Palo Alto's golf course would be dramatically redrawn and reduced by more than 10 acres to make way for new athletic fields under a reconfiguration plan that a City Council committee endorsed Tuesday evening.
The Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course is slated for major changes under a regional plan to calm the flood-prone San Francisquito Creek. The flood-protection plan proposed by the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority -- a coalition that includes Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and water officials from Santa Clara and San Mateo counties -- proposes constructing a levee at the golf course to protect residents downstream of the creek from potential damage.
But while the flood-control plan would makes some changes to the course's design inevitable, the council's Finance Committee on Tuesday threw its support behind Option G -- the most ambitious and transformative of the four alternatives on the table. The proposal would relocate 15 of the course's 18 holes, create 15 new greens and allocate about 10.5 acres at the 170-acre course for athletic fields.
The four-member Finance Committee voted unanimously to support Option G, which costs more than the other three options but also creates the most opportunity for the city to recoup its investment, according to an economic study the city commissioned. The city's golf course consultant, Forrest Richardson, pegged this option's price tag at about $7 million. The other options range from $3.5 million to $5.9 million.
In backing Option G, all four members of the committee praised it as a great opportunity to leverage regional funds for a project that would both revitalize the 18-hole course, which was built in the 1950s and which was last remodeled in the mid-1970s. Councilman Pat Burt and Vice Mayor Greg Scharff were particularly excited about the prospect of adding athletic fields -- a pressing need in a city with a booming student population.
A recent report from Recreation Supervisor Shia Geminder hints at the huge demand for playing space, noting that the city works regularly with 34 local sports clubs and nonprofits that represent about 25,000 participants.
"Two things are clear: athletic field space in Palo Alto is in high demand for limited space, and the demand continue to increase each year due to a variety of factors -- many programs now have year-round seasons, new housing units, the growing number of girls involved in team sports, growing number of new sports organizations (e.g. lacrosse, rugby), etc.," Geminder wrote.
Scharff, who recommended Option G, pointed to the demand for playing fields as a major benefit of the priciest option. Though the $7 million price tag does not include the cost of building the fields, it makes land available for these facilities. Scharff said he is hopeful the city could go out to the community to raise money for the new athletic facilities.
"I think we desperately need new playing fields," Scharff said. "We're creating land here by doing this, and I think we're getting a much, much better golf course."
The committee was also swayed by the economics of Option G. Though it would require a larger investment than the other alternatives, it would also generate about $1 million more in annual revenues than Option A once the city pays off the debt on the course, according to a study from the consultant, National Golf Foundation Consulting.
The project would involve closing the course from April 2013 to March 2014 and reopening it as "a brand new golf course with the highest quality golf features commanding higher fees than any other option presented," the study stated.
Burt, a board member at the creek authority, also lauded the most ambitious of the four proposals. Option G, he said, would enhance the golf course, raise revenues, create new playing fields and reduce the use of water and pesticides. He called this proposal a "very positive development."
"I and others thought we were going to be dealing much more with tradeoffs," Burt said. "This looks like it's a win, win, win and win."
According to a report from Rob De Geus, who manages the golf course, "virtually all areas of the existing course would be reconstructed, enhanced and improved" under Option G, giving the course what consultants described as the 'Wow!' factor." The project would include full replacement of the course's irrigation system and transformation of 43 acres to naturalized space.
It is one of two alternatives that would create space for athletic fields. But while the other plan, Option F, would create space for one full-sized soccer field, Option G would accommodate three such fields, according to De Geus' report.
The decision by the creek authority to build a levee on the golf course is part of a long-awaited plan to protect residents downstream of the creek from a potential flood. The creek overflowed in a 1998 storm, causing damage to about 1,700 properties. Another component of the creek authority's plan involves upgrading bridges in the three cities to boost their capacity for containing creek water.