Oswit Land Trust (OLT) has acquired one of multiple Palm Springs golf courses it hopes to turn into a nature preserve, it was announced during an event Tuesday morning at Demuth Park.
The acquisition comes in the form of a donation from Brad Prescott, who announced during the event he purchased 180 acres of land used for the Mesquite Golf and Country Club and is turning it over to OLT. The golf course has languished for years, leading to speculation that it would eventually become land for much-needed housing in the city. Its current owner will reportedly retain the golf course’s clubhouse and parking lot area.
In announcing the event last week, Jane Garrison, president of OLT, said the acquisition should serve as a historic event for those hoping to preserve open space in the city.
“This is THE one that everyone will talk about for years to come!” Garrison wrote in a social media post. “This is THE one that other communities will look to us as an example! This is THE one that exemplifies being proactive versus reactive!”
Garrison, whose organization recently closed a deal on another significant parcel of land in the southern part of the city – 4,000 acres known as The Goat Trails – said OLT has been working for the past two years on securing the golf course land in hopes of kickstarting creation of a project known as Mesquite Desert Preserve. On Tuesday she said the project will now be named “Prescott Preserve.”
As envisioned, the preserve would combine the Mesquite course, which has languished in recent years, with the adjacent Bel Air Greens, a neighborhood eyesore since it closed since 2014, to create a desert oasis with native plants and trees, walking paths for locals, educational signs, and community gardens.
For owners of the 600 condominiums that surround the Mesquite golf course, talk of the impending purchase was met with mixed reactions. Some have asked the city for years to prevent the property from being used for housing, hoping to preserve it as open space. Others fear that without the presence of golf course maintenance crews on the land it will become an encampment for unhoused city residents.
A member of the homeowners association (HOA) board that governs the condominiums said Monday residents have received little information about OLT’s specific plans for the property, including what will become of lease agreements between the seller and the HOA. In a letter to HOA members July 20, the HOA’s board of directors wrote that they were aware of the sale, but had little additional information to pass along.
“We have been communicating with (the owners) related to the poor conditions of the clubhouse, locker rooms, meeting rooms, restaurant facility, outdoor tennis courts, indoor racquetball courts and the golf course …,” the board wrote. “The Association has retained special counsel who recently sent a final demand letter to the Golf Course Owner requiring compliance with the lease obligations for the Property.”
The nature preserve was initially planned to be 500 acres and involve four different golf courses. For now, however, the Mesquite course may be all that’s available.
A plan to purchase one of two city-owned courses that make up the Tahquitz Creek Golf Resort was dropped by Garrison’s group last year after protests by homeowners that line the courses. Neither the Legend or Resort courses are currently mentioned on the preserve’s website. Garrison said Tuesday her organization’s plans for those courses is “on the back burner, but we’re still pursuing ways to protect both of them from development.”
OLT’s hopes to purchase Bel Air Greens also appear in jeopardy following comments made by one of the property’s owners, a member of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.
Speaking during an online public meeting in May about a proposal to zone the former golf course as housing, John Andreas told audience members that using the land for housing would be “the highest and best use, which will directly benefit my family and future generations of my family.”
Andreas said he supports the land’s current leaseholder — Tommy Jacobs Limited Partnership – which hopes to buy the land from him and other tribal members and convert it to lots for single-family homes.
“I’m hearing that people are wanting to keep this open and they want to do this with OUR land — MY land,” Andreas said during the Zoom meeting. “The intent of this lease is to develop it for residential use. This will provide the greatest return for leasing OUR land.”
Andreas went on to say that OLT’s offer for the land would also be far too low.
“We’re not taking $4 million,” Andreas said. “That is a complete joke. If they want to start the bid, they better start a little bit higher than $4 million. That’s a slap in our face.”
OLT has been involved with several efforts to acquire and protect lands in and around Palm Springs. It was initially formed to purchase Oswit Canyon from developers who proposed building hundreds of homes on the land near Indian Canyons off South Palm Canyon Drive. Its purchase of the Goat Trails is believed to be the single largest land conservation purchase in the history of the Coachella Valley.
Editor’s note: Reporters Kendall Balchan and Sam Ribakoff contributed to this report.