We are deeply concerned that the debate over the county’s rush to buy the San Geronimo Golf Course has been presented as a choice between restoring salmon habitat or saving the golf course. There are other interests at stake. The tragedy of this hasty maneuver is that the public’s right to authentically plan for its future will be irreversibly extinguished. Vague promises of a community process after the acquisition don’t disclose that 85 percent of the property will be dedicated to restoration, negating most other options. By preventing community involvement, ignoring planning and environmental laws and disregarding their own Measure A prioritization process, the Board of Supervisors sets a bad precedent and could invite costly litigation.
Yet supervisors are rushing an $8.85-million purchase of the property just 36 days after publicly presenting it. They propose wholly embracing a plan devised by the Trust for Public Lands and Salmon Protection and Watershed Network, even though SPAWN has active lawsuits against local property owners and the county. The parks department has ignored our community plan, initially exempted itself from any environmental review and proposed using Measure A Open Space funds despite the lack of consideration of this acquisition in a single plan, budget or public meeting.
Why the rush? There is no other active purchase offer, and another buyer may or may not surface. Any buyer must comply with the San Geronimo Valley Community Plan, which states that the golf course should be retained, with no major expansion of facilities. The land is zoned “resort-recreational” and the Countywide Plan specifically requires a master plan if any major changes are proposed.
County Parks needs to be more diligent. As of Oct. 11, its staff said no independent appraisal had been ordered. The property was last sold in 2009 for $5.6 million. Numerous real estate opinions of golf’s declining popularity and the restrictive zoning beg for more scrutiny of the purchase price. In addition, the department’s Oct. 10 report to supervisors stated, “No funds are required to be committed for the current recommendation. Parks will use existing resources to perform basic maintenance.” Yet the nearby public school, three popular preserves and expensive homes that ring the course will require expensive measures to meet fire protection, privacy and aesthetic concerns. Fire storms in adjacent counties underline our need to maintain defensible space.
The public-private study of a community waste treatment improvement project to mitigate environmental health issues from failing septic systems in Woodacre was the culmination of 10 years of work by local community members. Yet it has been unilaterally suspended in light of the proposed purchase. How will this affect the health of the creek?
The future of this course, a jewel set in the heart of the valley, must not be decided in a quick “take it or leave it” deal dictated by the Trust for Public Lands. The county can acquire the property as a direct purchase, with or without the trust, or as an option followed by a purchase. The trust itself has acknowledged that these kinds of deals often take years to complete.
Supervisors need to publicly commit to undertaking a comprehensive and transparent public planning process. No Measure A funds should be applied to the project until a master plan is completed to prevent funding-source restrictions from eliminating choices. The Trust for Public Lands should not seek restrictive grants until a long-term plan is finalized.
The board also needs to rescind the resolution it adopted on Oct. 10, which exempts the purchase from any environmental review. If the county buys the course, the combined size of its contiguous holdings in the valley will balloon to over 2,500 acres, putting pressure on existing preserves and affecting many management issues.
San Geronimo Valley is deeply committed to the survival of salmon in our creeks. But we are equally committed to democracy and to a process that both meets community needs and is fair to our county as a whole.
Joe Walsh, Lagunitas; Wendi Kallins, Forest Knolls; Christin Anderson, Woodacre; Koa Pickering, President, San Geronimo Valley Stewards, Woodacre; Peggy Sheneman, Board of Directors, San Geronimo Valley Stewards, Woodacre.