Golf-course architect Forrest Richardson presented a new plan for reconfiguring Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course, which would include three full-sized recreational fields, during a community meeting at Lucie Stern Community Center on Thursday night (Jan. 26).
The meeting was held to gauge the public's reaction to the city's six reconfiguration proposals, which are each designated letters: Plan A, which impacts the course the least, through Plan F, which would provide space for a full-sized recreational field with increased costs and impact. The course is located at 1875 Embarcadero Road, near the baylands.
Richardson brought forth a seventh proposal, Plan G, which would provide room for three full-sized recreational fields, while shrinking the course from a par 72 course to a par 71. Richardson said Plan G, which is still in its conceptual stage, would impact virtually the entire course.
He couldn't provide estimates for the new plan's cost, but he did say he expected it to be more expensive and take more time to implement than the other proposals.
"The geometry and mechanics of it are already done, but we still need to calculate how long it will take and how much it will cost," he said.
Costs and final plans on the proposal will be available when it is presented to the city finance committee on March 6.
To control flooding the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority will build levees in the area of the creek adjacent to the golf course, forcing at least 6.5 holes to be reconfigured. But the city must decide if it has the money -- and public support -- to take advantage of the opportunity to make more dramatic changes to either improve the course or make room for other recreational fields.
"Ultimately it will be the city council's decision what is done, but there hasn't been much talk about doing away with the course entirely," said recreation manager Rob De Geus, who hosted the meeting.
Several Palo Altans at the meeting expressed concern about the cost of the reconfiguration. The creek authority said that it would pay for the repair of any damages caused by building the levees, including the reconfiguration of 6.5 holes in Plan A. Any additional improvements, however, would have to come out of the city's pocket.
Golfers play around 70,000 rounds each year at the course, a number that De Geus said has been gradually declining. Some residents suggested that upgrading the course would attract more golfers and thereby make the course more money.
"I didn't really have a good feel for the cost of different plans and where that money would come from," said resident Alan Bendotoff. "But (the golf course) is a money maker for the city and I'd like to see it become more of a money maker."
While the golf course expects to make $227,966 of net income in 2012, De Geus said that the revenue that comes from playing fields generally does not offset their maintenance costs.
Bruce Jaffe of the Palo Alto Golf Advisory Committee said he wants the golf course to be a family-friendly environment.
"I want to see it become a great gathering place for kids and families with improved facilities for practicing and banqueting," he said.
Heather Hughes stressed that the course should be improved to make for better play and scenery.
"The course is bland right now -- and I understand that it's a municipal course -- but you can make something that's challenging and pretty, but not impossibly difficult," she said.
One consideration is the impact new developments would have on the sensitive Baylands habitat and wildlife. Shani Kleinhaus, an environmental advocate for the Audubon Society, said her major concern is with the habitat for birds, specifically burrowing owls. Burrowing owls are a native species "of special concern," according to the California Department of Fish and Game.
At Shoreline Golf Links in Mountain View, the owls nest in the golf course and go into the Baylands to hunt, but soccer fields and artificial turf are not good habitats for burrowing owls, Kleinhaus said.
If the golf course were reconfigured to accommodate playing fields, Kleinhaus said she would want to see more land set aside for burrowing owl habitats to compensate.
Kleinhaus said another matter is the gray fox, a native species to the area's baylands and hills that uses natural corridors to travel between habitats. The San Francisquito Creek may be one of these corridors and could be impacted from development on the creek, she said.
Richardson said the biggest wetland collections in the country are found in golf courses and developments on the course would introduce 25 to 40 acres of native grasses and plants to what was formerly maintained turf.
"This is a no-brainer in terms of the environment," Richardson said. "The more course we reconfigure, the more opportunity we have to bring Baylands habitat into it."
Charlie Williams, president of the Stanford Soccer Club, said he thought most people who showed up to the meeting were there to support golfers' interests.
"I see it from the soccer and athletics side, and we're looking for more fields and more time on fields, hopefully staying on the fields after 9," said Williams, who is also a golfer.
Williams said the playing fields don't necessarily have to be on the golf course but that there is a growing need for fields in Palo Alto that must be addressed.
Resident John Driver said the main idea he took away from the meeting is that people in the community are passionate about the issue.
"I'm neutral about the council's decision but we have to ask, 'What's best for the community?'" he said. "If you don't have what the majority wants, it will fail. Soccer field or golf course, it doesn't matter; without the 99 percent to support it, you'll lose."