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Residents Rally Against Plans For San Luis Rey Downs Golf Course

Photo by Alison St John

San Luis Rey Golf Course, Bonsall, Feb 2014

It was standing room only at the San Luis Rey Country Club, as about three hundred neighboring residents showed up to hear what could be the future of the 50 year old golf course. They were angry they were told only days ago about plans that have been in the works for more than two years, to convert the green links back into native riparian habitat.

The current manager of the course, Bill Thead, said the company has been losing money for the past nine years, and is no longer viable. It’s part of a national trend, he said, due to overbuilding of golf courses.

“They’re closing all around the country,” he told the crowd, “ They’re closing here, they’re closing everywhere, and until enough of the them close, and supply and demand are balanced, it’s going to continue to happen.”

Many residents said they were afraid their property values would be affected. Bob Hilary, a real estate agent from Fallbrook said it would be equivalent to living next to a swamp.

The company hoping to turn the golf course back to its natural state, Conservation Land Group, plans to convert the land into a mitigation bank. This can be a profitable enterprise, as developers will pay for approximately an acre of the wetland as a mitigation credit, to offset environmental damage on half an acre of land they develop elsewhere.

Photo by Alison St John

Kevin Knowles of Conservation Land Group speaking to a standing-room-only meeting about the future of the San Luis Rey Golf Course. Feb 2014

Some at the meeting speculated that the course would be sold for three to four million dollars and could be turned around for twice that much as mitigation credits.

Thread said a golf course in Santa Barbara has already been turned into a mitigation bank.

Tim DeGraff, a consultant for Conservation Land Group, said there could be benefits to restoring Moosa Creek that runs through the property, since it would help avoid flooding in the future. He said reverting to natural habitat would save water used to irrigate the golf course, and benefit the water table. The project would create less traffic than the golf course generates, since the restored native wetland will be off limits for the public.

The riparian stream habitat will include trees, such as willows, sycamores up to 175 feet tall, and live oaks.

Residents worried about mosquitos, homeless encampments and increased fire hazards. They asked where they could walk their dogs if the area is fenced off.

A suggestion that the community rally together to purchase the golf course is not currently feasible, since Conservation Land Group has an exclusive option to buy the land. However if it turns out the permits are impossible to obtain, that option runs out at the end of this year.

The Army Corp of Engineers and the California Department of Fish and Game will be just two of the agencies involved in granting the necessary permits.

At the end of the public meeting, a representative from the Army Corps of Engineers complimented the community on their involvement in the issue, and extended the period of public comment, which was due to end in early March, to March 31st.


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