At public meetings to get resident feedback on a proposal by city officials in Livermore, Calif. to shut down Springtown Golf Course, hundreds turned out to object to what they said once again amounted to treating them like “bastard children” and “the redheaded stepchild.” Exorbitant water costs and an unqualified management company are the real culprits, residents (and the club’s current GM) claimed.
Hundreds of irate residents in Livermore, Calif. are blasting city officials for spending millions on a theater and other community amenities while claiming they can’t afford to keep the public Springtown Golf Course afloat, the Contra Costa (Calif.) Times reported.
The city says the golf course, which is operated by Sycamore Landscaping, a private contractor, would cost taxpayers an estimated $250,000 a year going forward, the Times reported, and that revenues have been steadily declining. The city is proposing shutting down the course and called back-to-back public meetings on July 30 at the course’s clubhouse to get resident feedback and consider options.
The standing-room-only crowds that turned out for the meetings did not hold back in making their opinions clear, the Times reported.
“[The city of Livermore has] always ignored the north side of town [and its Springtown district],” said Betty Murillo, a resident and treasurer of a local homeowner’s association. “We’re tired of being the bastard children.”
Jim Moore, who has lived near the course for 12 years and golfs there regularly, said the money needed to keep it operating is a drop in the bucket compared with other things the city spends money on, the Times reported.
“A couple hundred thousand to the budget isn’t much,” Moore said. “People who bought their homes on the course bought it for a reason, and for them to change it is just wrong.”
Since 2009, the Times reported, the city of Livermore has leased the course to Sycamore Landscaping, which recently informed the city it can’t continue operating without an annual subsidy of $91,000. The water costs alone are astronomical—as much as $110,000 in one year, said Sycamore’s President, Steve Kwasnicki, who later stormed out of the meeting in frustration after a brief confrontation with a resident, the Times reported.
For about the past three years, the city has subsidized the course to the tune of about $75,000, the Times reported. After a city analysis, officials figured that in addition to the annual subsidy being requested, they would need to spend another $160,000 each year in maintenance to keep the course running, and those are funds the city can’t afford, Public Works Director Darren Greenwood told the Times.
“The operators aren’t making enough to keep it where it is,” Greenwood said. “We’ve tried this a number of ways, and without subsidizing it, we’re not going to be able to keep it as a golf course.”
The course, purchased by the city in 1973, has gone through three operators since it was built in the 1960s, none of which, including the city, could find a way to make it profitable, Greenwood told the Times. Golf rounds at the course have declined by 57 percent from 1999 to 2013, he said, and revenues have dropped by 60 percent since 2000.
When the city last looked for an operator in 2007, 10 companies attended an informational meeting, but only Sycamore placed a bid, signing a 10-year contract to manage the course, as well as the pro shop and restaurant, the Times reported.
The biggest barrier to making a profit has been water, Jason Cain, Springtown GC’s General Manager, told the Times. During the winter months, he explained, the club is forced to buy expensive potable water from the city.
Cain claimed to the Times that the city knew the contract was “impossible to fulfill” and purposely hired Sycamore, which had no real experience in running a golf course, knowing that it wouldn’t work out.
“The city has always treated Springtown as the redheaded stepchild. That’s obvious,” Cain said. “In my opinion, the city wanted Springtown to fail. From day one, they wanted to sell it. It’s a sad situation.”
Cain’s accusation was echoed by many who attended the public meetings, the Times reported. “I think they want to develop this land,” said Patricia Rabmann, a Springtown resident since 1973. “Why weren’t we being notified that there was a problem before, instead of right now when it’s Doomsday? It affects everyone here.”
While rounds and revenues are in decline, Cain acknowledged, the course still draws in many golfers, such as the elderly and disabled, who are unable to play anywhere else. He compared the city subsidizing the course to a public service, such as a library.
“This course serves an incredible amount of people,” Cain told the Times. “They have no other place to play. We encourage the older, disenfranchised golfers to come here. If we’re not here, no one else is going to do that.”
Options that could be explored, city officials said, include creating an assessment district for the surrounding neighborhood that would require homeowners to pay an annual tax, turning the land into open space, offering it to the homeowners association, or selling it to developers.
But none of the possibilities, besides leaving the land as maintained open space, appeared to resonate with those who attended the public meetings, the Times reported.
“The city doesn’t have an agenda in this,” Greenwood told the Times. “But it would be a shame if [neighbors] wouldn’t consider development.”
Keeping the land as open space would cost the city about $25,000, Greenwood noted, citing the cost of mowing it four times a year.
The city now plans to send mailers to Springtown residents with a recap of the meetings and a survey asking opinions of the possible options. The results will likely go to the council sometime in the fall, the Times reported.