Santa Ana, Garden Grove Open Talks Over Willowick Golf Course

Santa Ana and Garden Grove will begin talks about the possible redevelopment of the 102.1-acre Willowick Golf Course, after both city councils voted to approve a memorandum of understanding and hold a joint study session about uses for the property.

For years officials, without success, have floated various plans for the golf course, which is owned by the city of Garden Grove but located in Santa Ana.

In 2008, Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido announced talks to turn the property into an arena for the soccer team Chivas USA, but the negotiations died in 2011. Garden Grove officials, meanwhile, considered turning the property into a rock and roll-themed amusement park.

In 2015, Santa Ana city officials discussed purchasing the property and converting it into a large public park, as an antidote to the city’s lack of park space.

Now with a ground lease for the operation of the golf course expiring in 2019, and construction of the Orange County Streetcar expected to be complete in 2020, officials are approaching the discussions with some added urgency.

The golf course is near the Garden Grove-Santa Ana border, next to the Santa Ana River and east of Harbor Boulevard.

The 4.15 mile route of the OC Streetcar begins at the Santa Ana Metrolink train station, runs through downtown Santa Ana and ends at Harbor Boulevard and Westminster Avenue in Garden Grove. The route runs along a section of the former Pacific Electric railroad, which could connect Willowick Golf Course to the main streetcar route.

Revenues to the city from the golf course have generally declined over the past decade. The golf course brought in $435,000 in the 2014-15 fiscal year compared to $650,000 in 2007-2008, according to city budgets.

The one-page memorandum of understanding between the two cities provides few details, but requires the two cities to hold a joint study session where they will discuss next steps.

Santa Ana City Council members approved the agreement at their Sept. 17 meeting, followed by the Garden Grove City Council at their Sept. 26 meeting.

Asked whether selling the property to Santa Ana for a park is on the table, Garden Grove Mayor Steve Jones said, “probably not realistically.”

Although Garden Grove has not done an appraisal of the site, in 2015 the city finance director told the Orange County Register that the property is worth at least $200 million, at $2 million per acre.

Jones said both cities should “resist the temptation” to try to decide how the golf course should be developed.

“I would really like to hear from the private market what they envision is feasible and what would work there,” Jones said. “I think all too often cities try to define their vision for the site and they artificially create a lot of limitations for it.”

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or 415-484-9286. Follow her on twitter @thyanhvo.