California considers subsidizing cities to turn golf courses into affordable housing

Legislation would provide grants to local agencies to convert locally-owned golf courses into housing and public open space.

Local governments in California who want to convert their golf courses into affordable housing could receive state funds to do so under a new bill passed by a legislative committee on Wednesday.

Assembly Bill 1910, authored by Assembly member Cristina Garcia, would establish a program providing grants to local agencies to convert locally-owned golf courses into housing and public open space. The proposal states that the golf course development must make 25% of new units affordable housing, and 15% of the development must be public open space.

Lawmakers passed the legislation in the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee on Wednesday.

Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, told lawmakers Wednesday that the bill would provide another tool for the state to address the housing crisis in Southern California. According to an analysis of the bill, California has about 1,100 golf courses, with nearly 250 owned by local governments. Given that the average size of a golf course is 150 acres, the analysis estimated California’s municipally-owned golf courses could hold 375,000 housing units at moderate density.

Garcia said in highly dense communities like her own, there isn’t a lot of open space left, and golf courses could provide a way to expand housing opportunities and publicly accessible space.

“This is a voluntary program for municipally-owned golf courses for communities that want to look at the possibility of converting them into a combination of open space and affordable housing to help address two dire needs in our community,” Garcia said Wednesday.

Garcia introduced similar legislation during the last legislative session, though it failed to pass through the Assembly Appropriations Committee in January. Her reintroduced legislation, AB 1910, will have to go through the same committee to get a floor vote.

Both Garcia’s past and present legislation received pushback from members of several golf associations, which claimed Wednesday that the bill “singles out” locally-owned golf courses for development.

Nick Bailey, vice president of the Northern California PGA section, spoke on behalf of the California Alliance for Golf. He said the bill would reduce green space in communities that already lack it and “excommunicate golf from the park and recreation family.” Bailey also noted that golf courses provide habitat, promote biodiversity and sequester carbon to the benefit of the surrounding community.

“AB 1910 causes considerably more harm than any possible housing good that might come from it,” Bailey told the committee.

Committee Vice Chair Assemblymember Kelly Seyarto, R-Murrieta, who voted against the bill, raised concerns about maintaining access for youth in the community. He noted that several golf courses, including the Chester L. Washington course in Los Angeles, provide programs for youth who may not otherwise be able to drive another 10 or 15 miles to access another course.

“I fear that losing space like that for them will be impacting their lives because, if it’s not available at Chester L. Washington and that’s turned into housing instead, then they’re not going to have the opportunity,” Seyarto said.

In response, Garcia said that her bill creates a process for jurisdictions to have those conversations with the community, noting that community members would likely “activate” to advocate to preserve the space.

Other lawmakers who supported the bill on Wednesday said it would allow local control while giving local governments the option to receive funding if they choose to move forward with development plans.

Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, said he has three public golf courses in his district, and in the last few years, the city council has had conversations about whether or not to use the land for housing. The council ended up declining to do so, but Kalra noted that if they would change their mind down the road, they would now have the opportunity to receive some incentive funds from the state.

“We’re actually bringing that conversation back to the local level, and that’s what I really appreciate about this legislation,” Kalra said.

Garcia’s bill was sent to the Assembly Committee on Local Government following Wednesday’s vote.