HOUSING: If passed, Assembly Bill 672 could pave the way to convert the local Penmar golf course to an affordable housing development complex. Courtesy Photo

A newly proposed bill in the state assembly would strip municipal golf courses of their park status protections and encourage their conversion to low income housing developments.

AB 672 was introduced on Feb. 21 by AD58 Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, who represents a portion of South East L.A. County including Bell Gardens. Under the bill municipal golf courses could be rezoned into housing developments that offer 25 percent affordable units and 15 percent open-space.

The bill targets municipal golf courses in high-density and park-poor areas, and would exempt them from the Public Park Preservation Act and the California Environmental Quality Act.

Larry Cloud, President of the Penmar Golf Course, fears Penmar could be on the chopping block if the bill is passed.

“I would be very concerned about any City of LA course,” said Cloud. “If you look at where the courses are: Penmar, Rancho Park, Woodley Lakes, these are places where land values are high and developers would love to get their hands on that.”

Penmar Golf Course, which was founded in 1962, provides an affordable golf outlet that is currently utilized by around 600 community members. The course just experienced its busiest summer season as many residents took advantage of the socially distanced outdoor sport.

Cloud disagrees with the underlying logic of the bill — that municipal golf courses are an underutilized public space — and believes they are an important community resource.

“It’s an activity that allows people from all different ages and ethnic backgrounds to come together,” said Cloud. “You come to some of our club meetings and you see a little bit of everybody. And that’s wonderful; that’s the kind of open game that it is supposed to be.”

Assemblymember Garcia believes that municipal golf courses are an ineffective use of government funds. Referencing the Regional Housing Needs Assessment’s call for 1.5 million new housing units in Southern California, Garcia said the state needs to get “creative” if it hopes to address the affordable housing crisis.

“In my district, the City of Bell Gardens, one of the most densely populated and park poor cities in LA County, is expected to build hundreds of new housing units in the near future,” said Garcia. “AB 672 is a sensible and creative public policy answer to the housing and open space crisis and puts our tax dollars to better use in communities like mine.”

The Southern California Golf Association objects to the logic that municipal golf courses are a poor use of tax dollars and points to the fact that their revenues provide an important funding source for Parks and Recreation.

“The fees and charges routinely cover all the costs of operation, all the costs of replenishing the infrastructure,” said Craig Kessler, SCGA governmental affairs director. “$12 million every year goes into the coffers of County Parks and Recreation, which subsidizes those swimming pools, trails, picnic areas, and soccer fields that don’t pay for themselves.”

A Housing and Community Development Committee hearing has yet to be scheduled for AB 672. If the bill does not pass the committee by April 30 it is unlikely to advance further during the 2021 legislative session.

Clara@smdp.com