Colorado Basin: What’s going On?

Article provided by Craig Kessler, SCGA

Thursday, April 13, 2023

A glance at the front page of Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times tells you all you need to know about where California stands with respect to water. The lead headline was “Deep snow adds months of flood risk.”  The headline just below and to its side was “Water cuts:  Varied or uniform?”

To live in Southern California, indeed, to live almost anywhere in the vast expanse of the American Southwest, is to understand how it is possible to face flood and drought at the same time.  The winter rains may have been torrential – 31 atmospheric rivers in all – and the Sierra snowpack may be at record levels, but the Colorado Basin that supplies Southern California’s second major source of imports remains in the throes of a dry period unequaled in 1,500 years.  And that is why the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation took the moment Tuesday to apply pressure to the three (3) states of the Lower Colorado Basin, the “Reclamation” states of Nevada, Arizona, and California, to come to some sort of negotiated agreement to cede as much as 2 million acre-feet of water between now and 2026, when all seven states in the Colorado Compact are going to be asked to negotiate as much as 4 million acre-feet of permanent givebacks to bring their collective allocations in sync with the River’s volumetric production. 

The Bureau, very much in sync with the Biden White House, applied pressure by countering the options put forward in late January by six (6) of the seven (7) states on one hand and California on the other by offering three (3) “options” that provide a more focused framework for moving forward.  There are really only two options, given that one of them is the standard do nothing scenario. 

Under one of the two (2) do something options, the federal government would commandeer the Secretary of the Interior’s authority under “emergency conditions to provide for human health and safety” by issuing across-the-board cuts in equal percentages for both senior and junior rights holders that would amount to roughly 13% cuts in addition to the cuts agreed to by the three lower basin states (Nevada, Arizona, and California) back in 2019.  Given that California is the holder of the most senior of the senior rights associated directly with the myriad covenants and actions that taken together have come to be called the “law of the river,” this option would prove disproportionately impactful on California, particularly its agricultural sector.

Under the other of the do something options, the federal government would issue cuts based upon the existing rights and priorities under the “law of the river,” which would mean minimal or even no cuts for California and devastating cuts for Nevada and Arizona, particularly Arizona, as the aqueduct that brings drinking water to Phoenix and Tucson would likely be cut back to near zero. 

The across-the-board in equal amounts approach would no doubt cause California to litigate and at minimum cause undue harm through delay if nothing else.  The senior rights approach would put Arizona out of business.  The first option foolish; the second option unacceptable.

So, what’s going on?  Only the Department of the Interior, its Bureau of Reclamation, and the Biden White House know for sure, but all the smart money is on the following:  The federal government is making clear that it behooves California and the other six states to negotiate an acceptable compromise between a slavish adherence to an allocation formula inconsistent with what Mother Nature’s provision and a solution that vitiates all the prior agreements and arrangements upon which California in particular reasonably relied to create a water delivery infrastructure capable of supporting 40 million persons and the 5th largest economy in the world.  

There is a political wrinkle in here to consider.  As numerous pundits, politicos, and the New York Times have pointed out, Nevada and Arizona are very tight swing states with Senate seats up for election in 2024 that are held in one case by an incumbent Democrat and in the other an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats and with Electoral Votes in play that were in President Biden’s column by very slender margins in 2020.  Given California’s politics, there is no political downside to being rhetorically tough on California at the expense of Arizona and Nevada.   

Bottom line for golf in Central and Southern California:  While coping with the floods sure to come, prepare to begin coming to terms with the fact that one of the major sources of imported water is almost certain to be curtailed, first temporarily and then permanently.  This will mean different things in different places.  Such is always the case with water – it’s always about local conditions and supplies.  But it will mean something in almost every place that now imports water from the Colorado River.  And that means that in each one of those places the golf community needs to either remain engaged, or in many cases get engaged, with its local retailer and the City or Special District that oversees it to anticipate and then cope with that meaning.      

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Major Coastal Resorts Environmental Accountability Act
AB 1590 
 [Friedman; D-Burbank]
Introduced as a spot or placeholder bill on the final day to file bills in this year’s session (February 17), AB 1590 was populated with substantive content subsequent thereto that among many other things would “prohibit the use of any nonorganic pesticide, as defined, or fertilizing material, as defined, at a major coastal resort.” 

For the purposes of its provisions the bill defines a “major coastal resort” as a resort or hotel that meets all of the following:  1) Is composed of more than 300 guest rooms or units; 2) includes or operates a golf course on the premises; and 3) is located in whole or in part in the coastal zone. 

While many of the bill’s particulars are not entirely clear, they are clear about the proscription on the use of all nonorganic pesticides and fertilizers on a golf course that is part of a “major coastal resort” containing 300 or more guest rooms.  Whether the rooms and the golf course need be under the same ownership for the proscription to apply and/or whether the room count is an aggregate one or one restricted specifically to the golf course to which the rooms are attached – that is not clear, although it may become clear as the bill continues to be amended.

The bill has incurred significant opposition from the quarters one would expect, and any and all golf properties that might or might not come under the bill’s prohibitions are at minimum carefully watching the bill.  The California Alliance for Golf (CAG) is “watching” the bill and contemplating possible action.  Very few golf courses fit the bill’s particulars; however, the slope that would take the state from such proscriptions on large resorts cum golf functionality to proscriptions on all golf facilities within earshot of the “coastal zone” is a slippery one.  As some have discovered when trying to develop a golf property that is outside the coastal zone but somewhat contiguous to it, the California Coastal Commission often asserts jurisdiction thereover.     

Click here to read the bill as currently amended.

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Meet New SCGA Executive Director Mike Kelly

Click here to view SCGA’s new Executive Director Mike Kelly’s personalized message to the SCGA Public Affairs family.


Article provided by Craig Kessler, SCGA

Monday, March 27, 2023

Mother Nature may be blessing us, and the state legislature may be giving us a rest, but the fundamentals that make the surcease so welcome remain firmly in place. 

First up, Mother Nature.

With the Northern Sierra snowpack at near record levels and likely to hit record levels before April 1, and the Southern Sierra snowpack already at record levels:

  • Governor Newsom has rescinded most of the elements of last year’s emergency drought order, including the call for all water suppliers to invoke Level 2 of their water shortage contingency plans, otherwise known as 20% reductions;
  • State Water Project allocations are up to 75% and likely to go higher after April 1;
  • MWD has rescinded the 35% curtailment order it issued to 7 million of its customers last June; and
  • The state’s two largest reservoirs are at 78 and 82 percent of capacity before the spring snowmelt; what 60 days ago was worry about running perilously short of water has been replaced by worry about flooding.

On the other hand, snowpack and surface water are but two of California’s sources of homegrown fresh water.  The other is groundwater.  And while you are likely aware that one great precipitation year doesn’t refill groundwater basins the same way that rain and snowmelt fill reservoirs, you may not be aware that the gains made in the wet years of the 20th Century were never enough to offset the pumping that occurred during the non-wet years in between.  Estimates of the amount of subsurface water California has lost since its entry into the American Union in 1850 range from 110 million acre-feet to 140 million acre-feet in just the Central Valley alone.  Other areas have fared better, but there have been long-term losses, nonetheless.  The great exception is the Coachella Valley, which has for the most part kept its aquifer in a state of replenishment. 

But hovering over both the Coachella Valley “exception” and the rest of Southern California is that other great source of imported water – the Colorado Basin.  One good year in California cannot and will not do much to raise the levels of those two mega-reservoirs known as Lake Mead and Lake Powell that supply water from the Colorado Basin.  The water levels in both, which are at roughly 28% of capacity, barely above “dead pool” in terms of their ability to generate electricity, won’t rise much based off this one wet winter.  And given that those levels were at 50% in 2014 when the state stared down its last spike in the current 20-year megadrought, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why the federal government has directed the seven states that form the Colorado Compact to come to agreement on ceding some portion of their extant allotments now to tide the Basin over until 2026 when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimates that 2-4 million-acre-feet of allocation must be ceded on a permanent basis.  The hotter, drier conditions that have given rise to the worst drought in the Basin in 1,200 years aren’t receding anytime soon.

While California’s six other partners in the Colorado Compact don’t really believe their recent proposal to ignore senior water rights, past agreements, and federally sanctioned allocation formulas in favor an evaporation methodology that just happens to repose almost all the burden of ceding 2-4-million-acre-feet of water on California is going to come to fruition, they have succeeded in making clear that the days of slavish adherence to all those past arrangements that taken together have come to be known as the “Law of the River” are over.  A new day not yet determined and not knowable is upon us, but this much we do know:  That the “new day” won’t include the generous and disproportionate Colorado River allocation upon which California has long relied for its full complement of imports.  It’s not a matter of whether; just of how much. 

No doubt California will cede a portion of its current allocation within a framework that doesn’t concede any of its rights under the “Law of the River,” but it will cede a portion on some basis to bring the Basin upon which 40 million Americans rely into some semblance of stasis.  California has done just that before – most recently in the form of 2003’s Quantification Settlement Agreement in which the state permanently reduced its Colorado River water use by 800,000 acre-feet per year through various water management programs that turned out to be the largest agricultural-to-urban water conservation and transfer agreement in American history.  And California will do it again.  And that will have an impact separate and apart from what happens in the Sierra Nevada. 

But with the reprieve we just got in the form of record rains and snows, we’ve gained some time to harvest the fruits of some of the investments Southern California has made in constructing the water capture, storage, and conveyance mechanisms better suited to 21st Century realities than the 20th Century infrastructure that is no longer capable of meeting the needs of a 40-million person state that represents the 5th largest economy in the world – e.g., stormwater capture, aquifer replenishment, potable and non-potable reuse, desalination.  Example:  The parcel fee measure that 70% of Los Angeles County’s voters approved in 2018 to fund stormwater capture cum various forms of reuse. 

More specifically, golf can use the reprieve to gain the attention of policymakers and water wholesalers/retailers for the dispensations and programs capable of allowing for those kinds of long-term changes like re-grassing, turf removal, lake relining, and irrigation upgrades that taken together over time permanently reduce water consumption between drought emergencies.  Crises and emergencies crowd out long-term policy thinking in favor of short-term crisis management.  Moments like these are the only moments when golf can gain the attention of policymakers to entertain longer term strategies and tactics for aligning golf with what is really a state of permanent drought, or if you prefer, permanent deprivation, in an effort to keep the game an integral part of Southern California’s recreational lifestyle.  A “sunbelt” without golf is not much of a sunbelt. 

Next up, the 2023 legislative session.

There are no AB 672’s or 1910’s in this year’s queue of bills.  From that we can take some solace in having demonstrated in the last two legislative sessions that as the Los Angeles Times pointed out in its 2022 Sunday editorial on AB 1910:  While the housing crisis militates in strong favor of at least considering any and all ideas with the slightest possibility of ameliorating a critical housing shortage, the municipal golf courses are near the bottom of a long list of much better places to address it.  [Paraphrase, not a quote]

On the other hand . . . AB 1910 may have been enough of a crude overreach that golf was able to awaken enough of the state’s 3.5 million golfers to a danger so obvious that even a community as complacent as golf was able to rally enough of its members to take action – a community that had so long been asleep at the legislative switch that the opposition came as a genuine surprise to the proponents of the bill.  Caveat:  You only surprise once, particularly those who are active in politics.  As the laws keep evolving to prefer housing over parks, open space, and recreation, golf cannot rest content that it can merely duplicate last year’s campaign and expect the same successful result.

To that end we are tracking a slew of bills that continue to amend the Surplus Land Act to give affordable housing priority over open space/recreation, and we are tracking a slew of bills that bypass local control in favor of truncated ministerial approval processes for certain kinds of housing projects.

It’s not that any of these bills take aim at golf per se, but as a sector that encumbers substantial tracts of land in the hearts of many of California’s densest cities and suburbs, golf has to recognize that ONLY to the degree to which the communities in which these tracts are located consider those golf courses genuine community assets environmentally, socially, and otherwise will those tracts remain golf courses in the long term.  To suggest that the economic argument for their continued existence rings hollow is to understate the weakness of that argument.  One need only take a look at what constitutes the golf community in the City of Los Angeles, the nation’s 2nd largest city smack in the middle of the nation’s largest golf market, where the only golf that exists today is either private club or municipal.  Once the site of myriad daily fee golf courses, Los Angeles today is home to none.  That should tell one all one needs to know about the financial fecundity of golf versus the other kinds of land uses that have displaced it.  Yet it seems that we have to keep repeating it over and over again to crack through some of the game’s leadership organizations.

One bill of interest that doesn’t take aim at golf but poses dangers nonetheless is Chris Ward’s (D-San Diego) AB 68.  Click here to read the full text of the bill.  What piques our interest are the organizations sponsoring the bill – YIMBY (Yes in my Backyard), the group that sponsored and pushed the hardest for AB 1910, and The Nature Conservancy, a mainstream environmental organization that by virtue of this co-sponsorship has determined that solving the housing shortage by developing only in already densely settled urban environments represents a meld between the housing crisis and environmentalism – or as the title of last Friday’s op-ed in the Los Angeles Times co-authored by YIMBY’s Chief Operating Officer Melissa Breach and the Nature Conservancy’s Director of Sustainable and Resilient Communities Liz O’Donoghue more directly put the proposition:  “California’s housing shortage is an environmental problem.”

As we have written more than once and always with proper credit to James Carville, “it’s the land, stupid.”  It’s clear that this YIMBY/Nature Conservancy alliance that announces itself as “California’s housing shortage is an environmental problem” is not likely to consider a municipal golf course a park, green space, or environmental refuge for the purposes of preservation.  And we doubt they’ll see much wisdom in continuing to tax private equity golf clubs in tony urban neighborhoods as open space.  But as we learned in last year’s AB 1910 episode, there are many urban legislators who don’t share their view of golf, and it is to those legislators that golf must continue to conduct itself to make true a narrative that positions golf courses as community assets environmentally, socially, and otherwise.  Make “true” with deeds, not with “spin” as some sort of public relations yarn. 

As for the fate of AB 68 in the 2023 session suffice it to say that the California Building Industry, which was silent during the AB 1910 episode, has called the bill a “housing killer,” and the California Chamber of Commerce has put it on its 2023 short list of “job killers.”  We’ll be watching to see what Assembly Housing & Community Development Committee Chair Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) does with it.  The Oakland Assemblymember, who many find the odds-on favorite to assume the Chairmanship of the Assembly Budget Committee when Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) assumes the Speakership from Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) in July, was a vocal supporter of AB 1910 and opposes moving from 6% to 7% the percentage of California land mass dedicated to developed space. 

Of the water bills with traction in the 2023 session, bills like Laura Friedman’s (D-Burbank) effort to curtail the use of potable irrigation on non-functional turf (AB 1572 & 1573), none seek to recategorize golf as non-functional or to take golf out of the class of “Special Landscape Areas” (SLA’s) that in California law protect the use of turf in parks, cemeteries, sports fields, and golf courses.  But we track them nonetheless, because there are organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that persist in trying to change the biological needs (evapotranspiration factor) of turf through legislative/regulatory fiat.  Again, golf’s response cannot be to simply oppose such things, but as golf has done with the California’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) in its continuing updates of the state’s Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (MWELO), propose regulatory paradigms that guarantee the game’s use of less water in ways consistent as opposed to inconsistent with nature, biology, and sound agronomic/business practices. 

However, there is one water bill, or more accurately companion bills in the Assembly and Senate, that don’t have traction in our opinion but bear close scrutiny for what they portend.  At this point Assembly Member Rebecca Bauer-Kahan’s (D-Portola Valley) AB 460 and Senator Ben Allen’s (D-Redondo Beach) SB 389 are more the opening of a conversation than an effort to get something passed of substantial impact this year.  And that’s the point – this year.  The conversation it opens, and we might add actually opened at the policy committee level as more tutorial than bill vetting, is in sync with so much else that suffuses the moment in water law, legislation, regulation, and just plain discussion.

While the details of both are complicated, suffice it to conclude, as have most legal and academic analyses, that AB 460 and SB 389 would undermine existing legal protections for pre-1914 and riparian water rights and result in significant changes to how California’s water rights system are administered – rights and arrangements as sacred and established if not more firmly established than parallel rights and arrangements held by California in the Colorado Compact. 

Click here to read the 8-page “Adapting Water Rights to our 21st Century Climate” document that was used by the Water Parks & Wildlife Committee to introduce AB 460 to the members at their February 28 “informational hearing.”  It’s a veritable rewrite of much of California’s water law. 

Whether the Colorado Basin or certain longstanding water rights, the facts on the climatological ground are going to increasingly govern who gets what when and how than rights accorded and laws firmly established in a past that has been overtaken by new realities.  The process promises to be painful and acrimonious to say the least, but golf fails to pay close heed and engage in the discussion at its great peril. 

Engage in the discussion and get proactively involved at every level thereof, that is.  And while we’re at it, perhaps use the reprieve Mother Nature has blessed us with and the surcease from virulent anti-golf legislation that last year’s successful AB 1910 has earned us to take a hard look at just how well prepared the game is to deal with the “fundamental” challenges that remain so firmly in place. 

California Alliance for Golf Receives 2023 NGCOA Champion Award

Jay Karen, CEO of the NGCOA (left) and Tom Brooks, CGCS, President of the NGCOA (right) present the 2023 Champion Award to California Alliance for Golf representative Craig Kessler, SCGA Dir. of Governmental Affairs. The ceremony took place in conjunction with the association’s 2023 Golf Business Conference held in Orlando, FL.(Photo Credit: McLendon Photography)

The California Alliance for Golf (CAG) is pleased to announce the organization was
named recipient of the National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA) Champion

This award is bestowed upon individuals or entities who’ve succeeded in working on
behalf of a group of owners – locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally – and have
garnered significant victory for the golf industry. In 2022, through its advocacy efforts,
the Alliance was successful in helping defeat California Assembly Bill 672 and
Assembly Bill 1910, proposed legislation that would have converted California public
golf courses into housing projects. A successful awareness and letter writing campaign
to legislative leaders throughout the state proved to be beneficial.

Accepting the prestigious industry award was CAG Legislative Committee Chair Craig
Kessler, Director of Government Relations for the Southern California Golf Association
(SCGA), who was on hand at the awards ceremony held in conjunction with the 2023
Golf Business Conference in Orlando, FL.

Click here to view a video produced by the NGCOA highlighting the work of the
California Alliance for Golf.

Each year, the NGCOA recognizes the most outstanding members of the past year, and
the individuals and organizations that have helped preserve the tradition of the game
while embracing the challenges and opportunities of the golf business.
“All the nominees put forth this year are exceptional examples of our industry’s finest,”
said Tom Brooks, President of the NGCOA Board of Directors. “The winners exemplify
their importance to their community, and our sport and industry. We proudly
congratulate those who were selected for this year’s NGCOA awards.”

Also receiving the Champion Award in 2023 was U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) for
his involvement in the establishment of the Paycheck Protection Program.


Article provided by Craig Kessler, SCGA

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Not all of the 19th Century rules governing the rhythms of California’s legislative session are without value. The one requiring that bills must sit idle for a minimum of 30 days after filing is one of them. This gives everyone plenty of time to sift through the roughly 2,500 bills that were filed for consideration this session, most of which were filed within 10 days of last Friday’s deadline.

Upon completion of our “sift,” we’ll have a solid idea not only of which bills to track, but also which bills among those have traction. Many of the 2,500 filings are more performative than substantive, although today’s performance is often positioning for tomorrow’s traction. And that too merits tracking in terms of paying close heed to the arguments raised and the arguers who raise them.

Here are the early returns from Friday’s deadline. We are sure to find more in the coming week.

AB-363 Pesticides: neonicotinoids for nonagricultural use: reevaluation: regulations. [Bauer-Kahan; D-San Ramon]
This bill would require the department, by July 1, 2024, to publish a reevaluation of the latest science regarding the impacts of neonicotinoid pesticides, as defined, on pollinating insects, aquatic ecosystems, and human health when used for the nonagricultural protection of outdoor ornamental plants, trees, and turf, and, by July 1, 2026, to adopt regulations governing that use that are necessary to protect the health of honeybees, native bees, and other pollinating insects, aquatic ecosystems, and human health, as provided. [Click here to read a PDF version of the entire bill]

A stronger bill in terms of outright banning the use of neonicotinoids for nonagricultural use was vetoed by Governor Newsom last year. His veto message expressed concern about circumventing the state’s regulatory process while the Department of Pesticide Regulation was considering new regulations pertaining to both agricultural and nonagricultural uses.

Although the pollinators the bill aims to protect do not feast on turf, neonics do play a role in golf course turf management. Their loss would leave a hole in the game’s pest control toolbox. However, their use in golf is much more akin to the agricultural application that is being exempted than it is to the urban/suburban backyard use that would seem to be the aim of the bill’s co-sponsor Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) did make this point in its veto plea to Governor Newsom. Whether that plea proved dispositive, or part of a greater compelling argument from similarly situated sectors, may remain to be seen in the 2023 legislative session, where no doubt GCSAA and its allied partners within the California Alliance for Golf (CAG) will make the same plea for a parallel exemption for a golf course use restricted to licensed applicators and more closely regulated than required by current practice. It’s important to note that CAG is not opposed to restrictions upon neonicotinoids; it merely questions a blunderbuss approach that ensnares harmless applications.

AB-1572 Potable water: nonfunctional turf. [Friedman; D-Burbank]
This bill would make legislative findings and declarations concerning water use, including that the use of potable water to irrigate nonfunctional turf is wasteful and incompatible with state policy relating to climate change, water conservation, and reduced reliance on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem. The bill would direct all appropriate state agencies to encourage and support the elimination of irrigation of nonfunctional turf with potable water. This bill would prohibit the use of potable water, as defined, for the irrigation of nonfunctional turf located on commercial, industrial, municipal, institutional, and multifamily residential properties, as specified.

This is one of two bills (AB 1573 in addition) that Assembly Member Friedman has filed to make clear the state’s desire to phase out the use of potable water to irrigate those categories of turf deemed nonfunctional. As part of the class of “Special Landscape Areas (SLA’s),” golf along with parks, sports fields, and cemeteries are considered “functional” turf.

AB 1573 clearly maintains this, stating emphatically, “Nonfunctional turf” means turf that is solely ornamental and not regularly used for human recreational purposes or for civic or community events. Nonfunctional turf does not include sports fields and turf that is regularly used for human recreational purposes or for civic or community events.”

However, AB 1572 makes special reference to one longtime member of the SLA class in a way amenable to interpretation as opening others to excision: “Nonfunctional turf” means any turf that is not located in areas designated by a property owner or a government agency for recreational use or public assembly. Nonfunctional turf does not include turf located in cemeteries.

As a sector defined in too many minds as too much land that uses too much water to serve the too few who have had too much for too long, golf would be wise to take note of this potential opening and recognize that in a Capitol sure to be consumed with a permanent loss of Colorado River allocation, there may be legislators keen to consider excising certain disfavored members of the current SLA Class. We don’t suggest that Laura Friedman is in that group. She harbors no hostility toward the California golf community; indeed, she has been warm to golf. But given the moment, the environmental community’s strong support of these bills, palpable hostility to golf among a minority of legislators, and the increasing realization that Mother Nature not only didn’t but isn’t capable of bailing out a long overallocated Colorado Basin in the throes of its worst drought in 1,500 years – well, suffice it to say golf beware.

Click here to read AB 1572. Click here to read AB 1573.

SB-423 Land use: streamlined housing approvals: multifamily housing developments. [Wiener; D-San Francisco]

This bill would authorize the Department of General Services to act in the place of a locality or local government, at the discretion of that department, for purposes of the ministerial, streamlined review for development on property owned by or leased to the state. The bill would delete the January 1, 2026, repeal date, thereby making these provisions operative indefinitely.

This bill would modify the above-described objective planning standards, including by deleting the standard that prohibits a multifamily housing development from being subject to the streamlined, ministerial approval process if the development is located in a coastal zone, and by providing an alternative definition for “affordable housing costs” for a development that dedicates 100% of units, exclusive of a manager’s unit or units, to lower income households. The bill would, among other modifications, delete the objective planning standards requiring development proponents to pay at least the general prevailing rate of per diem wages and utilize a skilled and trained workforce and would instead require a development proponent to certify to the local government that certain wage and labor standards will be met, including a requirement that all construction workers be paid at least the general prevailing rate of wages, as specified. [Click here to read the Legislative Counsel’s Summary. The bill is excruciatingly detailed; those with such appetite can click here to read the full bill]

This bill, for which there is a companion version in the Assembly from Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland, Chair of Housing Committee), promises to be one of the most scrutinized and consequential bills in the 2023 hopper. The way we would boil down its 39 pages is as follows. The controlling piece of legislation regarding the incentivization of affordable housing, SB 35, also authored by Senator Wiener, has proven nettlesome in part due to what developers find two key obstacles: 1) A too high percentage “affordable” requirement, and 2) a set of labor standards that make “affordability” unattainable. SB 423 purports to solve the 2nd obstacle in a way that renders the 1st obstacle moot. While it has secured the endorsement of some sectors of California’s labor community, most notably the Carpenters, it has thus far incurred the opposition of the Building Trades, presaging in our view a replay of last year’s drama concerning Buffy Wicks’ AB 2011, which managed at the last minute to find the sweet spot of common ground to earn the support of the Building Trades and become law – in the minds of many political commentators and soothsayers an epochal achievement that contains the promise of actually constructing housing in this housing starved state.

While we don’t see or anticipate any direct assaults on California’s golf stock like AB 672 or 1910 in this session and are gratified that Cristina Garcia’s old Assembly District is now represented by Blanca Pacheco (D-Downey), a member of the Latina Golfers Association, we trust you understand the wisdom in tracking any and all bills that take control over planning decisions away from local cities and repose them in Sacramento – and repose them by right per the truncated permitting processes euphemistically referred to as “ministerial.”

Golf cannot escape nor much mitigate its encumbrance of large swaths of contiguous land in precisely those urban/suburban enclaves ripe for housing. Any who doubt just how critical the state deems its housing shortage need only read the state’s latest report card. Bills like SB 423 are going to keep coming quickly and furiously for as long as Californians of all stripes, locations, and political affiliations identify housing as their number one concern. So are the bills that keep moving housing up and open space/recreation down in the Surplus Land Act’s assignments of priority.

While golf can prevent being singled out among the many other land uses also ripe for housing, it cannot stop the stampede toward those obviations of local control and those assignments of priority capable of breaking the logjam that has long prevented the state from meeting its residents’ housing needs, albeit if California keeps hemorrhaging 500,000 souls, we may be closer to meeting our housing needs than we think. Of course, there are serious consequences to any city, region, or state that becomes hollowed out.

What golf can do is everything within its power to make real a community value proposition not founded on an economic metric guaranteed to make a compelling case for housing and other commercial uses, otherwise known as the traditional economic impact report (spoiler alert: Golf lags far behind other uses in terms of employment generation, tax generation, and economic multiplier effects), but founded upon the many quality of life, quality of environment, and quality of community values the game uniquely provides the places in which golf courses are located.

Call us foolish if you like but as persons responsible for getting results in a rather tough environment, we find it wise to lead with strengths, not weaknesses, albeit we do very much take our weaknesses into account with every strength we project.

EPA Enters Formal Partnership with Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) to Promote Environmental Stewardship, Environmental Justice, Public Health, and STEM Education

Article provided by Craig Kessler, SCGA

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signed a partnership agreement Monday (September 19) with the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) pledging a commitment to environmental stewardship and environmental sustainability on golf courses everywhere.

“Our biggest advances in protecting human health and the environment come from working together,” said EPA Mid Atlantic Regional Administrator Adam Ortiz.  “This partnership with GCSAA will go a long way in benefitting surrounding communities while also enhancing our ongoing dedication to greenspaces, clean water and healthy air.”

During an event at the Langston Municipal Golf Course in Washington, D.C., officials from EPA and GCSAA signed a Memorandum of Understanding that enhances their joint commitment to share information on environmental issues, to promote best practices, to address industry challenges in a joint effort to protect and enhance the environment.

“This partnership between the EPA and GCSAA is the culmination of decades of collaboration and environmental stewardship on golf courses,” said GCSAA Chief Executive Officer Rhett Evans. “By implementing science-based best management practices, golf course superintendents have made theses public greenspaces more sustainable than ever before.”

The MOU outlines partnership opportunities for the following priority EPA areas:

  • Environmental Stewardship, including controlling stormwater run-off and sustainability
  • Environmental Justice
  • Improved pollinator sites
  • Children’s and Public Health
  • Environmental and STEM Education

As the allied California golf community argued successfully during the AB 1910 controversy, well-managed golf courses provide significant community benefits through the creation of community greenspaces that provide recreational opportunities, health benefits, heat sinks, fire breaks, wildlife habitats, all while preventing destructive stormwater run-off into neighboring communities.

As the allied California golf community demonstrated successfully at last month’s golf & water summit, golf always seeks collaborative partnerships with its regulators to achieve goals both hold in common, chief among them steadily reducing the game’s water footprint over time, integrating golf courses into the fabric of their surrounding communities, and as much as the game has done the last 20 years to significantly reduce its water consumption, not resting on that laurel, but using that record of innovation and accomplishment to innovate and accomplish much more in the next 20 years to ensure that golf remains a large component of California’s recreational community.  Not as a “do good” proposition, but a survival proposition.   

Invest – innovate – collaborate.

And just as the GCSAA is doing all three in partnership with the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the allied Southern California golf community continues to do the same with the region’s large water wholesalers and retailers. 

Well done GCSAA!  You keep punching well above your organizational weight in the public policy arena, and we here in Southern California recognize and appreciate it.

Stay Informed With California Legislative Information

The California Legislative Information website offers the general public the full text of bills, resolutions, and constitutional amendments, and their status, history, votes, analyses, and veto messages if applicable. The website is updated every day at 4:00am and 9:00pm. Please click here to continue staying informed.


Article provided by Craig Kessler, SCGA

Thursday, May 19, 2022

AB 1910 was held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee’s Suspense file today, killing it for the remainder of the 2022 legislative session.

When bill author Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) pulled the bill from the docket of the Assembly Local Government Committee April 6, we thought it might have been finished then. But as we pointed out at the time, there was still a chance that the bill could be heard in that committee and successfully passed out before the end of the month. And that’s exactly what happened; however, it only passed out per an agreement between Ms. Garcia and Assembly Member Bloom (D-Santa Monica) that the author amend the bill to substantially limit its scope in three very specific areas – areas backed up by credible metrics. That was a tall order in the compressed time frame between the April 27 Local Government Committee hearing and today’s Appropriations Suspense hearing. Whether a tall order not met, or evidence of the old adage that you can’t fix a bad bill, AB 1910 will not receive an Assembly floor vote before the May 27 deadline for bills to pass out of their house of origin. It cannot be resurrected in 2022, except for an end of session gut-and-amend procedure that is virtually never pursued for bills held in Suspense.

There is much about this episode in terms of lessons learned and harbingers of things to come – much that we’ll be sharing, because there is much that the golf community will need to understand to cope with what we fully anticipate will be more predations upon golf’s space in urban California. No matter the issue, it’s all about the land. But that analysis can wait. For today, know that AB 1910 is dead for the rest of 2022.

And know that it is in large part dead due to the thousands of rank-and-file golfers who took the time to express their thoughts to their elected leaders, the unified response of California’s golf organizations, and the support of so many of golf’s national organizations. SCGA and the whole alphabet soup of golf’s leadership organizations may have made solid public policy arguments to counter the bill, but without the support of rank-and-file golfers, those arguments would have carried far less weight. The congratulations go to you!


Article provided by Craig Kessler, SCGA

Monday, May 2, 2022

When we counseled “concern, not panic” regarding recent headlines about water allocation curtailments, we didn’t mean to diminish the seriousness of the moment; we meant only to assuage the many of you who read those headlines and concluded that golf courses in certain areas of the Southland, most particularly Ventura County, the San Fernando Valley, and parts of the San Gabriel Valley, would be restricted to irrigating one day a week come June 1.

Irrigating once per week in a hot and dry summer is tantamount to death for a golf course. The biology of turf is what it is. Residences and businesses can rip out turf in favor of California friendly drought tolerant palettes, but while golf can be played on less turf, it cannot be played on something other than turf. Parks, sports fields, and cemeteries fit the same mold, and that is why along with golf courses, they are routinely treated differently than ornamental or non-functional turf.

“Treated differently” doesn’t mean given carte blanche in a drought. It still means having to curtail water consumption, but it means curtailing consumption in ways more creative than day-of-week/time-of-day, one-size-fits-all methods. It means keeping 100% control over times and days of application while curtailing consumption – in other words cutting back in ways consistent with maintaining core functionality.

In those places where “golf and water task forces” that work directly with water providers have continued to meet regularly – e.g., Coachella Valley – SCGA is working with its allied partners to beef them up. In those places where such task forces have gone on hiatus since 2016 – e.g., Los Angeles – SCGA is working with its allied partners to reassemble and revitalize them.

We’re getting ready by getting in front of events. The ride promises to be bumpy this year, and golf has proven that it is well equipped to handle “bumpy.” But do consider what next year or the year after might portend if the next two precipitation years look anything like the last three. “Bumpy” will hardly suffice to describe that ride. But it’s something to begin contemplating now. Hope for better weather but begin planning for more of the same.

And under the heading, something to consider in the much longer term, take careful note of Metropolitan Water District General Manager Adel Hagekhalil’s comment in the Los Angeles Times last week about the critical need for “real investments in recycled water, real investments in storm water capture, real investments in storage. . . these are critical; we can’t conserve our way out of this.” For the golf community the question going forward isn’t whether those expensive infrastructure projects will be funded; it’s only a question of how they are going to be paid for. That’s why we were warm toward the mechanism that Los Angeles County’s Measure “W” on the 2020 ballot sanctioned – a parcel fee attaching only to that portion of a property that is non-permeable with credits for discharge permits. The drafters couldn’t have devised a more equitable, fact-based way for golf’s participation in the funding. Nonetheless, this is another cost factor that the game needs to embed into its longer-term business strategy.

But until those new storage mechanisms are in place, conservation remains the only effective tool to deal with drought.

# # # # # # # # #

Speaking of the Coachella Valley, home to 120 golf courses, and “planning for more of the same,” the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) is initiating a Colorado River Water (CRW) Conservation Program for all of its canal customers – those that draw raw water from the Colorado River in lieu of pumping from the aquifer. Twenty-six (26) golf courses are among those customers.

The fact that CVWD is rolling this program out should inform desert golf courses that have become complacent that the time for complacency has passed. The Colorado River Basin has been experiencing historic drought conditions for over 20 years, during which time system storage has decreased from 95% full in 2000 to less than 35% today. CVWD, which has long resisted any discussion of curtailing the generous allocation accorded it by various federal compacts over the years, has been actively discussing with other Basin States how to do just that. If the Colorado River is to continue to be a reliable source for the states that have long possessed more allocations than there is water to allocate, there is no other choice.

As an initial step, CVWD is soliciting interest for a voluntary, temporary, and compensated water conservation program for canal water users that can demonstrate a reduction in Colorado River water use for 2022 and 2023. Although this program will need to be formally approved by the CVWD Board, it is envisioned that participants will be incentivized $200/acre-feet (net and funded by external agencies) based on water conserved against their historical water use over the most recent 5 – year period, and the Irrigation Water Availability Assessment (IWAA) will be waived during the participation period.

The program is anticipated to start on October 1, 2022, and end on December 31, 2023 (program may be extended subject to further discussion with funding partners). For information about the program one can:

  1. Attend CVWD’s public workshop on May 17, 2022, at 9 a.m. at CVWD’s Coachella Office (51501 Tyler Street, Coachella, CA 92236);
  2. Visit; or
  3. Contact CVWD at or (760) 398-2661 extension 2466.

No doubt we’ll be sharing more about such new incentive programs in the coming weeks and months. CVWD is contemplating more of them as we write these words, many of which will be discussed at the bimonthly meetings of the CVWD Golf & Water Task Force. Anyone interested in perhaps participating in this particular task force can contact either of us via E-mail: or

AB 1910

Given the thread by which this bill continues to hang, we’d be remiss if we didn’t first reiterate the status report we issued immediately after last Wednesday afternoon’s Assembly Local Government Committee meeting, followed by a verbatim transcript of the comments issued during that meeting that formed our initial assessment and the questions raised by both.

INITIAL ASSESSMENT (Condensed from last Wednesday’s “Update”)

With 5 members voting aye, 2 members voting nay, and 1 member abstaining (Boerner-Horvath; D-Oceanside), the Assembly Local Government Committee moved AB 1910 out of committee Wednesday. Sort of. The 5th member and deciding vote, Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), who had expressed skepticism throughout, made clear that his deciding vote to move the bill out of committee was contingent on a pledge from bill author Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) to significantly reduce the scope of the bill by amending it in three (3) areas to his satisfaction before it reaches Appropriations; otherwise he has Ms. Garcia’s pledge to drop the bill in the 2022 session.

In addition to maintenance of 100% local control over any decision to repurpose a parkland golf course as affordable housing per a requirement that the resultant housing be at least 25% of the finished development and the finished development be at least 15% open space, the only publicly-owned golf properties subject to qualification under the program must meet the following limiting conditions: 1) The subject golf property must be deemed “underutilized;” 2) the subject golf property must be in a community that rises to a certain level of “population density;” and 3) the subject property must be in a community deemed “park poor,” albeit it is not entirely clear what Bloom meant by the “park poor” admonition. And per Wednesday’s discussion, all three limiting conditions or criteria are to be “objectively measured” in order to pass muster.


“Thank you Madam Chair and I apologize for being late and I apologize for walking in on the middle of this important discussion. But as I think Assembly Member Garcia has already mentioned she and I have been discussing this bill and I want to thank her for working with me and listening to my concerns. I expressed concerns about singling out golf courses, in fact I think I voiced those concerns at the last hearing on this issue, especially municipal golf courses that serve as important recreational areas for the public, something that I completely understand. But as I hope all of you know one of my great priorities and abiding priorities since I was elected in 2012, and I think one of the reasons I was sent to Sacramento was to work on the housing crisis and try to find ways which by necessity have to be creative ways to solving the housing crisis. So, I want to again thank the author for her willingness to narrow the bill based on three criteria that we’ve agreed on. But I want to point out we’ve agreed on a broad set of criteria we now need to agree on the metrics for those criteria, and that’s not going to be easy, but I’m committed to doing that in good faith and I know that the author is as well. The three criteria we’ve agreed upon are to one limit the consideration of golf courses to areas that exceed a certain population density – we have to determine what that density will be. We would also limit this to golf courses that are underutilized or underused and again that’s a term of art and we will have to determine what that means. And finally, we would limit it to areas that are considered park poor and exactly what that means again is something we need to work out. I do hope that we’ll be able to work these criteria out and the metrics along with them and I expect that we will hopefully be able to do that before the Suspense Hearing, and I appreciate your commitment that if we’re not able to work out those criteria that you will park the bill. If and when we do work out the criteria the amendments would be taken in the next committee – the amendments that we agree to, and the author is nodding. Again, I want to say that housing is a critical need in the state of California and my thinking on this is that if we have golf courses, there may be none, if we have golf courses that are being underutilized however we end up defining that, then perhaps there is a better and greater purpose that we can put that land to. It’s not that I want golf courses to be underutilized, but if they are then I think we should consider them for this use. The LA Times ran an editorial as you, for those of you who are interested in this issue probably know, encouraging us to think creatively about a creative bill. This is the author’s attempt to find a way to provide for more housing and to the extent that we can honor that direction and not have a significant impact on the golfing public that’s something I think we should do.”


What do “underutilized,” “population density,” and “park poor” mean in concrete terms? What are the metrics of each? How are they to be “objectively measured?” Those are the devils of these particular details – devils to be hashed out between now and the Appropriations Suspense hearing. Who or what will serve as the final arbiter of whether real meat can be put on the bones of these three vague admonitions? That’s not entirely clear. What is clear is that at least in terms of what might constitute an “underutilized” or “underperforming” publicly owned golf course, that is an area of specific subject matter expertise that is not likely to be found among the staffs of Assembly Member Bloom, Assembly Member Garcia, or the Assembly Local Government Committee.

And if these “questions” are not answered to the satisfaction of either Mr. Bloom or Assembly Appropriations in the compressed time frame available (May 27 is the deadline for bills to pass out of their houses of origin), what does that mean in terms of Ms. Garcia’s pledge on the Assembly record to “park” the bill for 2022?

The next 3 weeks promise to be as impactful as they are interesting. Stay tuned.


Article provided by Craig Kessler, SCGA

Monday, February 28, 2022

How clubs and organizations in particular can help in the 1st phase of the game’s allied effort to beat back this bill for a 3rd and final time.

As you know, Assembly Member Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) has refiled most of the contents of the AB 672 iteration that died in Appropriations in January. The title is the same; however, the author is calling it the following: “Incentivize Conversion: Accessible Open Space & Affordable Housing.” We’re still calling it what it is – The Public Golf Endangerment Act or depending on the audience sometimes “The Park and Open Space Endangerment Act.” The new number is 1910. To read it online click here. To read a PDF version of it click here.

AB 1910 is in its gestation period through March 14; that is, no action can be taken until then. But after March 14 the “action” promises to be fast and furious – the 1st phase of the “action” that is. That phase: Hearings before the two Assembly policy committees of reference (Housing & Community Development and Local Government).

Golf clubs can have an outsized impact upon that 1st phase by filing letters with those two committees. But in order to do so they must act quickly! That’s why SCGA has made it easy. Click here to access the simple form letter that SCGA has prepared for a club or organization to execute. Because the process for filing formal committee letters is a convoluted one, SCGA will handle the filing for clubs and organizations during this 1st important phase of the game’s allied effort to beat back this bill for the 3rd and what is likely the last time. E-mail signed, executed letters to SCGA Public Affairs will make sure your club’s letter gets to the committees in time to be impactful.

SCGA executed a soft opening to this 1st phase of the effort late last Thursday. The above information has appeared on the “Public Golf Endangerment Act” landing page at since then. Early this week (Monday or Tuesday) a harder opening in the form of this same information cum form letter will go out to the officers and directors of SCGA’s clubs in their monthly “Club Digest” e-publication.

The World Golf Foundation (WGF) has contacted the state’s First Tee Chapters to encourage them to participate in this 1st phase of the campaign by executing and returning policy committee letters to SCGA. The Golf Course Superintendents Association and California Golf Course Owners Association have sent out action alerts to their membership bases. California’s two PGA Sections will soon follow suit, as we anticipate will the state’s other leadership organizations. The National Golf Foundation (NGF) is close to completing a comprehensive redux of the California public golf market for filing with the two policy committees, which promises to be a total rebuke of the false information about “underutilized golf courses” that AB 1910 author Cristina Garcia has been spreading around the Capitol.

Over the weekend the NCGA tweeted out a blogpost that ran February 14 highlighting several PGA Tour Professionals giving testimonials regarding the role municipal golf played in their respective journeys – along with a lot of solid information to clubs and individual golfers as to how they might make their voices heard. Click here to view the NCGA blog.

It’s important to flood the two policy committees of reference (Housing and Community Development & Local Government) with as many organizational “oppose” letters as possible. Time is short. Both committees can schedule their hearings any time after March 14. They must pass the bill out of committee no later than April 29. We have no control over when they’re heard, nor will we have much advance warning. And we have little time to collect and file these letters, which is why this 1st phase of the game’s allied campaign is focusing so intently on executing and filing them. There will be time thereafter to gin up the generic “contact your legislator” protocol that SCGA (and others) promoted December 6 through the bill’s failure to pass Appropriations January 20. AB 1910 must again pass muster with Assembly Appropriations, and that has to happen before May 20 in order to move 1910 to an Assembly floor vote, and that’s exactly what every phase of the game’s allied strategy is focused on preventing, albeit even a successful floor vote presages the same gauntlet for AB 1910 in the Senate.

Now would be the time to get those club and organizational letters executed and returned to the SCGA ( for filing with the policy committees.

While clubs and organizations do their part, the California Alliance for Golf (CAG) will be doing its part by providing both policy committees with a very deep policy and legal dive into why AB 1910 is just bad public policy, something sure to cause great harm to the state’s park and open space stock while doing next to nothing to mitigate a housing shortage that ALL agree requires immediate redress. As we have said from day one of this saga, this is NOT about housing. It’s about singling out one and only one of California’s parks/open-green space activities for differential treatment. If it were about golf playing its part in a shared sacrifice scheme that might actually put some small dent in the state’s acute housing shortage, this would be a very different matter.


Article provided by Craig Kessler, SCGA

Thursday, February 10, 2022

As expected, at 9:00 PM Wednesday night Assembly Member Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) refiled most of the contents of the AB 672 iteration that died in Appropriations just a few weeks ago. The title is the same; however the author is calling it the following: “Incentivize Conversion: Accessible Open Space & Affordable Housing.” We’re still calling it what it is – The Public Golf Endangerment Act. The new number is 1910. To read it online click here. To read a PDF version of it click here.

The author’s title may be very different, but the guts are practically the same. The ONLY “accessible open space” targeted is golf. The Assembly Member’s Tweet on the subject makes that clear. A very large golf ball appears prominently; not open space or housing – a golf ball and little else, a popular name brand no less.

Ms. Garcia’s first two swings at golf’s stake in the parks/recreation/open space/public amenity community were whiffs. Strike one: The February 2021 version failed to make it to Committee. Strike two: The January 2022 revision that the Member tried to rush through as a 2-year bill failed to pass muster at Assembly Appropriations.

AB 1910 is the Member’s 3rd swing at golf. Given that Ms. Garcia has announced her intention to leave the Assembly at the end of 2022 to pursue California’s 42nd Congressional District seat, this will be her final swing. Of course, any other member of either the Assembly or Senate is free to pick up where she left off in 2023 with a new version of the same old swing – something that cannot be controlled but can be mitigated to the degree to which this 3rd swing is another whiff.

Unlike the process the game successfully navigated in January, the AB 1910 process will be the normal order for 1-year bills:

  • 30 day posting period during which no action can be taken on the bill;
  • Housing & Community Development Committee hearing;
  • Local Government Committee hearing;
  • Appropriations Committee hearing (May);
  • Floor vote;
  • Assuming the bill passes through all of the above, over to the Senate, where it will undergo a similarly dilatory process;
  • Assuming the bill passes through the same hoops in the Senate, over to the Governor for signature or veto.

“Dilatory” doesn’t mean that the California golf community has the luxury of time; quite the opposite. Golf merely has enough time to accomplish more than it was able to accomplish under the rushed 2-year process it navigated in January. Everything above takes time; that’s just the way these things go. And the clock has started to run.

Outreach is well underway. The California Alliance for Golf (CAG) contemplates next steps first thing tomorrow (Friday) morning. Rank and file golfers and SCGA members will certainly be soon engaged in the way they were during the bill’s 2nd at-bat. Indeed, they were largely responsible for the whiff!

Here’s a thought. Shouldn’t the “Public Golf Endangerment Act” really be called the “Public Park and Open Space Endangerment Act?” Once incentives are offered to carve up one kind of public park, won’t there be a run on carving up other kinds of parks – one step at a time until there’s precious little green space left? Environmental organizations call what Ms. Garcia is doing here “piecemealing” – the toleration of small insults that in and of themselves don’t rise to the level of environmental harm, but when taken together amount to a level of harm not to be tolerated under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In this case the harm is to parks, open space, and green space.

We have made the following point ad nauseum. But some things bear constant repetition. Public parkland golf courses (municipal) are 22.3% of California’s golf stock; however, for reasons we have outlined in detail many times over the last year, the line from this bill is a straight one to the state’s daily fee and private club facilities. In both cases, it’s all about the land all the three species of course sit atop, and golf’s continuing legitimacy to employ that land as it has for more than a century.

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