County denied faster ruling on golf course

08/15/2018

Marin County’s move to turn the 157-acre San Geronimo Golf Course into a park has hit another roadblock. On August 6, Judge Paul Haakenson denied the county’s request to expedite a decision that could have dissolved a preliminary injunction on the land’s purchase. 

County officials say that injunction is preventing them from receiving the grants necessary to finalize their purchase from the Trust for Public Land, which partnered with Marin to buy the course. 

Because a ruling on an injunction  is still pending, grant distributors are not willing or able to formally extend their grants, Carl Sommers, chief of planning and acquisition for Marin County Parks, said. 

Indeed, approval of the county’s biggest potential grant—roughly $3.4 million from the California Wildlife Conservation Board—was rescinded due to the injunction.

Supervisors voted in November to buy the golf course for $8.85 million though a collaboration with the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit that creates and protect parks. The plan was for the county to reimburse the trust, and $4.94 million of the reimbursement was to come from state grants and private donors.

A wrench was first thrown into the plan when over 50 Marin residents calling themselves the San Geronimo Advocates filed a lawsuit against the county. The group argued the county violated the California Environmental Quality Act in various ways, but most egregiously by failing to conduct an environmental review prior to the purchase. 

The county pointed to a CEQA exemption that applies to “transfers of interest in land to preserve open space.” Though county officials agreed they would need to conduct an environmental review for any projects undertaken on the land, they claimed CEQA’s open space exemption should apply to the purchase itself. 

But lawyers for the San Geronimo Advocates said that by applying for open-space related grants for the purchase, it was clear the county had already determined the use of the course.

The group has asked supervisors to nullify the resolution that authorized the purchase of the course, and to hold off on allocating the $2.5 million of Measure A funds—which can only be used for projects benefiting parks, open spaces and natural resources—until the county completes both an environmental review and a thorough public comment process.

The group’s position was tentatively endorsed last month when Judge Haakenson placed a preliminary injunction on the county’s ability to purchase the course. He ultimately said the county’s plans for the property do require an analysis under CEQA, as the open space exemption does not apply to specific restoration projects to which the county has already committed, such as closing the course to golf and removing landscaping.

At the time of his ruling on the preliminary injunction, Judge Haakenson also set a hearing for its dissolution. That was scheduled for Sept. 21, with the case for the lawsuit itself set to be heard on Oct. 12. 

In a request filed on July 26 to expedite the dissolution of the injunction, the county said that unless the injunction was dissolved or amended before Sept. 4, the California Wildlife Conservation Board’s grant deadline, it would be forced to forfeit the opportunity to apply for grant funding, hindering its ability to pay back the trust, which would then be burdened with the carrying costs. 

Since Judge Haakenson denied the county’s request to move the injunction hearing up before the Sept. 4 deadline, the county says there is now little point in another injunction hearing before the final hearing in October, and on Friday, Deputy County Counsel Brian Case asked the court to cancel the Sept. 21 hearing.  

But even if the outcome of the October hearing is in the county’s favor, Mr. Sommers said the California Wildlife Conservation Board’s grants are usually only dispensed once a year, meaning the county would see a two-year delay in receiving the requested $3.4 million. 

When asked if the county may try to buy more time to repay the trust, County Counsel Brian Washington said that course of action is possible, but not under consideration at this time. 

“We’re really focused on Oct. 12 and what happens,” he said. “It’s hard to speculate beyond that at this point.”