While open space efforts coalesced around the Willowick Golf Course in recent years, another potential inroad on Santa Ana’s parks shortage lingered further north up the river.

A public park has been pondered for seemingly just as long at the Riverview Golf Course, where City Hall already owns some of the land, and where the river’s concrete channel meets the green and valley-like 18-hole landscape. 

The conversion of city-owned parcels into parkland at Riverview is expected to come up for discussion at the City Council’s upcoming Tuesday meeting which usually gets going after 5:45 p.m., as requested by council members Jessie Lopez and Johnathan Ryan Hernandez. 

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From there, city staff could bring a formal land conversion proposal back to council members.

A few blocks down from the Casa de Santiago neighborhood, the golf course sits by the river’s confluence with Santiago Creek. It’s where issues of creek and habitat restoration form their own sort of tributary with issues around urban open space and park land.

Both the city and Orange County Flood Control District own certain parcels at Riverview. 

The approaching topic casts the municipal golf course in a conceptual new light in Santa Ana, where city leaders are looking to increase park acreage wherever they possibly can, and where park potential is emerging from those rare patches of green – despite their current commercial use.

The Willowick Golf Course, a 100-acre stretch of open space between Garden Grove and Santa Ana, was for the last few years the main example. 

The subject of court battles and dueling visions between two different city councils, the fight for control of Willowick showed the strong resident interest in undeveloped land in a built-out and park-poor environment. 

Open space activists saw a natural resource with community gathering potential. Housing advocates, on the other hand, saw a way to shore up a housing crisis. 

But it was the vocal request of Santa Ana’s council members – for mostly open-space on the site – that prompted Garden Grove to drop any land lease talks and throw Willowick’s fate into further uncertainty.

Meanwhile, Riverview’s always been there, if not always in the foreground. The facility with a lighted driving range, putting course, bar, grill and pro shop most recently appeared in the city’s Parks Master Plan from last May as a potential solution to increase park space.

The council-approved document is a roadmap to filling the citywide park deficit, and shows city council members just how far they have to go, counting 43 areas across town deemed “park deficient.”

“Of these, 23 are categorized as ‘high need,’ because they are below the poverty level, have a majority non-white population, have a higher residential density, and/or are in Environmental Justice Communities or […] areas for redevelopment,” reads the document.

In a city projected to grow by nearly 30,000 residents by 2030, officials are thinking beyond swathes of open land – factoring open space sites like schools for joint-use, undeveloped city-owned space, and pocket parks, which account for 3.7 of the city’s total 370 park acres.

Between 3-4% of city land in total is used for parks and recreation space, according to the Trust for Public Lands.

Currently there are 1.1 acres of parkland in Santa Ana for every 1,000 residents, which is “significantly less” than the 3 acres for every 1,000 recommended in the city’s revised General Plan. 

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