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.
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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:
- Attend CVWD’s public workshop on May 17, 2022, at 9 a.m. at CVWD’s Coachella Office (51501 Tyler Street, Coachella, CA 92236);
- Visit www.cvwd.org/ConserveCRW; or
- Contact CVWD at ConserveCRW@cvwd.org 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: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
TRANSCRIPT OF ASSEMBLY MEMBER BLOOM’S COMMENTS
“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.