.
In North County, there are several municipal golf courses, such as Encinitas Ranch, The Crossings in Carlsbad, Twin Oaks in San Marcos, Reidy Creek in Escondido and Oceanside Municipal Golf Course and Center City Golf Course in Oceanside.
Additionally, Carlsbad is home to some of the biggest golf companies in the world, such as Callaway, TaylorMade, Titleist and Cobra, to name a few.
The region is also steeped in history with PGA and LPGA golf tournaments, including the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course and the Kia Classic at Park Hyatt Aviara, a private course.
The Coast News reached out to Garcia, but she did not respond before the deadline. Callaway and TaylorMade declined to comment.
“Very disappointed my bill AB 672 was held in Asm (sic) Appropriations Committee today,” Garcia tweeted on Jan. 20. “It’s not over yet though! I will try again.”
Despite bipartisan dissent, Garcia has vowed to refile the legislation, which must go through the full process of the Assembly.
The Southern California Golf Association was one of several major opponents of the bill, according to Craig Kessler, director of public affairs. The original bill, which was introduced in February 2021, called for circumventing CEQA, Surplus Land Act and Parks Preservation Act, which also drew the ire of the golf industry, associations and players.
However, the bill was “substantially” amended on Sept. 9 before coming back to the Assembly in January, where it eventually died in appropriations.
Nearly every municipal golf course is considered a park under state law, Kessler said, citing the Parks Preservation Act. Kessler said most turn a profit, which cities then use to subsidize their park systems for other activities, such as tennis courts, swimming pools, maintenance and staff.
“The initial bill would have made the decisions … and taken it out of local zoning decisions,” Kessler explained. “The bill was amended to restore all those local decisions. It was similar to Senate Bill 9 … and made it a permissible bill for agencies that wanted to go down that road.”
According to Kessler, 22.3% of golf courses are owned by public agencies, hosting at least 45% of play and 90% of youth programs statewide.
“Housing is the No. 1 problem and indisputable at this point,” Kessler. “The key point for golf … it’s making the legislative finding that these are not parks. They are parks. It’s a bad bill, it’s a bad piece of public policy. It’s cheap populous political posturing that really doesn’t get at the problem it purports to solve.”
For local golfers enjoying a Sunday at The Crossings, news of the bill was met with confusion and skepticism.
Chance House, who lives in Spring Valley near San Diego, started playing last year and said the affordability and access of municipal courses make it easier for him to play more.
House said the lower cost, compared to semi-private or private courses, allows him to explore more courses in the county and reducing access will only hurt the industry’s long-term future.
Chris Watts, of San Marcos, said the legalities around the issue make little sense, especially since most courses have third-party operating agreements. For example, JC Golf operates courses in Carlsbad, San Marcos, Escondido and Encinitas, among other cities.