SCGA COVID-19 Updates

HOT BILLS

Monday, April 5, 2021

AB 672 (Garcia; D-Bell Gardens) – the “hottest” to hit the golf industry in the last 20 years in our opinion!

You can click here to read the full text. But for the purposes of this quick update, the gory details are as follows.

The bill proposes to create a CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) exception for golf courses and only golf courses for the purpose of converting them into affordable housing tracts.

The 1971 Public Park Preservation Act precludes municipalities from selling or otherwise developing their park properties, including golf courses, for uses other than recreation or open space. But nothing in California law stops other owners (including private clubs) from selling or seeking the zoning changes, permits, and other necessary entitlements to develop their golf courses for other uses, including housing. Indeed, the history of urban development in California has always included substantial residential/commercial/industrial redevelopment of golf properties. Nothing about the normal orders and procedures involving land use decisions in California, including CEQA and local zoning control, have prevented or otherwise stanched this process.

AB 672 would change this by creating a CEQA exemption for housing development on existing golf courses, putting a veritable bullseye on golf courses for developers and others to shoot at.

CEQA has been a mainstay of California land use planning for 50 years. Local zoning control has been a mainstay much longer. As drafted, AB 672 would single-out golf courses and would remove them from local control. The cities and counties have long been the arbiters of zoning authority, and the local communities have been able to weigh the environmental impacts of loss of open space, loss of recreational opportunities, traffic, noise, and myriad other factors that affect the quality of local lives. AB 672’s proposal for a one-size-fits-all statewide CEQA exemption for golf courses would do little if anything to solve California’s housing shortage. But it would do much to accelerate a process that takes more and more control over quality-of-life issues from local communities and repose it in a state authority totally removed from the lives, businesses, and fortunes of those affected.

The State of California should not be favoring or disfavoring specific recreational activities nor picking winners and losers among them. Competing on an equal field in markets dominated by creative destruction and the consistent seeking of higher and better uses, they should thrive, wither, grow, and/or shrink per the same rules. Applying a CEQA exemption to golf as the one and only defined “underutilized” recreational land use would amount to nothing less than a legislative stigmatization of golf as a State-disfavored recreational and business use.

California’s millions of golfers and those whose livelihoods depend upon the game can draw no other conclusion. And they will need to speak up this 2021 legislative session or forever hold their peace as the sites they have long used to enjoy their recreational passion will be targeted for a state-aided repurposing campaign.

This week the California Alliance for Golf (CAG) and its Sacramento lobbyist are finalizing a formal opposition letter to distribute in the Capitol prior to AB 672 being heard in the 1st of the 2 committees to which it has been referred. Next week, CAG and its constituent organizations, including SCGA, will inform their members how to make their opinions on the matter known to their respective Assembly and Senate Members. The timing on that new scga.org “tool” that facilitates the dissemination of that “opinion” couldn’t have been better. Look for greater definition and detail next week. When something is described as “the hottest to hit the golf industry in 20 years” a full court press is in order (with apologies to “March Madness”)

AB 1346 (Berman; D-Menlo Park – Gonzalez; D-San Diego)

For the details click here to read the bill. But as one of the co-authors of the bill (Berman; D-Menlo Park) put it much more succinctly on his website, AB 1346 would: “phase out the sale of new gas-powered small off-road engines (SORE), which are primarily used in lawn and garden equipment, including leaf blowers, lawn mowers, and other outdoor power equipment. AB 1346 would require new sales of SORE to be zero-emission by 2024 or whenever the California Air Resources Board (CARB) determines is feasible, whichever is later.”

The implications for a golf industry that makes considerable use of such equipment are clear in both terms of the costs associated with changing out entire fleets of equipment and the infeasibility of current electric versions for certain purposes and in certain climates.

Unlike AB 672, which is targeted exclusively at the California golf community, this bill is targeted at a whole host of industries. The GCSAA is already all over this and in communication with many of them on developing a coordinated campaign to make legislators aware that if not modified to take into consideration the unavailability of the electric powered technologies the bill presumes exist or can be brought to market in 3 short years, they will have in essence put certain sectors out of business and in the case of others such as golf put them in a position of being unable to deliver quality products to their customers. The California Alliance for Golf (CAG) will join this coordinated effort – one likely to be an accommodative one as opposed to a reflexively oppositional one, given the reality that as time goes by, much of what is now powered by gasoline and other fossil fuel products will become increasingly powered by electricity.

As with so many of California’s regulatory agencies, CARB is one that seeks industry input when crafting regulations. When this bill was dropped, it had already opened dialog with various landscaper, arboreal, and power equipment groups as part of a comprehensive “pre-rulemaking” re small gas-powered off-road engines exercise. Golf will now join the exercise and partake in the fashioning of these envisaged rules affecting our golf clubs and courses. We better; we just looked and discovered that the comments submitted by environmental organizations and Sierra Club members dwarf those submitted by industry.