Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Article provided by Craig Kessler

When asked what we do, our standard response is that we operate in all the places where the game of golf and public policy intersect. That’s a lot of places, many of them filled with interests and issues that aren’t always warm to golf’s cause. Because every day we are on the front lines of those unfriendly intersections, we feel obligated to inform those whose lives and jobs aren’t consumed by the red flags that we so routinely confront of the ways in which those other “interests and issues” have the potential to cause golf grief. We end up sounding like modern day Cassandras or Jeremiahs, upsetting everyone with all sorts of warnings, exuding a view of the world that is implacably hostile to the game and those who play it.

Well, that is our job. But that is only half our job. The other half – arguably the more important half – is to explain how such hyper vigilance can enable the golf community to effectively pursue its own interests and issues in those same intersections – not just in a reactive way by overcoming those not so warmly inclined toward us, but in a proactive way by projecting a societal value proposition that causes more and more to have warm feelings about the game and its value to the communities in which it is played, as much if not more so for those who don’t play the game than those who do.

With all that said, or more accurately written, we want to use our last Update of 2023 to share a few recent events at local and state levels that indicate that golf has been making progress in that vein – our way of ending the year with a message redolent of the Holidays. Not to worry; once the calendar turns 2024, we’ll get back to the Jeremiads!

2021’s AB 672 and 2022’s AB 1910 let us know that are indeed people in government who don’t think golf merits the land atop which it sits. More specifically, there are people who believe golf doesn’t merit membership in the public park/recreation community that includes ball fields, picnic areas, swimming pools, tennis courts, pickleball courts, trail systems (equine included), nature preserves, land conservancies, etc. But more importantly, it let us know that there were more in government who believe in the social utility of the public golf courses in their districts, and they believed that before we initiated “The Public Golf Endangerment Act” campaign. That campaign firmed up some of those a priori beliefs and perhaps persuaded others to share them; however, don’t get the idea that this will dissuade those who thought those two bills were good ideas from continuing to believe what they believe about the game’s social utility, dissuade the powerful YIMBY lobby from continuing to pursue the notion of converting golf courses to housing, or dissuade libertarian editorial boards from railing against the very legitimacy of golf’s encumbrance of publicly owned parkland.

On the other hand, the “hand” that should give us cause to believe that the game’s unified effort to make its case for social, community, and environmental value is gaining traction, here are a few things that have transpired in just the last 30 days to brighten your Holiday spirits:The Azusa Planning Commission approved an application to reopen 9 of Azusa Greens’ 18 holes, its driving range, and a limited F/B function. Closed since 2020, the daily fee facility that nurtured Lizette Salas and played host to a San Gabriel Valley Junior Golf Association that for years offered high quality/low-cost junior golf programming will again offer affordable, accessible golf in a region in dire need of it. Because the course is privately held, many assumed that public golf would entirely disappear from the City of Azusa, but because the residents of Azusa and their elected representatives made clear the value they placed on the presence of publicly accessible golf in their city, the new owners of the property determined to propose the retention of substantial golf along with some much needed housing – exactly the kind of compromise arrangement that golf routinely supports.The County of Los Angeles and Plenitude announced that they would be parting ways February 1, ending all efforts to commercially repurpose the county’s Victoria Park Golf Course in Carson. On that date Touchstone, an experienced, respected GOLF management company, will assume management of the facility. In early January, the county will conduct an evening community meeting where the county and Touchstone will explain what this means going immediately forward in terms of restoring the facility to a measure of playability as well as what might be in the offing longer term. What six years ago seemed to presage the elimination of all golf at this 180-acre parkland parcel is now a discussion of how much golf to maintain at the site.The San Diego Planning Commission approved an amendment to its Mission Bay Master Plan that maximized “active” recreation in the 4,000-acre park, included among those active recreational amenities the Mission Bay Golf Course and Practice Facility. While there are a few “devils” in the details of what is now a very generic plan, given the golf community’s robust engagement in the public processes and meetings that the city has held over the last 8 months, we are confident that those “devils” will be worked out very much to the satisfaction of the San Diego public golf community. What began as a campaign by some to convert the entire parcel into wetlands and others as a campaign to “rewild” much of it is ending a process that made clear that San Diegans treasure their active recreation, including but certainly not limited to golf.The comment period closes January 2 on the City of Los Angeles’ Draft Sepulveda Basin Vision Plan. As reported in a previous Update, a “Plan” that initially proposed three options regarding the Basin’s 54 holes of regulation length city-owned/operated public golf – the elimination of 9, 18, or 27 holes – in its final Draft form out for comment maintains all 54 holes and proposes to “improve” 18 of them. As with Azusa, Los Angeles County, and San Diego, another example of an organized golf community doing nothing more than getting into the arena and stating the FACTS of its case and finding that it persuades communities and office holders.The City of Camarillo rejected a proposal to redevelop the privately held daily fee 18-hole regulation Camarillo Springs Golf Course as a 12-hole course and practice facility along with housing, a project that SCGA endorsed because it offered what is still in our opinion the only route to maintaining some golf on the site; however, the rejection was due entirely to a desire to maintain all 18 holes of golf, not an objection to the substantial golf component contained therein. The degree to which the Camarillo City Council comes to understand the proposal or some modified version of it as the only feasible way to keep regulation golf on the site is the degree to which it is likely that some version of the proposal wends its way back for consideration. But again, another solid example of how communities and elected leaders view golf courses as assets – social, recreational, environmental, and communitarian.

These are but five (5) very recent examples – three in the municipal sector, two in the daily fee sector. There were many more in 2023. Taken together, they should embolden the game to stay the course in continuing to proudly project its societal value proposition and do so more as happy warriors than shopworn cynics.

At the state level we take note that Governor Newsom seems to be taking a page out of his predecessor’s book. Jerry Brown always defined his role as steering the ship of state back to the middle – steering a little right or a little left when necessary to keep things flowing down the middle. Of course, in California that usually requires a rightward steer, albeit not always. And that is what we can discern from a series of recent Gubernatorial moves in recent weeks, to wit:Consistent with the Governor Newsom’s “Water Supply Strategy” and with the full support of the Governor’s Administration the California Department of Water Resources has just approved the Delta Water Conveyance (Sacramento River Tunnel Project) over objections from environmental groups that the money would be better spent on alternative means of weaning the state off exports. This puts the Governor in line with the Southern California Metropolitan Water District (MWD) and other water agencies that argue for a “one water” strategy that does a bit of everything to achieve greater water supply resiliency, including projects that siphon water southward from the Delta to farms and cities. While a key tool in every sector’s toolbox, conservation alone will not suffice.With a budget deficit now determined to be $68 billion, Governor Newsom has let it be known that he will be seeking major changes to the bill raising the minimum wages of health care workers to $25 that he signed just a couple of months ago – an indicator of greater caution as the state continues to address what its body politic has identified as too wide a gap between wages and prices.The life of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant on California’s Central Coast has been extended yet again to 2030 in deference to the Administration’s fear that a warming/drying climate runs the risk of ramping up power needs that simply cannot be met by some of the “greener” methods the state is rapidly trying to develop to displace reliance upon fossil fuels, e.g., wind and solar power – a clear indicator that a certain balance will maintain as the state aims at a carbon free future.Despite opposition and lawsuits, the state continues to move to forward on the huge Sites Reservoir – again, confirming that when it comes down to it, the current Administration is not sufficiently confident in alternative storage methodologies to abandon above surface storage entirely.

Unlike our municipal/daily fee facility examples, these are not the kinds of issues the golf community elects to engage in, but they are the issues the golf community tracks closely to determine what to expect with respect to those issues that do directly affect golf. They are the bellwether issues that can inform the game as to the efficacy of some of the bills routinely filed each session that the game would find alarming were they to find their way to the state’s Codes. There is no point in wasting energy on matters highly unlikely to gain traction. There is no point in unduly alarming folks either. There are occasions when it is necessary to call the game to action – e.g., AB 1910 – but that is the exception, not the rule. And if the game can continue along a trajectory of slowly but surely advancing the societal value proposition of the game beyond the ranks of the converted to the ranks of the 90% who don’t play golf, the exception can become just that much more exceptional.

Let’s not focus so much on the defeat of the two “Public Golf Endangerment Acts” that we lose sight of how well golf has fared regarding a number of other important legislative and regulatory issues in recent years. From the exceptions in AB 5 and AB 2257 that allow for independent contracting teaching to the licensed applicator permissions in the legislation making neonicotinoids banned substances to the specific reference to “golf courses” as part of the exempt recreational community in this year’s proscription on the use of potable water to irrigate “non-functional” turf (AB 1572), golf has fared well.

Also, let’s not focus so much on the challenges posed by aridification that we lose sight of just how well the game has fared in working with its water providers to lower its water footprint in ways consistent with sound agronomic and business practices, making it possible to weather multiple droughts by remaining in the good graces of providers while maintaining access to the water necessary to remain in business.

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That is our Holiday message, and it is one of optimism. Yes, some of the challenges are daunting. Yes, there are those that just don’t like our game and oppose it at every turn. Yes, there are problems that can at times seem intractable. But golf has proven over and over again that if it will organize itself around its many strengths, tackle the arduous work of communicating those strengths to all who will listen, and never succumb to cynicism and defeatism, it can not only survive, but thrive.

Happy Holidays. See you in the New Year.