Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Article provided by the SCGA

A cautionary tale from semi-rural Santa Barbara County to remind you that the pressure to repurpose golf courses is not just a phenomenon in California’s densely packed urban cores.

Glen Annie Golf Club in an area of unincorporated Santa Barbara County close to UC Santa Barbara has long been zoned “agricultural,” along with the rest of the open space and avocado orchards surrounding it. Given that efforts to construct housing to meet the needs of an exploding student population at nearby UC Santa Barbara have long been met with failure in the planning processes of Santa Barbara County, the owners of Glen Annie understood that unless they preferred harvesting avocados to greens fees, any effort to develop their land for residential or commercial purposes was an exercise in futility.

Not anymore. Faced with the threat of the “builders remedies” that would follow from failing to offer up substantial tracts of land for housing development, the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission April 1 took a long-anticipated action to rezone substantial tracts of agricultural properties as residential in order to keep the State of California at bay. Glen Annie will soon be free to sell the property per a residential valuation that is multiples of a golf course.

The same process of market capitalism that destroyed the daily fee market in the City of Los Angeles is now in the process of operating in rural Santa Barbara County, and by implication is likely to be duplicated in other rural communities that have failed to meet the state’s onerous new housing element requirements.

Excerpted from the item approving the rezoning of the land beneath Glen Annie and roughly 17 other large tracts of unincorporated Santa Barbara County land:

“The HEU rezone amendments would primarily create the potential for new housing on infill sites in the existing Urban Area. However, the amendments would facilitate some new housing development on sites currently located within the Rural Area. For example, the Glen Annie site is located in the Rural Area and would transform a golf course surrounded by natural areas and agricultural uses into an urban residential neighborhood with up to 40 units per acre in some areas on the site. Rezoning of this site and others in the Rural Area require an expansion of the Urban Area boundary. As such, the proposed Land Use Element and Coastal Land Use Plan amendments (Attachment C, Exhibits 1 and 4 to the staff report, respectively) include amendments to the South Coast Rural Region Land Use Designation Maps and Goleta Land Use Designation Map to expand existing or create new Urban Areas to encompass these rezone sites. As mentioned above, the County identified all available urban infill rezone sites that had a reasonable likelihood of developing within the eight-year planning period. However, these sites were not enough to satisfy the County’s RHNA plus the 15 percent buffer for the lower- and moderate-income levels. As a result, the County was obligated under State housing element law to identify other available sites outside the Urban Area, such as Glen Annie. Though these sites are located in the Rural Area, they would create logical extensions of existing urban areas and neighborhoods as they are adjoined by existing residential uses and city boundaries.”

It should not be lost on anyone that Glenn Annie GC is in the same unincorporated area of Santa Barbara County as another golf course that closed not too long ago – Ocean Meadows, a 9-hole regulation golf course adjacent to the Isla Vista community that sits between where Ocean Meadows once was and the UC Santa Barbara campus. Built in the 1960’s as a 9-hole golf course, Ocean Meadows’ business plan was from that inception to add another 9 holes as the population of the region grew. As later Sandpiper in the 1970’s and Glen Annie in the 1990’s opened for business in the same area, that never happened. But what did happen was a public call aided by environmentalists, land conservancies, and UC Santa Barbara, which was among the first American universities to offer an Environmental Science Major, to add the land occupied by Ocean Meadows back to the contiguous wetlands to which it was originally a part – a “call” funded by state/federal grants, the land conservancy attached to the contiguous wetlands, and UC Santa Barbara.

Two publicly accessible golf courses (and practice facilities) one lost and one likely to be lost to higher and better economic suitors – in one case (Glen Annie) private sector higher and better suitors and in the other (Ocean Meadows) public sector higher and better suitors – a dual squeeze that works consistently over time to reduce California’s stock of golf courses. Again, NOT all in the state’s densely packed urban communities.

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We trust you find as we do that all three of the latest “news” issues covered here today are in truth all the same issue – the game’s use of the land it requires to offer its great pleasures and benefits to 3.1 million Californians. And yet, one rarely if ever encounters an industry conference, show, or symposium where land use is discussed qua land use and not in some tangential way that avoids the issue. The game can and must do better.