Please Vote NO on San Geronimo Golf Course Deal

San Geronimo Valley Stewards Request Better Alternatives for Golf Course
Below is the letter that was sent November 8th to the Board of Supervisors

This beautiful jewel is set in the heart of our Valley. It is a treasured recreation and community resource for over 2,000 San Geronimo families and all Marin residents.

San Geronimo Valley Stewards request:
--If Marin County takes title, the County must control the land, the purchase terms, and financing; and
--future uses must meet community needs, not be imposed by outside corporations or agencies.

If public money is used to buy the Course, there must be:
--complete MAI appraisal for use of any taxpayer money;
--full advance disclosure of sale and funding terms; and
--meaningful opportunity for public discussion.

Please do not now lock in or prohibit uses for 130 acres (83%) of the golf course land.

SG Valley Stewards send this request to:
SupervisorDenisRodoni DRodoni@marincounty.org
Supervisor Damon Connolly DConnolly@marincounty.org
Supervisor Judy Arnold JArnold@marincounty.org
Supervisor Katie Rice KRice@marincounty.org
Supervisor Kate Sears KSears@marincounty.org
Parks Director Max Korten MKorten@marincounty.org
Clerk of the Board Diane Patterson DPatterson@marincounty.org

Please if you haven't sent in your NO's please send your letters now.

A. County Should Not Adopt a Taxpayer Bailout of a Private Foundation, With Land Use Restrictions

In 2009, the golf course was purchased for $5,600,000 by the Lee Family and its partners. The course is 157 acres, plus a clubhouse, parking lot, and other improvements.

Trust for Public land (TPL), a environmental private foundation, acquired an option to purchase San Geronimo Golf Course for $8.85 million, provided the sale closes by December 2017. It is unlikely TPL will exercise its option unless the County agrees to a taxpayer bail out of $8.85 million. The County proposes to pay TPL $3,910,000 from County general funds and Measure A park funds. The County and TPL together will try to raise additional $4,940,000 by end of 2018.

Golden handcuffs: TPL and other government or private sources will require "full restoration" of 130 acres to its wild natural condition, as conditions to the $4.9 million. TPL and County Parks intend to apply for California Prop 1 water bond funds.

County parks tells the community that water bonds would prohibit golf and other recreational uses, and make impossible any community waste water treatment, new fire station, or or agriculture on the site. (Other conditions may be imposed by any private non-profit group or any state agency that contributes to the bail out.)

Please do not buy into the fantasy of "re-wilding" the golf course. Neglect of vacant land would not result in a pretty park with lovely walking paths. It will encourage invasive plants like broom and star thistle, increase fire risk, endanger public safety as illegal encampments take hold, and fall into disuse as Marin Parks agency does not have the resources to manage the land.

This proposal limits the normal public planning process to 25 acres surrounding the clubhouse. Citizens are not fooled by the illusion this is adequate community decision-making.

B. The County Should Consider Other Alternatives.

We will not lose this opportunity if the current TPL proposal is delayed or voted down on November 14. The lawyers and real estate experts at TPL and the County can think of variations that would satisfy the current owners and retain the course as a community asset.

We should not NOW lock in or prohibit specific land uses. Let's take time to consider complimentary projects that could fit on the 157 acres.

1. Manage the owners' expectations and reduce the price to about $6 million. All partners could be repaid their initial investment. They will also have received the 8 years of positive cash flow from course operations. Compare: Stone Tree golf course in Novato (65 acres and clubhouse) sold for $2,291,000 in October 2014, plus an undisclosed price for 69 acres. Stone Tree is now tax assessed at about $5.4 million. With a reduced price for the San Geronimo Course, the County and TPL would not need Prop 1 water bonds with restrictions.

2. County should buy a one-year option. An option would cost about 5% of the purchase price, and would allow time to assemble the purchase price and buy the land directly (without TPL as middleman). The option fee could accommodate owner-partners and help with course operation expenses for a year. The County could use the year to search for no "golden handcuffs" grants.

3. County can acquire title and make interim operations, with long term planning. Once the County acquires title to the land, Marin Parks agency must adequately budget maintenance costs (grass watering and mowing and vegetation management), while a future land use plan is developed with the community. Marin County could contract with a professional operator for interim use of golf and clubhouse operations. The nine-hole McInnis Park golf course in San Rafael now delivers $450,000 per year profit to the County.

4. The land is already protected from from over-development. Current zoning (resort-recreation) and the 1997 SG Valley Community Plan (no substantial expansion of operations) protect the land from private resorts and estate-mansions. Maximum FAR (floor area ratio) zoning for the property is 0.5%. For 157 acres, the maximum build out would be about 34,000 square feet. The current structures are about 15,000 square feet.

California Fish & Wildlife agency paid $115,000 for the "2014 Coho-Friendly Habitat and Operations Plan for San Geronimo Golf Course", prepared by independent experts, and supported by SPAWN and SGV Planning Group. Use of the land could be conditioned on the new owner continuing the habitat improvements recommended by the 2014 Plan.

C. Reasons the Current TPL Proposal is a Bad Deal for County and SG Valley.

1. The Golf Course is Essential for Fire Prevention and Emergency Response: The mowed and watered greens prevent wildfires from spreading and create defensible space in the Valley center. The clubhouse and parking lot is a tactical center for firefighters, equipment and helicopters. In the past two years, firefighters have used golf course ponds for water. The Clubhouse and the Church across the street are both Red Cross certified shelters for 2,000 Valley families in an emergency. If "fully restored" to its wild land nature, 157 acres of tall grass and dry shrubs would be dangerous fire fuel. Our children at Lagunitas School (which borders on the course) would be at risk, as well as the Community Center and neighboring homes.

2. Taxpayer Bail Out of TPL Inflates the Price and Creates Legal Risks. Once the County signs a contract with TPL, are taxpayer dollars obligated to pay $3.9 million to TPL? If County and TPL fail to find $4.9 million in grants, must County fund the $4.9 million? During the one year TPL hold title, who is liable for injuries, fire risks, and property maintenance? How much does it now cost the current owners to water and mow the grass and prune shrubs and trees? If the course falls into ruin, is County liable as landowner for neglect in maintaining defensible space near homes and the school?

3. Abuse of Taxpayer Money. Neither Measure A funds nor County general funds should be used to buy more open space. Marin Parks agency is already responsible for 16,000 acres of open space, and does not have staff or equipment to proactively manage the lands. Measure A funds should be ear marked for safety and protection of existing land holdings. It is a scandal to use $1.5 million of County general funds to buy a golf course, and then bulldoze it. San Geronimo Valley still does not have a public library (ours was closed a decade ago). Over 500 little kids are wait listed in Marin for preschool tuition assistance. The line for Marin Section 8 housing vouchers is so long, the list is closed to new applicants. Grants are not "free". Money from California Prop 1 water bonds, Coastal Conservancy, Cal Fish & Wildlife, and other public agencies are taxpayer dollars. We all pay that money, it does not drop out of the sky.

4. The Golf Course Increases Our Home Values. Every "for sale" sign in the SG Valley advertises the home is located near the beautiful golf course. The landscaped greens and recreation opportunities add to home values. Our homes are our main source of savings for kids college, old age care and other family priorities.

5. The Land Should Serve Community Needs. We don't need more open space. Over half the Valley acreage is owned by Marin County Open Space District, MMWD, or rural ranches.

Valley residents have suggested many uses for the 157 acres, if the County insists on buying the land with public funds. Future activities could be complimentary to the 2014 Coho-Friendly Plan and to other purposes. Please consider only funding sources that open the door to community needs:

--Move the Woodacre Fire Station to the course parking area, with better road access for fire equipment. This could open 2 acres in downtown Woodacre for low rise affordable housing.
--Design a Community Waste Water system (for existing homes in the Woodacre-San Geronimo Flats) for clean creek water. Prop 1 water bonds can be used for this purpose.
--Retain or expand the community garden.
--Investigate agriculture, such as organic farming or vineyards.
--Downsize the golf course to 9 or 12 holes, and add a driving range, with room for the habitat projects under the 2014 Coho Friendly Plan.

6. Preserve Our Recreation Choices. San Geronimo Golf Course is the free practice field for high school and youth teams. Marin charities use the course for fund-raisers.

Golf is not limited to old men (as Spawn and Valley Planning Group have charged). People are able to chose their exercise without personal disparagement. Haven't we heard enough anger about the County's use of tax money for bike trails?

7. Spawn will continue its lawsuits and bully homeowners. The TPL proposal hands Spawn a tremendous prize, and rewards its past behavior. Spawn would get 157 acres to work on salmon projects (with grants of taxpayer money), but Spawn would give nothing back to the community.

Supervisor Rodoni, as a longtime member of SPAWN, should know that Spawn will not stop its bullying unless there is incentive. Use the golf course as opportunity to create peace in the Valley.

Require Spawn (a) to dismiss its lawsuits against the County, and (b) to agree on a reasonable stream ordinance that permits families along the creeks to make small improvements to their older homes. San Geronimo Valley Stewards, Marin Conservation League, and other responsible conservation groups supported the Marin Stream Conservation Area Ordinance adopted in October 2013, but SPAWN stopped the SCA Ordinance in San Geronimo Valley.