Parks are for Everyone
Protect Conservation and Community Planning Values
The San Geronimo Golf Course was an 18-hole public course that spans 157-acres at the center of the San Geronimo Valley floor near the villages of Woodacre, San Geronimo, Forest Knolls, and Lagunitas. The course was constructed in 1965, intended for use as a private course, but was unsuccessful in selling enough memberships to support the course and soon converted to a public course that remained the primary use of the property until it was listed for sale in 2017.
The Trust for Public Land (TPL) acquired the property in December 2017, after an independent, expert financial analysis indicated the golf course was unlikely to survive at the location, so rapid action was needed to ensure the community could continue to benefit from the land and influence its future use.
Following the County’s actions to authorize the purchase of the property from TPL, a lawsuit was filed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that delayed public planning efforts and eliminated the County’s ability to acquire grant funding for the purchase. The Marin County Superior Court reaffirmed the tentative ruling on October 26, 2018, and ordered the County to complete CEQA prior to authorizing the purchase of the property. This ruling has prompted Marin County to reverse their resolution to purchase the property.
Following the ruling, Supervisor Dennis Rodoni explained to the Marin Independent Journal, “the court ruling…makes it impractical for the county to move forward with the purchase agreement with TPL Unfortunately, the communities of San Geronimo Valley, and the county will miss out on the opportunity for a planning process to determine the ultimate uses of this amazing property…TPL as the private owner, will move forward as they see fit for the use and sale of the property.”
In addition to the loss to the residents of the San Geronimo Valley, the ruling by Marin County Superior Court is problematic as it could impact future conservation property acquisitions by setting a negative precedent by invalidating the frequently used CEQA exemption for land acquisitions for open space. This is inherently problematic as CEQA requires years of planning and is a financial investment. This is why conservation land acquisitions are able to apply for a CEQA exception.
It is unfortunate that the public acquisition of the property has been halted. This was an opportunity to restore habitat, save hundreds of thousands of gallons of water use, remove toxic pesticides from our watershed, and would have provided safe pathways for residents and students to access the Lagunitas School and San Geronimo Valley Community Center without needing to travel along busy Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.
On November 13, 2018, the Supervisor’s voted to terminate the purchase plan and the contract with third-party golf operator, Touchstone. The property will be closed to public access and golf as of December 31, 2018.
On January 29th, Marin County Supervisors considered a ballot measure introduced by the San Geronimo Advocates (a golfing advocacy group responsible for the termination of Marin County's management of temporary golfing operations and purchase of the property) that would prevent Marin County from allowing any change in the primary golf use of the San Geronimo Valley Golf Course property without an approval of Marin County voters. This measure may establish a bad environmental precedent for land-use planning in Marin County by establishing ballot box zoning that bypasses localized community planning, targets individual properties, and foreclose other environmental and community benefiting uses of the property (like conversion to a public park). After hearing from multiple community voices for over an hour, the Supervisors voted unanimously to order a study of the ballot measures impacts to be completed in 30-days. Once the report is received, the Supervisors will consider to either adopt an ordinance or to place the measure on a future ballot for the voters to decide.
February 27th, the Marin County Supervisors voted to place the proposed ballot measure on the March 2020 ballot after receiving a report from the Community Development Agency (CDA).
The CDA highlighted several inconsistencies and interpretation complications with the language in the ballot measure:
Any change in the use of the property to any other use than golf requires voter approval.
Assumes broad authority over private property and business; as the measure requires the County is required to conduct three studies before placing on a ballot: environmental impact (CEQA), fiscal impact study, and an economic study (historic use including revenues that were collected by golf course for two-year period immediately prior to the change of use).
Measure imposes interpretive challenges for the county due to the terminology and language in the measure including:
Definition of change includes: “Landscape modifications or changes associated with termination of use.” This is unclear as there are not any laws that planting of vegetation or not maintaining the greens is a change in land-use.
Requirement for vertical consistency in planning, prevents making changes in the Community Plan without a vote or for the County to update their Master Plan without requiring a vote.
Presumes County ownership of the property and golfing use immediately prior to the proposed change.
The property is not owned by the County, it is owned by a private party. The time frame required for economic study, the operations ceased in December 31, 2018 and the County cannot access full financial records of private golf operation or that the County has the legal right to do so.
No legal mandate to operate or maintain property as golf course.
Golf course has appropriative rights to Larsen Creek 20 acre feet of water. Under California Law the rights may be lost due to non-use.
Property value due to the assessment and tax revenue very modest, any change in use would have a di minimis impact to the County.
This ballot measure may establish an environmentally negative precedent for land-use planning in Marin County by establishing ballot box zoning that bypasses local efforts for comprehensive community planning and create a pathway to target individual properties.
EAC continues to support the property’s conversion to open space and a public park. We will remain engaged in the coming months working towards a future outcome with open space and habitat restoration to improve water quality and habitat.
HISTORY OF THE FAILED
PUBLIC PROPERTY ACQUISITION
property ACQUISITION by Marin county parks
In the fall of 2017, the San Geronimo Golf Course was listed for sale, an offer was made and accepted by the Trust for Public Land and Marin County Parks (Parks). The intention of the purchase is to maintain the San Geronimo Valley's rural character for future generations by creating a public park and restoring critical habitat.
The Trust for Public Land acquired ownership of the property at the end of December 2017, with the intention to transfer the title to Parks for 50% of the total purchase price. On December 12, 2017, Marin County's Board of Supervisor's approved Parks' plans to acquire the property and Parks took over management and planning. As a result, Parks began seeking funds for public planning and to finalize the County purchase from the Trust for Public Land. Golf operations also ceased at this time. In response to public concerns over the removal of golf during the planning process, Parks promised to find an interim operator (now Touchstone Golf) to resume golf for two-years while the County moved through the public planning and visioning process. The county’s two-year agreement with Touchstone Golf provides for up to $140,000 in annual subsidies for operations. On October 3, 2018, Marin County released financial statements and summaries for the San Geronimo golf course from April to August 2018.
legal challenges to the county's aCquisition
On November 14, 2017, the Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted Resolution No. 2017-126 authorizing the purchase of the San Geronimo Golf Course from the Trust for Public Land, finding that the purchase is exempt from CEQA, and authorizing the execution of a purchase and sale agreement.
Following the Resolution, the San Geronimo Advocates (an organized group of golfers and residents), filed a lawsuit on December 5, 2017 in Marin County Superior Court, arguing that Marin County failed to meet the requirements of a CEQA exemption. The Marin County Board of Supervisors adopted the December 12, 2017 Resolution Number 2017-135 approving the purchase of the golf course property.
At the end of June 2018, Judge Paul Haakenson issued a preliminary injunction, which blocked Parks' ability to complete the purchase and begin the public visioning and planning process. San Geronimo Advocates filings stated that the "County committed to a 'project' that included not only the purchase of property, but a definite course of action that required CEQA analysis, without having engaged in such analysis." We are concerned that this lawsuit could set a bad precedent for other public land acquisition and conservation projects in the state and region.
The injunction stops all efforts around fundraising, closing escrow, public planning, and prevents Parks from providing ranger programming for the public like art in the park, biking with a ranger, etc. All Parks sponsored outings and activities planned at the property were cancelled.
On October 26th, the Marin County Superior Court reaffirmed the tentative ruling and ordered the County to complete CEQA prior to authorizing the purchase of the property. This ruling has prompted Marin County to reverse their resolution to purchase the property. In addition, the County will have no right or authority to continue golf course operations on TPL’s property after December 31, 2018. The County has therefore provided notice, consistent with the management agreement, to Touchstone Golf that the County/Touchstone agreement will expire on December 31, 2018.
November 13, 2018 Marin County Supervisors voted unanimously to rescind a resolution authorizing the county’s purchase of the San Geronimo Golf Course and golf operations as of December 31st.
January 2019, The Trust for Public Land has announced that they are…“ appealing the Marin Superior Court’s decision because it establishes an unprecedented statewide standard that is damaging to the conservation movement across all of California,” wrote Guillermo Rodriguez, TPL’s California state director, in an email.
From January to March, limited public access was allowed on the property for pedestrians, dogs on leash, and bikes on paved pathways. At the end of March, the County announced they found a interim operator, Touchstone Golf, to resume golf operations on the course in April and remove continued public access.
Parks and the Board of Supervisors received several letters from organizations, individuals, and families stating their concerns with the removal of public access on the property. From 2017 - 2018, EAC provided written and verbal public comments to the Board of Supervisors supporting the acquisition of the property for use as a park and voiced concerns over the removal of public access, as it prevented people in the Valley from the opportunity to connect with the land and be able to fully participate in the public visioning process. In our public testimony, we advocated for weekly public access to the golf course during the interim operations. The Board of Supervisors were receptive to the concerns over the loss of continued public access and requested Parks return in 60-days with a plan to include public access on the property.
In July 2018, in part due to EAC and other's advocacy, Parks and Touchstone Golf announced limited public access allowances at the property that includes access portions of the course on Sunday afternoons and one Friday a month. Since that time, we have witnessed a growing number of individuals and families taking advantage of the property for cycling, teaching children to ride bikes, running, walking, picnicking, dog walking, bird watching, photography, and fishing (in the ponds). We are able to see a glimpse of a true vision of the future use of the property as a public space. Touchstone Golf also announced a family programming series that includes movie nights on the green, community dinners, and a holiday event.
Since the closure of the golf course at the end of December 2018, the property is not officially open to the public; however, EAC is seeing members of the community walking dogs, riding bikes, flying kites, and enjoying the open space in new ways, free from the hazards of golf balls.
EAC SUPPORTS THE CREATION OF A PARK, AS IT WILL HAVE WIDE RANGING ECOLOGICAL AND COMMUNITY BENEFITS.
EAC strongly supports the acquisition of the golf course property and its transition into a public park. Creation of public lands and support for maximum acquisition of public lands by federal, state, and county parks is a foundational element of EAC.
The conversion of the property to a park and restoration of habitat will create several ecological benefits for the upper watershed of Lagunitas Creek and Tomales Bay watershed that will improve endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout habitats and water quality; minimize and/or eliminate the use of fertilizers and pesticides; save water; protect migratory birds, threatened status species like the Northern Spotted Owl, and other native plants and animals; and result in additional tree plantings.
With the current federal administration’s recent threats to endangered species, it is critical to strengthen local protections and restoration efforts before it is too late to save species from extinction. Restoration of creek and floodplain habitats will capture sediments, particles, and pollutants that will result in improved downstream water quality, thus improving habitat. Restoration to the riparian corridor by planting native species will improve the health and populations of migratory and nesting birds, amphibians, fish, invertebrates, and other native wildlife. These efforts will also result in the long-term sequestration of carbon.
The creation of a public park within the heart of the San Geronimo Valley provides several new opportunities for community use and public safety. The property can be used for several community public access benefits like bicycling, walking, dog walking, picnicking, birdwatching, photography, and exploration.
The property is uniquely positioned and borders the San Geronimo Valley Community Center, middle school, and elementary schools. Utilizing the existing pathways on the property for pedestrian and bicycle traffic will remove children from the high traffic, small shoulder of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. In addition, the Community Center, middle school, and elementary schools could utilize the network of pathways for safe access for increased educational opportunities to access Roy’s Redwoods Marin County Open Space Preserve and other areas of San Geronimo Valley for activities including field trips and exercise.
BROAD COMMUNITY SUPPORT FOR A PARK
In the winter of 2017 and again in , many local organizations submitted individual letters and provided public testimony supporting the acquisition of the property and the public planning and visioning process for conversion to a public park. In August of 2018, EAC organized 17 local environmental and community groups to send a letter to the Marin County Supervisors in support of the acquisition to create a park in the San Geronimo Valley.
Page last updated: February 1, 2019