Garden Grove city officials have halted the potential sale of the Willowick Golf Course – owned by Garden Grove and located in Santa Ana – to a for-profit developer and will instead abide by the state Surplus Land Act, which means they’ll look at any affordable housing options for the site first.
Garden Grove and Santa Ana officials – who had jointly moved to look into development of the site — had for months refused to apply the Surplus Land Act to one of the area’s last open green spaces, arguing that the site wasn’t surplus land.
That changed, according to Garden Grove spokesperson Ana Pulido, with the passage of an amendment to the land act in the state legislature that expands the definition of surplus land for local public agencies.
Pulido said Garden Grove will now “proceed subject to the Act’s requirements as amended by Assembly Bill 1486,” the amendment to the state law that Governor Gavin Newsom signed on Oct. 9.
“It’s an interesting turn of events. I’m still a little bit in shock,” said Flor Barajas-Tena, one public land advocate who has been leading a lawsuit against the cities over Willowick with community activist group, Orange County Communities for Responsible Development (OCCORD). Barajas-Tena is no longer a member of OCCORD, but is still part of the lawsuit effort.
Compliance with the Surplus Land Act consists of providing a notice of availability of the land to public agencies and housing sponsors for low-income housing or parks or school facilities for a period of 60 days, Pulido said.
“If the City receives a notice of interest, then the City will enter into good faith negotiations to determine a mutually-satisfactory sales price and terms for a period of 90 days,” she added.
But if a satisfactory price and terms cannot be negotiated within that period, Pulido said the land “may be disposed of without further regard to the Act.”
“Therefore, the current process is on hold pending the outcome of the 150-day compliance period,” she said.
OCCORD will move forward with their lawsuit over Willowick, which they filed against the cities on Oct. 7, according to their attorney Brian Olney. That’s because the group is going to try and get a court ruling on the application of the state law over their concern the city might change their mind some time during the compliance period.
For the past several months, “we repeatedly asked them just to follow the state law, and their consistent answer was no,” Olney said.
While Olney said he’s “encouraged” by Garden Grove’s sudden move, “we’re not going to dismiss the lawsuit based on Garden Grove’s actions. We’re encouraged by those actions, but we do need to move forward to ensure they don’t change their minds again later.”
A ruling on whether or not the golf course should be handled under the Surplus Land Act would be a way to ensure Garden Grove doesn’t go back on their decision, said Barajas-Tena and Olney.
This year public land advocates had criticized Garden Grove and Santa Ana for authorizing the nearly 100-acre golf course – one of the area’s last remaining open spaces — for development in January without first looking into affordable housing or community space options for the land.
Any development of the golf course into apartments or for-profit commercial spaces would price the nearby working-class Latino families out of the area, critics say. On top of that, Garden Grove and Santa Ana have just around 500 acres in combined park space, and together comprise one of the county’s most park-poor areas.
Marlha Sanchez, a resident of the nearby Santa Anita neighborhood, said Garden Grove’s move is “great news,” but it’s not the end of her worries.
“My family has lived in the Santa Anita neighborhood since the early 1960s, and my grandparents were always talking about developers coming in,” she said. “A fear of being pushed out – that was something my grandfather would talk about before he died.”
Sanchez said she’s now a single mother with two kids.
“Much of the development that’s happened in downtown has made it impossible for me and my family to participate in most of what’s happening down there,” she said. “I’m concerned that the same thing that happened there will happen here.”
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC intern. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @photherecord.