Legislative Update

Article Provided by Craig Kessler, SCGA

We have reached the point in the 2021 legislative calendar where bills have to have passed their house of origin in order to remain active.  That means they have to have passed muster with whatever committee or committees to which they were referred and passed on a full floor vote.  Those bills that successfully traverse the same process in the other house by September 10 are then sent forward to the Governor for signature or veto.  Upon signature, bills become law, most on January 1 of the following year, a few immediately through an emergency process containing stricter thresholds. 

The California golf community “watched” a lot of bills but dealt directly with only two this year – AB 672 (Garcia; D-Bell Gardens) and AB 1346 (Berman; D-Menlo Park and Gonzalez; D-San Diego).  Here’s how they stand in the process.


To be more specific, AB 672 never got placed on the agenda of either of the Assembly Committees to which it was referred.  Since today was the deadline for bills to pass through committee and advance in the 2021 session, that means that no further action can be taken on AB 672 the remainder of 2021, although many of its particulars are amenable to incorporation into one of the many housing bills very much alive this session.  However, the bill’s author (Garcia; D-Bell Gardens) has made clear her intention to resurrect it in January 2022.  AB 672 is on mere hiatus, not dead, albeit failure to get heard in committee is never an encouraging sign for a bill author.    

AB 672 was the very definition of legislative overreach.  Its failure to gain traction this year was in part due to that but in larger part due to the reaction the bill engendered from so many of the state’s individual golfers who took the time to write, call and E-mail their legislators.  Formal opposition from SCGA, NCGA, CAG, PGA Sections, GCSAA Sections, First Tee Chapters, and myriad other golf organizations mattered to be sure.  But nothing ever matters more than real live constituents who take the time to contact their elected leaders.  Those who did take the time should take satisfaction that their efforts mattered.  Those who didn’t should be grateful to those who did and perhaps consider joining them when this bill goes live again in 8 months.

For those whose memories require refreshing, AB 672 proposed to facilitate the development of California’s municipal golf courses (22% of the total courses in the state) as “affordable” housing tracts by:

  • Removing them from the protections of the Public Park Preservation Act (Public Resources Code Section 5400-5409).
  • Providing certain exemptions to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
  • Mandating a one-size-fits-all zoning element.
  • Singling golf as the ONLY open space/recreational activity for which these exemptions and facilitations apply, literally targeting them for development to the exclusion of all other open space/recreational activities.

The percentage of California golf courses that are municipally owned may only be 22%, but roughly 45% of golf play every day is on that 22%, and roughly 90% of golf’s myriad junior/family/developmental programs takes place on that 22%.  The municipal sector has served as the growth and sustenance engine of the game for more than 100 years – its base as it were.  The base fails, and the rest shrinks over time. 

The bill may have taken direct aim at California’s publicly owned golf courses (22% of the total), but its passage would have put golf’s blood in the water in such a way as to jeopardize the position of golf’s private sector clubs as well.  Just as the Public Park Preservation Act is the public game’s backstop against residential/commercial development, ARTICLE XIII, Section 10 of California’s Constitution establishing “open space” as the property tax basis for private golf clubs is the private sector’s backstop against residential/commercial development.

The Public Park Preservation Act is not just parkland golf’s backstop against commercial development; it is every parkland amenity’s bulwark against development.  Golf is just the canary more deeply positioned in this proverbial coal mine.  Soccer, baseball, bike paths, hiking trails, swimming pools, equestrian centers, nature centers, tennis courts, pickleball, and land trusts/conservancies are very much in the mine with us whether they all know it or not.  Their park departments know it.  Some of them are coming to know it.  Golf cannot tolerate being separated from this much greater recreational community, and this much greater recreational community has a powerful interest in keeping us in the fold.

AB 672 may be an overreach thrown into a legislative hopper stuffed to the gills with well-conceived and artfully crafted competitors in the housing space, and as a result a non-starter in 2021.  But today’s Codes are full of bills that started out just as clumsily but got refined over time into laws capable of eliciting widespread support.  As important or arguably more important than the grisly details of AB 672 is the thinking behind it – thinking that posits the notion that golf is no longer a legitimate component of urban parkland systems – a disfavored activity replete with its own legislative finding of such. 

That thinking isn’t going away any time soon.  As long as that remains the case, golf can expect the animus underlying AB 672’s predicate to come back in the form of other bills, other regulations, and other policies, some of which may be artfully and narrowly crafted.  If golf uses AB 672’s temporary demise as the breathing space necessary to replenish its resolve and restock its arsenal of advocacy tools, it will have learned the right lesson.  If golf luxuriates in some kind of “victory dance,” it will have learned the wrong lesson.

When we termed AB 672 the most consequential bill re golf to be filed in a generation, we weren’t exercising our capacities for exaggeration; we were dead serious.  And we hope the allied California golf community remains dead serious too. 

AB 1346 Passes Assembly

AB 1346 (Berman; D-Menlo Park and Gonzalez; D-San Diego), a bill that would require all new small off-road engines (SORE) sold in the marketplace to be zero-emission by 2024 or whenever the California Air Resources Board (CARB) determines is feasible, has made it through the Assembly committee/floor process successfully and moved forward to the Senate, where the golf community anticipates it will also find success before being sent forward to Governor Newsom, who is highly likely to sign it into law. 

Gas powered SORE equipment is of direct interest to the golf industry because the SORE category includes products such as lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and other tools the golf industry routinely uses to maintain golf courses.   Battery powered equivalents are simply not commercially available at this time if one defines “equivalents” as machinery fit for intended use.  The California golf industry has a long history of substituting electric powered equipment for gas powered equipment as battery powered technologies capable of performing to industry standards/needs become commercially available.  And incurring healthy costs to do so.    

The California Alliance for Golf (CAG) has taken a position on the bill almost identical to the following comments drawn from the Legislative Analyst’s formal comments on the subject:

Within lawn and garden equipment, there is wide variation in the availability and utility of zero-emission equipment depending on the use. For residential uses, rechargeable electric lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and string trimmers have been available for years and have significant market share. For commercial uses, there is very little market for zero-emission equipment as today’s technology is relatively expensive and requires multiple batteries and/or frequent recharging and replacement.

In other applications, such as pumps, generators, and chainsaws, current zero-emission SORE technology may be inadequate even if money is no object, particularly when used in rural areas without convenient access to recharging.

Banning sales of new combustion engines under 25 horsepower could have a few unintended consequences. As long as there are no statewide registration requirements or use restrictions for SORE equipment, banning new engines may lead to prolonged use of older, dirtier engines, increased manufacture, and sale of engines over 25 horsepower, and purchase of non-compliant engines out of state for use in California.

Much of the discussion that suffused consideration of the bill vote focused on these feasibility issues.  This gives us optimism that when all is said and done re AB 1346, the legislature will direct CARB to adopt a Rule that doesn’t put consumers of this equipment in the position of having to choose between neglecting their golf course or being non-compliant with a CARB regulation.  In other words, adopt a Rule that coordinates the phase-out of one technology with the commercial availability of a viable alternative. 

Members of CAG’s Legislative Committee did meet with Assembly Member Berman’s Office to emphasize the importance of keeping language in the bill directing CARB to proceed with a rule-making process that is sufficiently flexible to incorporate feasibility and cost into any final rule cutting off the sale of equipment prior to its commercial availability.  That Office concurred.  That language is in the bill as it moves to the Senate for consideration.  CAG and GCSAA have already submitted comments along that line to CARB, which the industry believes was well received.  Both will continue to do their best to ensure that this language makes it all the way to the Gubernatorial finish line in September.

Note:  The envisaged Rule sets a date certain when the sale of SORE equipment is no longer permitted; it does not proscribe its use past that date.