A California Assembly bill that potentially could fund the repurposing of municipal golf courses into land for housing is moving forward again after dying in committee in 2021.
The gist of Assembly Bill 672 is that California faces huge homelessness problems and soaring housing costs, so municipal golf courses could be shut down and the land developed into housing, including at least 25 percent occupancy by low-income households.
Since being revived in early 2022, AB 672 has been significantly modified and passed two Assembly committees this week. It likely will reach an appropriations committee next week, and if approved there, it eventually would move to the full Assembly and then the California Senate for a vote.
The bill has caused outcry from many golfers and organizations, especially in the form in which it was written in 2021 that would have mandated that municipal golf courses be converted into housing.
In the bill’s current form, there is no such mandate. Instead, local governments and authorities would be allowed to make choices about closing municipal courses, and state funding would be made available to subsidize development into housing. Basically, it’s a much softer bill now than in its original form. And it faces huge obstacles in ever passing into law, not the least of which is that its current form does not specify any funds for development subsidies. In its original form, AB 672 provided $50 million for subsidies, but that funding line has been stricken from the current bill.
Craig Kessler, the director of public affairs for the Southern California Golf Association, on Thursday told Golfweek that the bill has gone from having a devastating impact in its 2021 form, to having significant impact, to now having much less impact if it were to pass. He also predicts many hurdles for the bill from supporters of public-access golf in the state.
“While I was never optimistic about this bill dying early in the 2022 process, I remain optimistic that it will not get signed into law in 2022,” Kessler said, “but only if the golf community continues to be as engaged in the next few months as it has in the past few months.”
There are more than 200 municipal courses in California, making up 22 percent of all courses in the state, including such highly ranked facilities as Torrey Pines, site of the 2021 U.S. Open in San Diego. AB 672 does not address privately owned public-access courses, such as most daily-fee courses, or privately owned country clubs.
The bill in its current form would:
Provide incentives in the form of grants to local agencies that enter into a development agreement to convert a publicly owned golf course into housing and publicly accessible open space.
Mandate that at least 25 percent of all new dwelling units would be occupied by lower-income households for a period of no less than 55 years.
Garcia describes the proposed law officially as the “Conversion of Publicly Owned Golf Courses to Affordable Housing” in the bill, but the bill does not specify or cap what type of housing might constitute the remaining 75 percent of dwelling units.
At least 15 percent of any such development must be open space, but golf courses would not be considered open space.
No more than a third of any such development could be used for non-residential purposes, including parking.
Larry Bohannan of the Palm Springs Desert Sun reported last April that the proposed law would remove municipal golf courses from protections of the Public Park Preservation Act, provide an exemption to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and make it easier to rezone public open-space land for housing.
Proponents of the bill have said thousands of dwellings could be built on converted golf courses to ease housing problems. Garcia’s bill states that “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.”
Supporters of golf – including the Southern California Golf Association and the California Alliance for Golf – have countered that golf courses serve as necessary green spaces in otherwise crowded cities, and that municipal golf courses typically serve lower-income players of diverse backgrounds, frequently with programs designed to introduce the game to such players.
“Removing golf and only golf from the 50-year-old protections of CEQA and the Public Park Preservation Act amounts to a determination by legislative fiat that golf is no longer part of the greater family of publicly accessible recreational activities,” James Ferrin, president of the California Alliance for Golf, a non-profit trade organization, said in a letter to the Housing and Community Development Committee and other assembly members in 2021, as reported by Bohannon. “The State of California should not be favoring or disfavoring specific recreational activities nor picking winners and losers among them.”