California county poised to acquire San Geronimo Golf Course
Marin County to tap Trust for Public Land to purchase golf course and convert it to public open space.
Sep 28, 2017
| Originally posted on
Marin Independent Journal
The San Geronimo Golf Course last changed hands in 2009. The property is back on the market because the one of the partners wants to cash out, said co-owner Jennifer Kim. Photo courtesy of Marin Independent Journal
With help from the Trust for Public Land, Marin County might acquire the San Geronimo Golf Course in West Marin and convert it to public open space.
The trust has signed an option-to-purchase agreement to buy the 157-acre golf course for about $8.7 million. The trust hopes the county will supply about half of the money to make the purchase and help it raise the rest. Ultimately, the trust would turn ownership of the land over to the county.
"This opportunity would be the capstone of a multigenerational effort to preserve San Geronimo Valley's rural character and magnificent natural resources," Marin County Parks Director Max Korten said in a statement released Monday.
The Trust for Public Land is a San Francisco-based nonprofit that facilitates and funds the creation of parks and protected lands. In this case, the trust will be borrowing money so it can make the purchase quickly before another private buyer can snap up the land.
Brendan Moriarty, a Trust for Public Land project manager, said ordinarily the trust would prefer to raise the money it needs to acquire a property in advance.
"But we didn't have that luxury here," Moriarty said. "The owner of the property needs to sell it on a fairly short-term basis. The only way to really make this work was for our organization to go out on a limb and acquire the property using borrowed funds."
In fact, the trust only got a chance to buy the golf course because a previous deal with a private buyer fell through, Moriarty said.
Korten said next month he will be asking the Board of Supervisors to approve contributing $4.2 million in general fund and Measure A sales tax money towards the purchase. The purchase option expires in December.
"The county would put in $4.2 million and the remaining $4.6 million would come from state and private sources," Korten said. "What the board would be considering in October would be an agreement to purchase the land from the Trust for Public Land contingent on raising the additional $4.6 million from outside sources."
Supervisor Dennis Rodoni, whose district includes the San Geronimo area, said the purchase would be a win both for the valley's residents and the endangered central coast coho and threatened steelhead trout in San Geronimo Creek and its tributary, Larsen Creek.
"The golf course has some of the best remaining habitat for coho salmon mostly because people weren't able to build right up to the edge of creeks," said Todd Steiner, executive director of the Turtle Island Restoration Network and SPAWN.
Steiner said Turtle Island has worked over the last two decades to restore habitat along the creek without interfering with the golf course's operations.
"The ability to restore the entire habitat into a park will be fantastic for helping the recovery of the species," Steiner said. "We look forward to working with the county on the restoration plan."
Moriarty said the Trust for Public Land is optimistic about its ability to raise $4.6 million from state and private sources. In April 2016, the trust purchased Rancho Canada Golf Course, a 190-acre golf course in Carmel Valley, and by March 2017 it had raised the $11 million it took to pay for the property. Contributors to the purchase included the California Wildlife Conservation board, California State Coastal Conservancy, California Department of Natural Resources and California Department of Fish and Game.
Korten said that if the county acquires the golf course property it will no longer be feasible to locate a wastewater recycling unit at the location that was being considered on the banks of San Geronimo Creek. The unit is seen as a way of addressing failing septic systems in Woodacre and San Geronimo Flats. It would have supplied the golf course with reclaimed water for irrigation.
Brian Staley, who heads the San Geronimo Planning Group and serves on the Sierra Club's Marin Group, said he is excited about the prospect of the golf course's conversion to parkland and pleased that the plan for the wastewater recycling unit is being re-evaluated.
"In order for the sewage from Woodacre to get to that site, large high-pressure raw sewage lines would have to cross the creek," Staley said. "That is a real concern."
Lorene Jackson, a project manager in Marin's Environmental Health Services division, said planned improvements to the creek will result in the original site for the recycling unit falling into the 100-foot setback from the creek. Jackson said it might, however, still be possible to build the unit at another location on the property.
Staley said behind the scenes there has also been discussion of relocating the West Marin fire station in Woodacre to the golf course property.
"That is one possible option for the golf clubhouse site," Staley said. "It is already disturbed and has extensive parking."
Korten said it is too early to speculate on future uses for the clubhouse.
The Trust for Public Land and Marin County are seeking a partner who can continue operating the golf course and clubhouse through the fall of 2019. Korten, however, said if no partner can be found the golf course could close as soon as the purchase is completed in December or January.
Jennifer Kim has run the 18-hole golf course since August 2009 along with her father Robert Lee, who owns the property along with two silent partners. Kim said the sale was necessary because one of the partners wants to cash out.
"It's really sad that the current ownership won't be able to continue," Kim said. "We're really hopeful that the trust and the county will keep their word and try to keep it open for at least two years. Everyone here is like family."
Kim said the golf course has 30 to 40 full- and part-time employees and even for some of the part-time employees it is their only source of income.
Jack Fiorito of Tiburon said he belongs to the golf course's men's club, which has about 70 to 80 members, and has been playing there for about 10 years.
"It is a challenging course, and it is in a beautiful situation," Fiorito said. "When you get over White's Hill and start down that valley, it's a gorgeous thing. I can understand why the land trust would want to acquire it.
"I will really miss playing at the course," he said. "It's a gem in the county."