Last Friday was the last day of the 2023 session for bills to pass their houses of origin and move to the other house for consideration. Those bills that did make it over now go through the same policy committee, appropriations, and floor vote processes that if similarly successful and subsequently passed in identical form, get moved to the Governor for signature or veto. That has to happen by midnight September 14, or those bills too are dead for 2023.
As we have been reporting since the beginning of the 2023 session, there are six (6) broad categories we have been tracking and in a few cases taking action upon: 1) Significant changes to the Surplus Land Act; 2) state usurpations of local land use control; 3) compression of CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) and other permitting processes/protocols (e.g., zoning); 4) all things water; 5) additional regulatory controls on equipment and/or non-organic inputs; and 6) anything resembling the two municipal golf bills that dominated our attentions the previous two sessions (AB 672 & AB 1910).
With respect to that last broad category, we are happy to report that nothing approximating the two bills we tagged “Public Golf Endangerment Acts” the last two sessions has been on anybody’s radar screen in the Capitol, a testament in part to the way in which the California golf community was able during those two campaigns to trumpet the social/environmental value proposition represented by golf courses in the California communities in which they are located – a value for golfers and non-golfers alike.
With respect to the ongoing slide of open space/recreation’s priority over housing in the Surplus Land Act, this year was much less active than the last four sessions. With respect to further state usurpations of local land use control, the same – less activity than previous sessions. Both may have something to do with the fact that there was so much activity 2019-2022. We track these not so much because they directly affect golf, but because anything that affects the processes employed to determine the use and/or reuse of land can impinge upon a sector that encumbers the kind of acreage golf uses.
With respect to compression of CEQA and other permitting protocols, the action in this legislative session comes mostly from the Governor. Newsom has proposed that the legislature adopt compressed timeframes for the operation of CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), particularly with respect to the time allowed for the disposition of lawsuits challenging the adequacy of the Environmental Impact Reports that are central thereto. The Governor has proposed that these regulatory shortcuts be adopted as budget trailer bills, which means that their particulars will not be vetted through the same dilatory processes that the bills that passed their houses Friday are having to endure. They’ll be hatched out of public sight, likely by each house’s respective leaderships. Because CEQA is so jealously protected by an environmental community that is a substantial component of this state’s Democratic majority, many believe the legislature just might be too busy with closing the $32 billion and growing budget deficit and those bills that did go through the normal legislative order to take up the Governor’s request.
Why do we “track/watch” CEQA and other land use permitting reforms? The same reason we track/watch housing’s ascendancy over open space/parks/recreation in the Surplus Land Act and fast tracking of zoning and other land use processes – because local communities are always the bulwark against the repurposing of golf courses for higher and better economic purposes or purposes that a distant central government finds a more important interest in the collective than a local community finds in the specific. It makes no sense for golf to get involved in these kinds of bills. It would cause more harm than good for a myriad of reasons that we’ll leave for another discussion another day. But getting a sense of where these trends are headed is of immense value to a sector that needs lead time to incorporate these trends into its long-term business and strategic planning.
While golf did take action on some water bills (see below), on others we tracked/watched and for the same reason we tracked the other bills in this opening discussion – golf has neither the visceral interest nor the bandwidth to affect their fate but does have a keen interest in learning where things might be headed with respect to longstanding water rights and arrangements that golf takes for granted at great peril.
Three (3) water bills fit that description. First, their particulars, followed by their much longer-term implications.
While the bills’ proponents claim that these three (3) bills do nothing more than make the current legal/regulatory structure work more effectively, the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), which represents roughly 450 water agencies, claims that they radically transform the way the state’s water rights system is implemented, managed, and enforced. ACWA’s legislative advocate has gone as far as to suggest very publicly that these three bills taken together would lead to damaging unintended consequences for both senior water rights holders and communities and businesses that depend upon a reliable water supply.
Who’s right? Our take: Both, albeit it would seem that ACWA is a little more “right” than the bill proponents. On one hand much of what these bills aim to achieve amounts to giving the state the tools necessary to execute extant law. On the other hand, to the degree to which much of what these bills portend have been found by appellate courts to be beyond the law’s current authority, ACWA’s claims about transformation ring true. Whether it portends “radical” transformation cum damaging unintended consequences or whether that description is more hyperbole than reality is not clear to us, but it is certainly true that much about these bills is parallel to the situation in the Colorado Basin. Both open Pandora’s Box of senior rights, riparian rights, and pre-1914 rights in an effort to reconcile those rights with the water facts on the ground while vitiating them de facto without doing so de jure. ACWA’s reaction might be a bit over the top, but the consortium of 450 water agencies sees through the fog to what can only in the long run be the same reopening of old intra-California arrangements as the ongoing interstate recalibrations in the Colorado Basin.
As these bills move to their respective other houses for vetting, we’ll be watching to see whether they remain intact or are amended per language offered in their original houses of origin that conceded the need to restructure the way the state acquires and manages usage/diversion data as well as the need for much better monitoring. ACWA carries great weight in Sacramento. In previous years, these bills would have either died by now or moved forward with significant amendments.
What to make of all this? Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, sometimes painfully, sometimes litigiously, the laws and regulations regarding water are going to change. They will be brought into alignment with changed circumstances. Period; hard stop. Golf needs to plan accordingly.
Whether “Public Golf Endangerment Acts,” independent contracting, gas powered equipment, glyphosate, or COVID, the California golf community has been highly active in recent legislative sessions.
This session gave us a much-needed break. We felt the need to weigh in on only four (4) bills, three of which we felt that with certain amendments we could support and only one which we thought merited opposition.
It gives us nothing but pleasure to report that the three (3) bills we felt merited support with amendments passed the Assembly with those amendments and the one bill we felt merited opposition didn’t make it out of its policy committee of reference.
The inclusion of this language in AB 1572 and 1573 may strike some as much ado about little, but to those who labor in the fields of legislative advocacy and understand how legislative language easily becomes embedded in the codes and picked up in future pieces of legislation, it’s significant. Just ask the game’s national organizations how much damage golf’s categorization as an activity unworthy of emergency relief in some 1977 IRS language got picked up in subsequent legislation dealing with eligibility for federal disaster assistance. Call it what you will – incorporation by reference or copy and paste – damaging language and beneficial language once established in the codes can be hard to disestablish.
AB 1590, which we reported on earlier this year, was a bill that would have prohibited the use of all non-organic inputs on any golf resort containing a 300-room hotel in the California Coastal Zone. The bill was as bizarre as it was limited in scope - only 6 golf resorts in the state by our count; however, to the extent to which the rationale for the bill was the use of non-organics on golf courses in the coastal zone, the effect of passage could have provided a very slippery slope toward such prohibition on scores of golf courses in the state. The bill collapsed in the Assembly Natural Resources Committee once the legislators recognized what we came to understand only at that Committee’s hearing. It was not a serious piece of legislation, but rather another round in Unite Here Local 11’s ongoing battle with the Terrenea Golf Resort on the south side of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
While the stakes were certainly much larger the last few years, particularly with respect to those municipal golf endangerment acts, the 2023 session is shaping up quite nicely. Golf continues to punch above its weight – way above its weight. And while we can take a measure of pride in that, what we should much more take away is the need to add some weight.
And let me share that at least in the Southern part of the state, golf’s advocacy functionality has added weight. The USGA has granted SCGA a Boatwright Intern dedicated exclusively to Public Affairs. His name is Kyle Newell. He is a 2nd year MBA student at USC. He started with us last week. The Southern California PGA Section has hired Matt Rogers to oversee Public Affairs as well as lend his skills to other Section duties. Matt collaborated with us last year on AB 1910 and some other initiatives. He had previously worked in the office of California Congressman Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita). With Kyle and Matt on board we’ll be able to “punch” even higher. It’s a good thing. Just as we know that this year’s rain and snow was but a temporary reprieve from what promises to be ongoing water problems, this year’s lighter legislative load was but a temporary break from increasing Sacramento challenges.
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After next week’s U.S. Open, we’ll return with updates on the Colorado River situation, what the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency about “waters of the United States” means for us in California, and good news about efforts to stave off development of some municipal and daily fee facilities. And whatever else pops up in two weeks. Something always does. Multiple somethings usually.
Are you interested in becoming an advocate for golf in California? The CGCOA is seeking amateur golfers who are passionate about protecting the game of golf and promoting public policies that enable golf to flourish in California. Take the next step to becoming an advocate for golf by completing the attached Golf is Good Ambassador Application.Read More →
FORE - The magazine of the SCGA. Find archived Public Affairs articles on the website of the SCGA's award winning quarterly publication.Read More →
Affordable housing a big winner; local control a big loser. What might it mean for golf in California.Read More →
“CalMatters” is a nonprofit, non-partisan state news service that was created a few years ago to do the kind of in-depth journalism once routinely provided by newspapers and periodicals and now provided scantily if at all only by those media organs funded by charitable contributions or substantial enough to sustain deficits.Read More →
A local example but an instructive one in a long string of examples of how a golf association can amass the facts of the matter as opposed to a version of them provided by those intent on repurposing golf course land for their preferred use, make those facts known to the decision-makers, and then rally its members and member clubs behind those “facts” to get a verdict in the public arena favorable to golf’s cause.Read More →
Our last “Update” detailed the one piece of water legislation (AB 1572 – Proscription upon the use of potable water to irrigate nonfunctional turf) that we considered the most positively impactful to the statewide golf community to get signed into law in the 2023 legislative session – “positively impactful” because golf is specifically referenced as “recreational” and/or “functional” turf exempt from the proscription, language sure to be copied and pasted into all sorts of future bills and regulations, not just at the state level, but at the local and regional levels as well.Read More →
Six years and one month ago in October 2017 the Director penned an article in SCGA’s hard copy magazine FORE entitled, “The Era of Recycled Water May be Drawing to a Close.” The kind of recycled water used for outdoor irrigation, that is – nonpotable reuse.Read More →
Often attributed to Albert Einstein, who many say wrote it on a blackboard in his Princeton office, its origin is much older than that. However, in this exact form, it appeared in a seminal sociology textbook in 1963 and has been quoted repeatedly since to highlight the fact that certain important matters are simply not amenable to quantification.Read More →
The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) is set this Wednesday to open its first public hearing on the Proposed Rule it published August 18 to effectuate what the Governor and others have termed “Making Conservation a California Way of Life.”Read More →