Lawsuit Seeks to Block Redevelopment of Oldest Golf Course in Orange County, California
Residents Clash With City Leaders Over Future of 102-Acre Site
The 90-year-old Willowick Golf Course could be redeveloped as a commercial project.
A group representing residents and organized workers sued the cities of Santa Ana and Garden Grove in California to halt the planned sale of Willowick Golf Course, a publicly owned 102-acre site eyed by the cities as one of Orange County's largest and last remaining parcels for commercial and residential development.
Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana this week on behalf of local residents who want to see parks and other open space or affordable housing rather than market-rate housing or other commercial development at 3017 W. Fifth St. , the county's oldest 18-hole golf course, which opened in 1928.
Garden Grove, which owns the property located in Santa Ana, issued a request for proposals in April to redevelop the site when the golf course's lease expires at the end of this year. The city received a dozen proposals by the June 28 deadline but have not made them available to the public, according to the lawsuit that seeks to prevent any sale of the property.
The group, which includes Rise Up Willowick, a coalition composed of residents and community organizations, alleges that the redevelopment plans violate the state Surplus Land Act requiring that cities, counties, transit districts and other agencies prioritize land sold or leased for affordable housing development.
"The affordability crisis is particularly acute in Garden Grove and Santa Ana as these cities have high concentrations of people living below the poverty line," the nonprofit group said in the lawsuit. Garden Grove and Santa Ana are also "park poor" under California community development law standards, and "the severe shortage of parks disproportionately impacts people of color and low-income communities," according to the lawsuit.
Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development did not respond to a request for comment. The city of Garden Grove said in a statement that it bought the commercial golf course in Santa Ana in 1964 and has continued to operate it as a commercial venture ever since,
"The property has never been used for governmental purposes," according to the statement. "The Surplus Land Act does not apply because the land is not surplus, it has never been declared surplus, nor ever held as surplus by the city of Garden Grove."
Garden Grove and Santa Ana are still in the process of evaluating the proposals based on three "vision proposals," which consider the option of building a stadium, a commercial office district with a cultural center or a creative office campus surrounded by parks, according to Garden Grove's website.
The golf course is part of 3,800 acres in various locations designated as opportunity zones, a federal program that provides tax incentives to developers, in the city of Santa Ana, according to city documents. Opportunity zone advocates have touted the site as a master planned community that could include multiple types of commercial space.
Rise Up Willowick community organizer Cynthia Guerra said the group is addressing the lack of public input and accountability of the two city councils.
"This development process, if it involves public land, should be guided by the public’s demands," Guerra said in a statement on the group's website.
"Residents must be the authors in their own development and should decide how our communities change, develop and grow to prevent displacement."