California’s 2021 legislative session closed Friday. Some bills are on their way to the Governor’s Office for signature; others didn’t quite make it this session. As in all legislative sessions, the vast majority of the bills filed at the beginning of session died somewhere along the way, most of them much earlier than Friday at midnight.
One that died very early in the session – AB 672 (Garcia; D – Bell Gardens) – came very much back to life at the end of the session – back to life as a 2-year bill that begins breathing again less than 4 months from now in January.
To refresh your memories, AB 672 in its initial version, which we identified as the most anti-golf bill to be filed in more than a generation, proposed to remove the state’s municipal golf courses from the protections provided by the Park Preservation Act, Surplus Land Act, California Environmental Quality Control Act, and local zoning prerogatives – all for the purpose of redeveloping them into housing tracts.
AB 672 failed to so much as get scheduled on its first Assembly Committee of reference, San Francisco Democrat David Chiu’s Housing and Economic Development Committee, which was exactly what the allied golf community had hoped to accomplish when it determined to do a full court press in opposition. When it failed, Assembly Member Garcia made AB 672 a 2-year bill, which meant that it would come back for a short window of consideration in January 2022. At the time we suggested that were it to come back in the same form as the one that was received so coldly in 2021, it would certainly suffer the same fate in 2022.
Assembly Member Garcia understood that better than we, so she substantially amended her bill just before end of session to eliminate the obvious problems posed by the original bill’s wholesale assault on CEQA and local zoning prerogatives. When AB 672 pops back up come January, it will read as follows:
Chapter 14.7 (commencing with Section 50870) is added to Part 2 of Division 31 of the Health and Safety Code, to read:
CHAPTER 14.7. Conversion of Publicly Owned Golf Courses to Affordable Housing
(a) Upon appropriation by the Legislature of fifty million dollars ($50,000,000) from the General Fund, the Department of Housing and Community Development shall administer a program to provide grants to cities, counties, and cities and counties to incentivize making publicly owned golf courses in densely populated areas available for housing and publicly accessible open space.
(b) In order to be eligible for a grant, a city, county, or city and county shall enter into a disposition and development agreement with a developer that, at a minimum, meets the following requirements:
(1) The agreement ensures that at least 25 percent of all new dwelling units developed on the former golf course are affordable to, and occupied by, low-income households.
(A) Rental units shall be subject to a recorded regulatory agreement with the city, county, or city and county with a term of at least 55 years, that is monitored for compliance by the city, county, or city and county.
(B) Ownership units shall be subject to an equity sharing agreement consistent with paragraph (2) of subdivision (c) of Section 65915 of the Government Code, and the city, county, or city and county shall utilize any proceeds received from an equity sharing agreement for programs to facilitate low-income homeownership.
(2) At least 15 percent of the development is publicly accessible open space.
(3) No more than one-third of the square footage of the development, excluding the portion reserved for open space, is dedicated to nonresidential uses.
(c) To the extent that funds are available, the department shall issue a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) covering the 12-month period after the NOFA is issued, and, if there was no NOFA for the previous 12-month period, covering the 12-month period before the NOFA was issued. The department shall accept applications from applicants at the end of the 12-month period after the NOFA is issued.
(d) The department shall allocate a grant to each city, county, or city and county that meets the criteria specified in subdivision (b) in an amount determined by the department and specified in the NOFA. If the amount of funds available to the department is insufficient to provide each eligible city, county, or city and county with the full grant amount specified in the NOFA, the department shall reduce the amount of grant funds awarded to each eligible city, county, or city and county proportionately.
(e) The department may review, adopt, amend, and repeal guidelines to implement uniform standards or criteria that supplement or clarify the terms, references, or standards set forth in this chapter. Any guidelines adopted pursuant to this chapter shall not be subject to Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 11340) of Part 1 of Division 3 of Title 2 of the Government Code.
To the degree to which the retention of local zoning prerogatives and CEQA could allow for middle class California communities to rise in opposition to the elimination of open space and diminution of property values that would be involved in the invocation of the protocols cum financial incentives enabled by AB 672, the bill as now amended is arguably less onerous than the version that failed so miserably in 2021.
On the other hand, the bill as now amended creates a lot of economic “winners” – cities and counties to make application for grants, those same cities and counties eyeing the property and business taxes that would follow from development of their parks, and developers that would benefit from being in part subsidized to develop prime urban property now off limits to them.
And golf forgets at its grave peril that Californians now consider housing and its close relative homelessness to be the state’s number one problem.
To the degree to which the 91% of the public that doesn’t play golf understands the municipal golf courses in their communities to be part and parcel of the same park systems that provide soccer, baseball, swimming, picnicking, biking, pickleball, tennis, and the myriad other active and passive recreational pursuits that but for their provision by government would NOT be part of life in a California city, suburb or exurb, that is the degree to which an organized golf response can succeed in staving off this much more creative and thus dangerous anti-golf initiative. If “our” fight is “their” fight the outlook is good. If golf is but the canary in the same coal mine as they, the outlook is good. But if our fight is seen as the fight of the other, an elite, aloof other bent on preserving playgrounds for the privileged at the expense of what could be a salve for the housing shortage, particularly the affordable housing shortage, golf well may still beat back AB 672 in the truncated window provided by California’s 2-year bill protocol. But we’re sure to keep having to make the fight, which is nothing more than a recipe for losing one of those fights eventually and with it a significant portion of the game’s growth engine.
If you’re thinking that the time to have considered the commencement of the kind of public campaign cum recreational outreach capable of aligning municipal golf with the other recreational/open space activities also dependent upon access to publicly owned land was somewhere in the distant past, you’re not alone. That time was a long time ago! So long ago that all is lost? Hardly. But it was sufficiently long ago that there is precious little time to lose in ginning up just SUCH a “campaign.” And doing so in a focused, committed, and deadly serious way.
If you’re thinking we need to hit the ground running in January, you’re not thinking in what we’d call a “deadly serious way.” We need to start tackling AB 672 now! Stay tuned for more – much more.
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There was one other bill in the just concluded session the industry engaged robustly – AB 1346 (Berman; D – Menlo Park). That bill that directed the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to adopt a Rule discontinuing the sale of gas-powered equipment 25 HP or less by 2024 or another date or set of dates to be determined by CARB during its formal Rulemaking process.
As we predicted two weeks ago, AB 1346 has moved to the Governor for his signature, and it has moved forward with all of the language about feasibility, flexibility, and financial incentive that the golf community and other affected communities sought.
The allied California golf community is poised to use this language not to upend CARB’s march toward phasing out the sale of this class of gas-powered equipment, but to ensure that its interests are fully protected as CARB marches – that and pursue possible financial incentives in the form of rebates or tax credits.
As with the AB 5 / AB 2257 exercise in which the industry was also able to work cooperatively within the system to craft the language necessary to enable PGA professionals and youth sports coaches to continue operating as independent contractors, so too with AB 1346 the industry was able to work cooperatively within the system to set up a CARB Rulemaking process protective of the industry’s needs.
That’s the usual order of the golf community’s business in Sacramento. Golf is well positioned to conduct it. What golf is not well positioned to conduct is the kind of full-frontal assault on the game represented by an AB 672 as now amended to incent certain powerful financial interests while appeasing other interests whose oxen were gored by the bill’s original language. That kind of fight requires a lot more ammunition than golf has in its advocacy arsenal.
“Positioned” or not, ready or not, sufficient ammunition or not – the fight is on our doorstep, and we have no choice but to take it on, starting now.
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