California Bill AB 672 to Convert Municipal Golf Courses to Affordable Housing May Be Reintroduced

The death of a California Assembly bill that could have allowed the state’s municipal golf courses to be turned into affordable housing should be a wake-up call for golf in the state, said an official of the Southern California Golf Association.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” said Craig Kessler, director of public affairs for the SCGA. “I believe (Assembly Member Cristina Garcia) will testify again, and even if she doesn’t, there’s a long-term problem. Golf has to accept the reality that it takes up a lot of space and is increasingly in competition with not only other recreational uses, desert reserve uses, but now, for the first time, development uses, which were never the deal.”

Known as AB 672, the bill was drafted by Cristina Garcia, a Democrat from the 58th Assembly District, which covers areas near Los Angeles like Artesia, Bell Gardens and Downey. Bill could have authorized golf courses owned by municipalities to redevelop into affordable housing and provided $50 million in state grants to developers.

Kessler said about 22% of the state’s 1,100 golf courses are municipally owned.

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Originally tabled in February 2021, the bill did not come out of committee last year. The bill was amended last September and again earlier this month. On January 12, the bill passed the Housing and Community Development Committee by a 6-2 vote and later that day the Local Government Committee by a 5-2 vote. But the bill has never been submitted to the vote of the credit committee.

“Very disappointed that my bill #AB672 was upheld by the Asm Appropriations Committee today. It’s not over yet! I’ll try again,” Garcia tweeted on January 20.

Since the bill in its second year only had until January 31 to pass through the Assembly, the lack of a vote in appropriations essentially ended the current bill. Garcia now has up February 18 to re-introduce the bill for any action this legislative session.

“She swore to re-deposit. It would need a new number, a new title, maybe a somewhat different bill, and then it would go through the normal process,” Kessler said.

More challenges to come

Whether the bill is reintroduced for the current legislative session or not, golf officials in California believe there will be further attempts to redevelop golf courses as developable land.

“It’s a battle and so far we’ve been successful,” said Tom Addis, executive director of the SCPGA, which represented golf professionals in the region. “Can it come back? Sure.”

Addis said he thinks the outcry from golfers across the state helped tell Sacramento politicians that golf is an important activity for many people in their districts.

“The voter turnout was so big this time around, and it was rewarding, and I think it had an impact,” Addis said. “The Desert Chapter participated strongly, the San Diego Chapter, all the chapters in our section were tremendous in getting the word out and I know the members of the SCGA, all of our constituents can be really proud of their contribution.”

Five Desert Cities – Palm Springs, Indian Wells, Palm Desert, La Quinta and Indio – have developed eight municipal courts. While many golfers at these courses haven’t heard of the AB 672, those who have were happy to hear the bill has stalled.

“I don’t know why anyone would want to take a course like this away from golfers,” Manny Garza said after hitting golf balls at The Lights in Indio, an 18-hole municipal course. “A course like this is for people, where we can play without playing $100 a round.”

“Let them go after private golf courses,” Lisa Lopez said. “Classes like this should be protected and enjoyed.”

Addis said he understands why golf courses are often targeted, from proposed tax increases in 2009 to water issues during droughts in AB 672. People who target golf often don’t play the game and don’t don’t understand what the 1,100 golf courses in the state offer, including the 22 percent of those courses that are state-owned.

Activities include not only golf, but also tennis, swimming and social activities, with the number of golf rounds increasing over the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Golf has proven to be one of the healthiest activities, and not just because of what we’ve been through with COVID,” Addis said. “Golf is a safe place for healthy activity. And people don’t understand that, and when they say municipal courts are a financial burden on the community, they just don’t understand.

Like Addis, Kessler said he expects more golf challenges in the future. Kessler added he hopes the sport will not be part of the political wrangling. That’s especially true, he said, as Garcia announced she would be running for U.S. Congress in a newly drawn 42nd congressional district.

“Golf is not comfortable being in the crosshairs of a political campaign. We’re not going to be in the 42nd congressional race,” Kessler said. “It’s not going to happen. So we’re going to have to champion the societal value proposition of golf, particularly parkland golf, while avoiding political campaigning altogether.”

Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer. He can be reached at [email protected] or (760) 778-4633. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @larry_bohannan. Support local journalism. Subscribe to Le Soleil du Désert.

Michael C. Ford