Judge makes ruling regarding San Geronimo Golf Course, ends proposed sale

Nathan Charles

On Oct. 26, Judge Paul Haakenson of the Marin County Superior Court announced he was making his final ruling regarding the future of the San Geronimo Golf Course. The County had officially agreed to buy the course from Trust for Public Land (TPL) for $8.89 million in November of 2017, and was planning on restoring it to a nature preserve, but on Nov. 13 the County Supervisors voted unanimously to terminate the purchase contract. The ruling deals a huge blow to the County’s efforts and is effectively ending their agreement with TPL, the owners of the course. Haakenson ruled in favor of the San Geronimo Advocates, a group of San Geronimo Valley residents who sued to block the purchase, stating that the County needed to conduct an environmental analysis of the project under the rules set by the California Environmental Quality Act before the purchase could go through.

photo by Nate Charles
The course is surrounded by nature, with the San Geronimo Creek running adjacent.

County Supervisor Dennis Rodoni said money factored heavily into the County’s decision, as the environmental review would have cost them both several years and hundreds of thousands of dollars. In addition, Rodoni said that the County would not have been able to seek grant funding until the review process was completed, a major setback considering that the County planned to raise about $4.9 million through grants.

“We obviously thought [the environmental analysis] wasn’t needed since there are exclusions and exemptions to doing the process and… the judge had a different opinion,” Rodoni said. “We were going to stop watering greens [and] return that water to the streams, and so he identified issues [like] that as we did have potential projects we were thinking about.”

Niz Brown, head of the San Geronimo Advocates, said that locals realized the County was trying to expedite the purchasing process “behind closed doors,” causing the Advocates to bring about their lawsuit. While Brown has been in contact with TPL, she said their interactions have not all been positive.

“TPL threatened us saying we had to do [our lawsuit] quickly because the seller wanted his money now,” Brown said. “People in real estate know, and I’m in real estate, that since when do you give into someone who wants their money now?”

The Advocates have created a petition that would continue the property’s use as a golf course unless voters approve a change. So far, the petition has gathered about 12,000 signatures, far surpassing the 8,970 needed to get it on the ballot at the next general election in November of 2020. According to Brown, while the petition is impressive it hasn’t quite captivated its target audience.

“Everybody’s a little freaked that we’ve done this but they’re ignoring that we got 12,000 signatures,” Brown said.

While the County was managing the course for TPL, Rodoni said that the management agreement was connected to the purchase agreement, and with the latter being compromised, the former will be discontinued as well. The original deadline for the purchase was set as Dec. 31, 2018, and Rodoni said the County intends to end their management by that date. Rodoni also said that TPL intends to discontinue golf operations, as the County had previously subsidized the course with about $140,000 per year, an amount TPL has said they are not in a position to provide themselves.

photo by Nate Charles
Preparing to take their next shot, there are numerous groups of locals who oppose the closing of the course.

Brown said that while TPL has been very outspoken in its willingness to listen to community members throughout this process, a large portion of local residents are strongly opposed to the termination of the golf course, something TPL did not factor in.

“[TPL] will claim that they spoke to the community and people were behind this, and that’s just boulderdash,” Brown said.

While there are some groups like the San Geronimo Advocates which have come out in support of the course, Rodoni said that if the County were to purchase the course now without the grant money, the opposition would be just as loud.

“There’s a passionate group of people that are going to want to continue to play golf there and it’s a beautiful property,” Rodoni said. “[But] it’s really tainted, the County’s ability. We realize now that we can’t talk to potential grantees, so do we spend $8-9 million of County money to purchase that property, and is that a good choice? … People would come out of the woodworks in Marin complaining that we shouldn’t be spending that kind of taxpayer money, general fund money on a purchase like that.”

Senior Anthony Alioto, who played on the Redwood boys’ golf team last year, said he appreciates the course but is disappointed that the purchase was not able to move forward.

“I think it’s kind of dumb that nothing’s going to happen to [the course]. I think it’s dumb that they’re just going to end it and not do anything with it, but the golf course has been losing money, it hasn’t been doing great and [the County was] willing to pay them millions of dollars… more than they should have,” Alioto said.

Both Alioto and Rodoni mentioned that the course has been losing money over the past few years, and Rodoni said that the property was actually appraised at a higher value as a non-golf course than as a golf course.

“From a business perspective we did not see that golf would be a viable business, given that golf throughout the U.S. is declining [and] given that the value of the property there is essentially higher not as a golf course than as a golf course,” Rodoni said. “It would be very difficult with the number of games being played there to have that as a profitable investment.”

Brown, who said she has never held a golf club in her life, described the course as beloved by those around it as it provides a relaxing and entertaining activity as well as a community where people can meet.

“People love it,” Brown said. “Lots of kids play there and there are older people who can’t go bicycling, can’t go running and it’s a community for them. They’re not lonely when they’re playing golf and they make new friends.”

photo by Nate Charles
Teeing off from the ninth hole, golfers are presented with a picturesque view of the redwoods.

Alioto said he enjoyed playing the course and that the nature in the San Geronimo Valley was beautiful, adding that while he would like the course to remain open, he sees a potential restoration project as a positive.

“I really do like the course and I think it’s really fun [to play]. Being in the nature out there is really nice, but at the same time [there’s] the whole wildlife aspect,” Alioto said. “[But] I do think it’s important to address and maybe do something about it. It’s just kind of a waste for them to do nothing about it.”

Brown said the property is more than just a golf course, as it also houses a community center where multiple meetings and dinners have been held and locals have been able to come together.

“There’s no place like that if they get rid of this course,” Brown said. “We’re trying to advocate how marvelous [it is].”