San José decides to keep golf courses open or redevelop courses

After years of steady decline, the city of San Jose’s golf courses are once again teeming with players from across the Bay Area eager to score a coveted start.

The increase in the number of players hitting the greens comes against a backdrop of an increase in the popularity of golf nationwide during the pandemic, as public health orders forced people to look outdoors for entertainment.

But it remains to be seen whether the recent revival of the sport will be enough to appease the interest of some city leaders in exploring the redevelopment of the city’s golf courses into other recreational uses.

San Jose City Council early next year will be asked to make a critical decision that could seal the fate of its municipal golf courses for years to come.

Under a plan proposed by the city’s parks department and approved by the Parks Commission, San José would enter into a new long-term lease for the operation of its three golf courses, ensuring that the properties remain dedicated. golf for at least the next 15 years.

“We would really like him to stay,” said Dean Fashbaugh of San Jose as he prepared to play a round at Los Lagos Golf Course in south San Jose. “It’s a fun class, and it always seems sold out.”

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 8: Golfers putt at the San Jose Municipal Golf Course in San Jose, Calif. On Wednesday, December 8, 2021 (Nhat V. Meyer / Bay Area News Group)

Mayor Sam Liccardo, however, is not so keen on stringing the city on a long-term lease. Instead, he’s pushing for a shorter 3- to 4-year lease to give the city the flexibility to redevelop any of the courses in the future if it so chooses.

In fiscal year 2020-21, the three municipal golf courses in San Jose – the San Jose Municipal Golf Course, which opened in 1968, and the Los Lagos and Rancho del Pueblo Golf Courses, which opened in the early 2000s – saw a 62% jump in the number of rounds played. But before the COVID-19 pandemic, golf courses were bleeding money year after year as fewer players frequented the courses.

“We should hesitate before deciding on a future direction based on a one-year slide in pandemic-era income-based data,” Liccardo said in a recent interview. “It’s definitely a good thing that the lessons are held in the dark, but it’s not obvious to me that in four years there will be the same level of interest.

“If these are recreational opportunities for our community, it is important for us to consider how many people we can serve and how well we can serve them.

At the turn of the century, San Jose incurred $ 27.6 million in debt to open Los Lagos and Rancho del Pueblo. And for most of their existence, neither courts made a profit, leading some San José executives to consider ridding the city of losing companies.

In 2010, the city weighed the sale of part of Rancho del Pueblo and the construction of condominiums before dropping the proposal amid fierce criticism and public outcry. Then, after a 2015 audit highlighted the troubling financial issues with the city’s golf operations, San Jose began to assess possible new recreational uses for Los Lagos.

The Parks Department has analyzed a range of alternative uses, including its redevelopment into football and baseball fields, its conversion to a regional park or its transformation into an open space reserve.

SAN JOSE, CA – December 08: Left to right, Ernie Fama of San Jose, Ron Pieracci of San Jose and Bob Filice of Gilroy play golf at Los Lagos Golf Course in San Jose, Calif. On Wednesday, December 8, 2021 (Dai Sugano / Bay Area News Group)

Proponents of redeveloping the course for another recreational use argue it could meet the city’s needs in addition to sports fields, serve more people, and save more water and energy.

At a Parks Commission board meeting earlier this month, Commissioner Janny Choy voted against the city entering into new golf course leases, arguing that continuing down this path was ” a tax liability benefiting only a few people “.

“It looks like there is so much we could do in terms of passive recreation for this area,” Choy said, noting that two of the courses border Coyote Creek. “I would like to see this as a larger benefit to the city, serving these very important natural functions and providing the recreation that people want.”

However, all of the redevelopment options would require significant upfront capital costs and would force the ministry to postpone other high priority projects, including the reorganization of Overfelt Gardens and updating of Alum Rock Park.

The parks department estimated that upgrading the Los Lagos course for sports such as football and baseball, building a concession stand and restrooms, and installing more lighting and parking would cost up to $ 70 million, with additional annual maintenance costs.

In comparison, the three golf courses are all expected to become a revenue generating business in the future. Debt on Los Lagos and Rancho del Pueblo has been repaid, and last year the three courses generated combined net operating income of $ 1.5 million for the city.

“Circumstances have changed,” said Avi Yotam, deputy director of the city’s parks, recreation and neighborhood services department. “And in fact, maybe for the first time in a very long time, we are looking for a very supportive environment for golf as part of our active leisure time.”

SAN JOSE, CA – December 08: Bob Filice of Gilroy, left, and Ron Pieracci of San Jose drive their golf cart at Los Lagos Golf Course in San Jose, Calif. On Wednesday, December 8, 2021. (Dai Sugano / Bay Area News Group)

In addition to the anticipated new income, supporters of the city’s golf courses say they are making the sport more accessible and affordable for the community at large and providing recreational opportunities for children and the elderly.

On a recent weekday morning, the parking lot at the Los Lagos golf course was almost full.

Juan Pichardo, 70, had just finished a match with his older brother, Juan Martinez, and son, Tony. As they grabbed their bags from the back of their cart and made their way to their cars, they marveled at the beautiful course and the wildlife they encounter while playing here, including foxes, geese, snakes and egrets.

“It’s what you would really call a community golf course. I see all types of people here – old people, children, different nationalities, women, ”Pichardo said. “It’s a big, big plus for us to play here.”

SAN JOSE, CA – December 08: Jerry Jobe of Los Gatos watches his practice on the tenth hole of the Los Lagos Golf Course in San Jose, Calif. On Wednesday, December 8, 2021 (Dai Sugano / Bay Area News Group)

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