Golf course housing bill dies on the green

LA-area legislator eyed incentives for resi development on public facilities, got blow back from golf industry

Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (Wikipedia, iStock)
Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (Wikipedia, iStock)

A California bill that sought to offer incentives for housing construction on public golf courses has died in the state legislature.

Assembly Bill 1910, which was introduced by an L.A. County assemblymember in February, wanted to create a new state grant fund to encourage California cities to build affordable housing on public golf courses. In late April the bill advanced through the Assembly’s local government committee and was sent to the appropriations committee, but at a hearing on Thursday that committee held the bill in its “suspense file” process, effectively killing it for the session.

“Very disappointed AB 1910 didn’t pass,” Cristina Garcia, the assemblymember who introduced it, said in a statement. “We have to get creative in order to address the housing crisis, especially in communities like mine.”

Garcia, a Democrat who represents southeastern L.A. County, had characterized her initiative as another tool to help cities around California create much-needed housing. Supporters, who included numerous housing groups across the state, also stressed that many public golf courses are underused and heavily subsidized in order to remain operational.

“Let’s have a conversation,” Garcia previously told the L.A. Times. “Is this the best use of this land? Do we want to use this property in a different way?”

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The bill would not have mandated anything — decisions over whether to repurpose the public golf courses would still have been left to cities — but the golf industry took exception. Opponents of the bill branded it the Public Golf Endangerment Act, and nearly 80 golf groups from around California and the country mobilized against it, the nonprofit news site CalMatters reported.

“I think what finally happened is legislators in California found out that golf is not the soft target they thought it was,” Craig Kessler, director of government affairs for the Southern California Golf Association, told the golf site Turfnet.

The bill included stipulations that at least 25 percent of any new units built through the new fund go to lower income households, and that 15 percent of any converted golf course area remained open space. The state has roughly 250 public golf courses, according to numbers cited by the legislature; assuming at least a typical density of four-story multifamily projects — 40 or more units per acre — the conversions of even a small number of courses could produce tens of thousands of housing units.

The California Assembly and State Senate appropriations committees regularly refer certain bills with a potentially high fiscal impact to its so-called suspense file. In a process analysts characterize as among the most opaque in California state government, committee members — after privately discussing the legislation — then conduct a vote-only hearing where they announce which of hundreds of bills will advance to a vote before the full chamber.

The move to let the bill die comes amid a larger battle between cities and the state over the implementation of SB 9, a new signature housing law that allows property owners to split lots and transform single family homes into duplexes.

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