Starting around the last week of April 2017, many residents of the Shadow Lakes and Deer Ridge neighborhoods began receiving letters from the golf course management, inviting them to attend meetings to discuss the future of the golf courses, and discuss solutions to “allow golf to continue sustainably as we pay off our debt on our courses.” The letter promised they were looking for solutions that would ensure “there are no adverse impacts to your home or your property value.” They went on to say they wanted to talk to us about “possible solutions.”
Well that sounded pretty good. We were going to talk about how to keep the golf courses going in a way that they would make money, while not affecting our property values. Yes, they wanted to tell us about the problems they were having, and about challenges to the industry. But they were going to discuss more than one solution, so they must have some pretty good ideas. And they wanted our input to help them pick the best one!
When we arrived at the meeting we selected, it was pretty nice at first. There were plenty of tables and a nice buffet meal. Who doesn’t like free food?
But then it started. It was a dark tale they told. They paid $4,950,000 for the courses. In the last eleven years they went $9,831,600 into debt. Not bank debt. Some other kind of debt. In addition to the debt, they were $400,000 behind on their taxes and have annual operating losses of $893,781.
They had managed to dig themselves into one deep hole.
They could not afford to run the courses any more. If nothing was done, they would sell them to a “nuclear” developer who they claim “would likely lock the course gates, fence them off, liquidate everything in the locations and ‘torture’ homeowners until they give in to selling as much of the land as possible.” They want us to believe these developers would let the golf courses fall into an intolerable state of disrepair. Weeds would grow and everything would be so ugly that the homeowners would be ready to do anything. (It was hard, listening to this, not to wonder “but isn’t this just what Suncoast has already been doing to the homeowners in Shadow Lakes?”)
It was a story designed to frighten people, and it worked. It had to be scary, because it had to make what they were proposing next look acceptable, and what was coming next was pretty ugly. But first, they wanted to reassure the homeowners of Shadow Lakes. They apologized “for the poor condition of the landscaping on and around the courses.” But they plead “financial trouble”, and said they would do better if their plans were approved.
So finally, we were on to what we thought would be the good stuff. We were finally going to hear these solutions we were promised. But sadly, there wasn’t any real solution. What we got instead was one plan and two alternatives, but none of these fit the definition of the solutions that we were promised, to keep golf sustainable and to not impact out property values. Even the one plan they wanted us to accept did not live up fully to that promise.
The first alternative was to sell off the courses to a nuclear developer, as already mentioned. This was not meant to be a solution at all. It did not sustain the golf courses, pay off the debt, or maintain property values in the surrounding neighborhoods. It did scare a lot of people though.
The second alternative was to close one course, and keep one open. This was only a partial solution. It did not pay off the debt. It only kept the Deer Ridge course open, and left Shadow Lakes closed in its current condition, thus only maintaining the property values in one neighborhood. So, it was not really a solution. They claimed they couldn’t really do it because it would not pay off the debt. (So why even bring it up, I wondered?)
Finally, it was time to see their plan, their one plan, to save the golf courses, pay off their debts, and keep all the property values up. And what a plan it was. First, they explained how Brentwood has too many golf courses for the number of people in Brentwood. (Watching this, I wondered if it never occurred to them that someone who lived in a nearby town might want to golf here. Because taking that into account changes the numbers drastically.) But they figured they could keep one course going just fine.
They wanted to be fair to both neighborhoods, so instead of keeping one course or the other, they would “combine” the courses by using some holes from each course to make up one course. To make it possible for the golfers to get to all the holes, they would build a cart bridge over Balfour, somewhere between Foothill and Mountain View. Heck, they were already going to do it anyway a couple years ago, but they let the Planning Commission approval expire. Surely they would approve it again.
Obviously, this meant many of the golf course holes in both communities would close. This was where our input was needed. What did we want to do with the closed holes? How could they be re-purposed? To get us started, they had a few suggestions, like community gardens, trails for biking or walking, vineyards, or just some nice open space. Other suggestions from attendees included Frisbee golf or playground equipment. It was a nice idea, but they were in deep debt, and the golf course wouldn’t make much money, so who would pay for it all?
Seniors would pay for it all. Seniors living in new Senior Homes that they want to build on our golf courses. Big multi-story Senior Homes like Cortona or Westmont, they explained. And every unit would be assessed an ongoing fee to help keep the “combined” golf course profitable and maintain the re-purposed closed holes. They did not have a lot of details. Their analysis seemed to be simple, too simple. They said there are more old people now, and the population is aging, so Senior Homes are bound to succeed. And having them on the golf course wouldn’t be so bad. When one person asked how many units they were talking about, they replied 200 to 400. It was not until two months had passed since the first meetings that we finally learned on July 7 that they plan to build 560 apartments in three story buildings on 31.2 acres. (By comparison, Westmont has 131 apartments, is “only” two stories tall, and it is a huge building compared to the club house that sits at one of the proposed sites.)
And you know what? A lot of folks attending those meetings walked out of there thinking “That doesn’t sound so bad. Just some nice little apartments and a few seniors, and we at least get to keep one golf course, so I guess it’s OK.” And Suncoast, convinced of the success of their little shows, was heartened and became determined to apply to the city for the rezoning and General Plan amendments they would need to begin work on this project.
But you know what else? A lot of folks left those meetings realizing that there were a lot more open questions than answers. Why Senior Homes? What does “Senior Homes” mean anyway? Who are these people that own these golf courses? Why should we just trust everything they say, especially with their history of poor business management/practices (being in debt, not paying taxes, and losing money)? How did they come up with this “Senior Homes” idea? Is it really a good idea to build large apartment buildings right in the middle of our neighborhoods? Who does it help? Once the new zoning is approved, how do we know they can and will follow through with their plans after their debts are paid off? We might end up with Senior Housing and still have the “combined” course be sold to speculators. Once these buildings are built, how would we ever restore the golf courses in better times? Can seniors really afford to live in Senior Homes that charge expensive assessment fees?
Isn’t it really expensive to have three hundred people over for dinner and to produce expensive web sites and mailers, and isn’t it expensive to develop EIR reports and all the other filings that have to be made with the city? And come to think of it, how much does it cost to build a cart bridge over a four lane boulevard anyway? And if they have all that money, why don’t they pay up the $400,000 dollars in back taxes they owe, like we all pay our taxes, to pay for the police and fire fighters and schools that we are all paying for? What is really going on here?
So we started talking on social media sites like Nextdoor and Facebook. And our neighbors on these sites began asking questions, trying to answer these questions, and started digging up information. And the more we learned, the more we became opposed to allowing any rezoning of the golf courses and to the building of the Senior Housing in our community.