City spending millions subsidizing golf courses as groups debate their value to the community

It’s the most hotly debated number in town in recent weeks, but is it true? Is the city of Palm Springs losing $1 million a year at its Tahquitz Creek Golf Resort?

As expected, the answer is complicated. Both supporters of keeping the two courses that comprise the resort running, and those eyeing them for a future nature preserve, have been combing through past, present, and future city budgets. While what they find is subject to interpretation, the data is not, and shows the following going back to fiscal year 2012:

  • If you account strictly for golf-related revenue minus expenditures for upkeep of the courses, the city has not lost $1 million a year, but it has lost an average of $470,000. Since the 2019-2020 budget year, those losses have averaged $1.4 million, thanks mainly to the Valentine’s Day flood that damaged the courses in 2019, and closure of the courses during the battle against COVID-19 in 2020.
  • Payments made to satisfy a refinanced bond — used to build the newer Resort Course in the 1990s — have further eaten away at any monies taken in. It cost an average of nearly $311,000 every year during the past decade to pay down that bond, but it is estimated to cost only $150,000 both this past year and next.
  • Similar to the airport and wastewater treatment facility, the golf resort budget is separate from the city’s general fund. Still, an average of $1.8 million has been transferred into the golf resort budget from the general fund annually during the past decade, including nearly $2.6 million during the pandemic, when golf revenues plunged to half of what they were in all prior years.

So far, the city has chosen to continue infusing cash into the golf courses, betting that visitors and part-time residents who flock to them — playing tens of thousands of rounds every year — will make their way to hotels, shops, and restaurants in the city, leaving behind money that finds its way to the general fund.

City staff and elected officials are on record stating any exploration of the sale of the courses is only preliminary and that no final decision would be made without significant pubic input, including a series of neighborhood meetings.

Whether the city should remain in the golf business is at the center of a debate that heated up earlier this month, when a group formed to voice support for the courses took its case to social media and printed yard signs now visible in nearby neighborhoods. Many in the group — Save PS Golf — own homes in those neighborhoods and fear losing not only their favorite recreational pastime, but also lower property values.

“I own a home on the seventh fairway of this golf course,” said one resident in comments below an earlier story by The Post. “If there’s going to be no golf course, this will decimate the value of my and all my neighbors beautiful Alexander Wexler homes.

“We don’t want strangers wandering through our yards. We don’t want sand and cacti with homeless tents. We want what we bought into. … Get your greedy hands off our paradise.”

But Jane Garrison, who heads the group that first approached the city looking to buy the Tahquitz Creek courses — Oswit Land Trust — said keeping the land the golf courses sit on a paradise is what’s behind her efforts, not greed. Her group is aiding the Trust for Public Lands as it works with the city to determine the value of the golf resort in case it decides to sell it in the future.

“If anyone believes that the city golf courses are safe from development they are ignoring the facts,” she said in an email to The Post last week. “Past city councils and probably future city councils can decide to get out of the golf business and sell the property for development.”

Tahquitz Creek supporters have labeled that claim a “scare tactic,” arguing that the city is currently required to protect the land from developers. Garrison, however, points them to a bill considered this year in Sacramento (AB 672) that died in committee, but could eventually be brought back and passed into law. The bill would make it a priority for cities considering the sale of their golf courses to offer it to developers building affordable housing.

“Yes, they would have to follow the Surplus Land Act,” Garrison said, noting current requirements city officials must follow. “The authors of the bill and the housing advocates behind it have stated that if it does not get passed this year they will continue to bring it back.

“This is a very, very real threat to our city golf course. Should we not move forward with the purchase of the city golf course, I am certain the Trust for Public Land (which has offered to help us secure the funding needed to purchase the land) would not come back to ‘rescue’ the city when the land is being sold off to a developer.”

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