Citing annual subsidies from the city that have swelled to $850,000, more than double the cost of four years ago, Mayor Michael Tubbs is pushing for Swenson Park Golf Course to be repurposed as a mixed-use property and for Van Buskirk Golf Course to become a recreational complex.
At a special meeting on Monday night, December 4th, the Stockton (Calif.) City Council will discuss what to do with the city-owned Van Buskirk and Swenson Park golf courses, Fox 40 of Stockton reported.
According to Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, the courses cost the city $850,000 in annual subsidies, Fox 40 reported.
That cost has swelled from $450,000 just two years ago, the mayor added. Further, he told Fox 40, 40 percent of those who play at the two courses are not Stockton residents.
“I’m surprised that somehow golf has stayed in the budget, but the subsidy has increased from $400,000 four years ago to $850,000 today,” Tubbs said.
The discussions at the December 4th council meeting will center around what to do with the courses if the city finds it is best to eliminate them, Fox 40 reported. Ideas such as Swenson becoming a mixed-use property and Van Buskirk turning into a recreational complex are on the table.
“You can’t just keep taking programs away from the city,” Stockton resident Dion Dalman told Fox 40, and Councilwoman Christina Fugazi also said that she wants the Swenson course to stay the way it is.
The issue of non-residents using the course isn’t relevant, Fugazi contended. “We subsidize the Stockton Arena at $3.2 million a year. How many of our residents go into the arena?” she asked.
But Tubbs told Fox 40 that comparing the golf course and the area”is totally not an apple-to-apple comparison because, number one, the arena doesn’t sit on 120-plus acres of land in the middle of our city. [And] number two, there are not 10 arenas within 20 miles of Stockton—[and] there are [that many] golf courses.”
Tubbs has repeatedly brought up the issue in his first term as mayor, the Stockton Record reported, In May, he told an audience of 800 at his first State of the City Address that he planned to “bring to the council and the city manager’s office a discussion on re-purposing golf funds.” He called on the city to apply the golf subsidy it pays its private course manager to create an affordable-housing trust fund.
In June, the Record reported, Tubbs held a golf-focused town-hall meeting at the community center at Van Buskirk Park at which about 40 people attended, most of whom were supportive of Tubbs’ golf stance.
Local golf enthusiasts, on the other hand, have voiced their strong disapproval ever since Tubbs brought up the subject, the Record reported.
A report prepared by city staff for the December 4th meeting cites costly capital needs at Van Buskirk and Swenson, as well as a decline in the national golf market, as reasons to at least consider a change, the Record reported.
According to the city, there are five private and 11 public courses—including Van Buskirk and Swenson—within 20 miles of Stockton, the Record reported. And officials say that Swenson and Van Buskirk lack many of the amenities found at other courses.
Additionally, the city says Van Buskirk needs a new, $5.4 million irrigation system, and up to another $4 million in other upgrades at Van Buskirk and Swenson, the Record reported.
The city would sell the 214-acre Swenson course, which opened in 1952, to private developers who would build a project at the site that would include some combination of single-family, multi-family and senior residential housing, as well as a combination of parks, schools and retail businesses, the Record reported.
The city has determined that the land could accommodate from nearly 700 to close to 950 homes, the Record reported. But officials also acknowledge that flood-protection issues would have to be dealt with, and the city additionally would have to pay a portion of the sale proceeds to Assured Guaranty, one of its bankruptcy creditors.
Stockton cannot sell the 192-acre Van Buskirk land, which was deeded to the city 60 years ago, the Record reported. The Van Buskirk family deeded the land on the condition it be used for recreational purposes only. Otherwise, the land reverts to the Van Buskirks.
Two development alternatives proposed for Van Buskirk include a combination of lighted soccer fields, basketball and tennis courts, baseball/softball diamonds and nature trails, the Record reported. One alternative devotes more land to the trails than does the other proposal.
As with Swenson, flood studies are needed at Van Buskirk, the Record reported.
Proceeds from a Swenson sale would pay for Van Buskirk’s new irrigation system and Van Buskirk construction costs, which are estimated by the city at $15 million, the Record reported.
According to a report by Community Services Director John Alita, the courses have been money pits for more than a decade, the Record reported. The losses have escalated from a low of $40,000 in 2008 to a combined deficit totaling $1.85 million the past three years.
Over the next three to five years, Alita wrote, losses are expected to range from $550,000 to $750,000 a year.
The city hired a consultant to study the golf situation, the Record reported and the resulting 70-page study provides the lion’s share of the basis for Monday night’s council discussion.
Mayor Tubbs also wrote a “Guest View” opinion piece for the Record in which he laid out his case for “better uses” for the two courses.
“Public courses Van Buskirk and Swenson are assets that are incredibly underutilized and in need of expensive capital improvements,” Tubbs wrote. “However, both locations have the opportunity to reinvent themselves for the 21st century and to serve the Stockton of today.
“The question before us is not whether golf is ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ ” Tubbs added. “In fact, golf is so good that there are several courses in the city that do not require nearly $1 million a year in public funds to operate. The question before us is, ‘What is the highest and best use for these city assets, and how can the benefit be shared most broadly?’ “