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Despite permit snag, Palo Alto approves funds for golf course revamp

Original post made on Jun 26, 2014

With little fanfare and much frustration, Palo Alto officials authorized this week spending more than $9 million on an ambitious overhaul of the city's golf course, even as they acknowledged that work may not begin for some time because of a lingering permitting snag.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, June 26, 2014, 9:36 AM

Comments (14)

Posted by resident
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 26, 2014 at 10:06 am

I would have rather spent the $9 million co-owning Buena Vista ($14 million the residents came up with plus $9 million plus the $7.2 million the city committed at Maybell from the affordable housing fund that is now available equals more than the Prometheus purchase price).

The City should take some time - which they clearly have since they don't have a permit - and get corporate sponsorships to help renovate the golf course.

Who knows whether they are right about their criticism of the water board. Ever since the Maybell debacle, it's hard for me to believe anything that comes out of their mouths. Greg Schmid's the only one I believe.

Posted by Coriolanus
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 26, 2014 at 10:26 am

A very stupid waste of money.

Posted by Golfer
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 26, 2014 at 2:20 pm

$9M is putting lipstick on a pig. If Palo Alto is going to renovate the course let's turn it into something that we can be proud of. Let's create a quality course and facility that will draw plenty of players and events, which will in turn allow the facility to be properly maintained. If we are going to do it, let's do it right!!!

Posted by Sally
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 26, 2014 at 2:46 pm

Why should the public believe any statements from Scharff, Shepherd, Klein or Burt? These Council Members are finger pointing and laying blame at the foot of the Regional Water Quality Control Board. The RWQCB has a pretty stellar reputation in the region. The Palo Alto City Council and Staff do not.

The recent finding by the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury are that the City of Palo Alto did not accurately answer Grand Jury inquiries. The City did not follow it's own Policies and Procedures and did not honor it's own contractual agreements related to the Roth land in the Foothills. Council met in closed session to negotiate sales terms of this land while it it could not legally sell it and without adequate public notice or discussion of the sale. Council and Staff wasted in excess of $250k paying consultants at 27 University Ave when there was no project and no likely outcome from the expenses. The City purposefully engaged in practices to avoid public knowledge and scrutiny in the conduct of the public's business. Oh, and the Grand Jury also found that the City prides itself for "Transparency and Open Government" when in fact it failed to track or responds to information requests and in reality lacks transparency.

No matter what nonsense these self-serving politicians and staff members claim, they must do what is required by law to protect federally endangered species. They must follow CEQA requirements. They must satisfy all permit requirements set forth by the county/state/federal agencies that regulate the project area. These groups protect all of us by stopping corrupt local officials from deceiving the public and skirting the law.

The real question is why Scharff, Shepherd, Klein and Burt think that the laws and regulations don't apply to them?

Posted by Jim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 26, 2014 at 3:47 pm

Why spend $9M on a golf course?

First the city will be receiving $3 M from JPA via the state and/or the federal government.
Secondly the dirt contractor will be paying the city $1.3 M to bring the dirt needed for construction.

The remaining $4.7M will be financed by the city and then PAID BY THE GOLFERS as they always have for the 58 yrs the golf course has been operating. Yes the course has been modestly profitable all these years and the city has used this profit to help bring services to all city tax payers.

The city as contracted with a first class golf course architect who has designed a first class facility which will bring golfers back to Palo Alto. When the course was originally built in 1956 there were no public courses between San Mateo and San Jose. Since that time several courses have been built for public use which because our facility was dated have caused us to not have the revenues that we can have. The JPA money has given us a golden opportunity
to upgrade our facility and thus create more profits for the city to use. Hopefully the city will use the increase
mostly for park and recreation which benefits all of us. THE BEAUTY OF THIS IS THAT THE GOLFERS PAY THE FREIGHT,
not the non golfer residents.

After 16 yrs the JPA has come up with a plan that will give the water from heavy rains a place to go. Hopefully the widening will be all we need to do. Many possibilities were explored. Many issues were addressed. Unfortunately even though the offending board may be considered to be the finest in the universe by some, in this case they have not done very well. They have not paid attention to all the work that JPA has done nor paid attention to the fact that almost all their questions the board is asking now were addressed long ago.

Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2014 at 5:05 pm

> and then PAID BY THE GOLFERS as they always have for the
> 58 yrs the golf course has been operating

The golf course has never been charged rent on the land, as the Utility is charged by the City. The golf course is 170 acres--which comes to at least $850M of land value (@$5M/acre) which is being used by mostly non-resident golfers without any recognition of the land value, or any rent being paid, which would help to offset the loss of the land to the other residents, and taxpayers, of Palo Alto.

A mere 1% of the land value would generate at least $8.5M yearly for the general fund. Given that most of the golfers are not Palo Alto residents--what does it matter how expensive the cost of playing at this course is? Councilman Larry Klein has time and again maintained that it is a "privilege" to do business in Palo Alto. So, it also must be a "privilege" to play golf in this town--and "privileges" must be paid for.

It is a real shame that the people operating this cource, and the City Council, have become so corrupt that they will not at least acknowledge the gift of the land to the privileged few who use this course.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2014 at 5:26 pm

This would seem to be a strange way to do business. The Golf Course permit was declined without prejudice by RWQCB and RWQCB explicitly stated that the Golf Course was tied to flood control project. So two permits have not been granted and don't appear to be granted anytime soon. Yet the City Council signs a $9M contract for the Golf Course anyway?

By the time these permits are secured, the costs and plans could be completely different. The terms of this $9M will have to be renegotiated without any bidding and the costs are going to skyrocket.

Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 26, 2014 at 5:34 pm

Comments by Joe are offensive - we have parks for Little League, soccer, tennis, and horse back riding in the hills. We have areas for barbecue, picnic, swimming, hiking, just relaxing on a sunny day. All of that is on valuable land and all is used by and available to everyone. We also have an airport. The land in the Baylands is flood prone so putting buildings there is not a good idea. The soil on the golf course has too much salt and needs to be refreshed.
Most of the buildings in that area "for lease".

Just because JOE does not play golf then why should anyone else?
If Joe wants to go hit some balls then it is there. If he wants to sign up and play with a group it is there.

Have you noticed that the next generation of PGA golfers are very young people - many from this area. The kids have to start somewhere. There are a lot of golf classes for young people that helps give them social skills as they grow up, as well as provide a good outlet for their energy.
And yes - when tournaments are on then there are golfers from all over. Guess what - when the adult soccer leagues play they are from all over the bay area. When there are baseball tournaments they are from all over the area. When there are 5K walks and runs they are from all over the bay area. THAT IS THE WHOLE POINT - FROM ALL OVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by resident
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 26, 2014 at 5:41 pm

@ Jim,
I am in complete agreement with you that a municipal golf course is a nice idea and that it can even pay for itself and profit. I think we should do it. But how we do it matters, because I think saving the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park and the homes of over 400 low-income Palo Alto residents -- and the community within our community there -- is the priority.

If we take a little more time with the golf course, get the permits, raise money through private sponsorships and donations, we could even do better than the plan on the table. And we could also save the Buena Vista Mobile Home park, because there time is of the essence. They need the money now.

I'm not suggesting it be a gift, I'm suggesting the City handle saving the park in a way that actually ends up costing the City nothing, allows the residents to pay or otherwise gives them time to come up with other solutions to finance the park. Buy it and give me and the neighbors 5 years to figure out how to crowdsource repaying the City it's part, and we will do it. (Hey, we just won a land use referendum on a shoe string against a host of powerful, well-moneyed parties. This will be easy, especially since it's more positive.)

On my side of town, we just went through a whole year where our lives were not our own because someone wanted to put a large 4-story development and upzoned/high-density 2- and 3-stories buildings in the middle of a residential neighborhood, for 60 apartments of low-income housing, with the reasoning that the need was desperate so we all needed to make sacrifices, i.e., my neighborhood needed to make sacrifices, even to the safety of kids going to school. Chief among those telling us to sacrifice were the City Councilmembers, whose staff even verified to the state and feds for funding applications that the rezoning had taken place and that there were no CEQA appeals when in fact the rezoning had never taken place and there was a CEQA lawsuit (among many other misrepresentations by City staff). Few people realize that PAHC was awarded over $5 million based on those misrepresentations of our City, and some other project in a less-wealthy town in California did not get its funding and may not have been built (actually, probably more than one project since PAHC was asking for so much more than the usual - they had to give the money back but the funding decisions were not revisited this season) because of our City's misrepresentations.

During the Maybell debates, the City made many impassioned pleas for how important it was for us to have affordable housing in our City. The Maybell development would have had 60 units max, and since there was never a market study, it was unclear whether the segment to be served was really going to meet the needs we actually had for seniors, since other BMR senior units in town had been empty for years. (Certainly reasons were given for this languishing housing stock, but those who gave them ignored that the situation underscores the necessity of understanding the market BEFORE sacrificing to produce the costly housing.)

Neighbors who care about affordable housing were called NIMBYs over and over again by other neighbors and continue to be, even though most of them hated being put in the position of having to just oppose a bad plan for the neighborhood and wanted a working group like the one that resulted in the 92-unit affordable Terman Apartments in the same neighborhood.

Once Measure D finished, we expected the City to pursue affordable housing as vigorously as they had the Maybell development, for which they even loaned $7.2 million for the purchase of the property and were intimately involved in the purchase contract. That $7.2 million drained our affordable housing fund, and we expected the money could now be used to help the residents at BV.

Buena Vista Mobile Home Park has over 400 low-income residents, who are NOT in high-cost subsidized housing, but are actually property owners in the last patch of truly affordable housing in the area. We can help them without a costly subsidy, too.

Our City has made a strong case for the need to have affordable housing within our borders. BV is existing, truly affordable housing. We don't need a market study because the residents are existing Palo Alto residents, a cohesive community within our community.

Instead of ultimately costing tens of millions of dollars to put in 60 subsidized spaces like at Maybell, saving BV could be an investment that ends up making the City money in the end, while saving the affordable housing. The City has already set a precedent of co-owning expensive residences, as we found it does with our FORMER city manager (not even currently working for the City).

*****I'm not suggesting at all that we do one instead of the other. Yes, I think we should improve our municipal golf course, I'm not for a minute suggesting it's one or the other, really.*****

But the situation at BV is urgent, and the clock is ticking down for the residents while the City does nothing. They have been telling us they don't have the money. But they apparently do. It's making it look very much like they pushed so hard at Maybell in order to tie up the funds (and our residents) even as they knew what was happening at BV (our mayor during the Maybell situation also being the former head of acquisitions for Prometheus, the developer trying to evict the residents at BV and develop an upzoned property there).

When we have asked the City to step in at BV, we are told they don't have the money, or we are met with just silence. If they just committed an equivalent amount of money as they committed at Maybell, which is now available since it wasn't built (and Mayor Shepherd herself has said the money could be used at BV) plus co-owning the property to the tune of $9 million, there would be a competitive offer to buy the park. In fact, if we assume the property is worth more now that it was when Prometheus bought it, then the seller could actually take a write off for the difference between the value now and the $31 million the residents would have to offer (14.5+ 9 +7.2) (which is more than Prometheus is paying), because of selling to the nonprofit residents' group. The City arranged just such a situation with the Maybell sale.

The golf course doesn't have a permit just now anyway. Wouldn't it be better to take the time to do that even better, and use the money to save the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park NOW? Give us over here a chance to do that, to save BV, and we will drum up volunteers to help raise money for the golf course (like we drummed up historic levels of citizen involvement to protect our neighborhood residential zoning).

Posted by Coriolanus
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 26, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Of course, if they start work without a permit, they will be forced to cease and desist, and possibly fined. The planning and permit dept are especially strict about this, haha.

Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2014 at 6:58 pm

> Comments by Joe are offensive

Amazing. Joe attempts to make the point that the golfers are not paying rent, or property tax, on this municipal golf course, and that the City has claimed in the past that over 70% of the golfers are non-residents—and this becomes “offensive” to someone who no doubt disagrees that the actual cost of the golf course should be charged back to those who use it.

No wonder there is so little rational, civic discourse—given how many people have become true believers of the entitlement mentality—that it’s all free, and everyone deserves a big share.

Joe didn’t say shut down the golf course, contrary to the implications of the poster above—Joe simply said: “be honest about the accounting, and add in the cost of the land so that people can see exactly how expensive a golf course is.

Palo Alto has over 4,000 acres of park land—easily $20B if converted to cash. This golf course represents about 5% of the total $20B. Out of 65,000 residents—it would be likely that fewer than 500 are frequent golfers. Tying up $1B in land is something that everyone needs to fully appreciate. Maybe it’s time to put the continuation of the golf course on the ballot every five years, or so.

It wasn’t that long ago that the City shut down its marina—claiming it could not afford the maintenance of de-silting. Yet, it can afford $1B for a golf course, and about $500M for an airport—which is also used mostly by non-residents.

It doesn’t take long to see that special interests have looted the City’s treasury—or at least diverted vast sums to the benefit of non-residents. The few residents who do use these facilities don’t really seem to care much about acknowledging the true costs of these operations—as long as they get what they want.

Sorry .. but objecting to the true is also offensive.

Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 26, 2014 at 7:34 pm

The Palo Alto Golf Course was established at the same time as Mitchell Park - by J. Pierce Mitchell and the city council and Parks and Recreation. At that time the available land was there. The city planned out the parks and recreational needs of the city. And yes - there was a marina but the silt being excavated was damaged by PCB's from boat motor oils. Eventually there was a law against dredging and moving contaminated soil.

At that time development was in process south of Oregon Expressway so carving out land for recreation was the goal. My older relatives remember when there were just fields south of Oregon.There is also a large baseball facility in that location - that costs money too. A lot of time and care was put into planning out the best use of the available land. And since there was a dump across the street then this was considered to be available for the best use. That whole area is the maintenance area so why do you think that land is so precious? Why are all of the buildings in that area for lease?

This whole area is a flood control zone - you cannot invest money for buildings here. If you look at the history and intent of the people who created the city parks and recreational facilities you would see how smart and thorough they were.

Hey - there is a faction that is always looking for some evil intent and making a buck. You cannot have a civil discourse if you do not acknowledge why the golf course, parks, baseball facilities, tennis courts, swimming pools are there. Because he people who planned the city cared to put them there. They were better than anyone we have now.

Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 26, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Since you are all talking buildings get to the real issue. There are buildings on East and West Bayshore that are for lease - or always transitioning lease holders. Those are old building which are not up to spec.
1. Who owns those building?
2. Given that they are always for lease than what income is being generated from those buildings? None
3. Buildings that are left unoccupied tend to go toxic.

Someone is allowing the tax rate for those buildings to stagnate so they can make a big killing somewhere down the line. If you want to talk about income generation then focus it where needed. The city is losing money on those empty buildings. That land is higher so new buildings can be built in raised fashion in the event of a flood. That is where the argument is - get new buildings on the bayshores.

Posted by Malika
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 27, 2014 at 6:50 am

The water board , like all state and federal government agencies, has suffered cuts and the few people there that are looking at project applications are dedicated hard working professionals. They very rarely deny a permit for a flood control project and they have no time to waste of frivolous issues.
If the water board denies a permit, there must be a fatal design flaw in the project.

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