Why Save Swenson?
Updated: Aug 21, 2018
What is this really all about?
There are a variety of factors involved in the Save Swenson Golf Course and Park movement. Swenson Golf Course and Park consists of 224 acres of green space in the heart of North Stockton. Established in 1952, it was designed to provide recreation and quality of life for Stockton while preserving wildlife and Old Growth Oak trees, encouraging an affordable option for golfers. The existence of the park is what enhances and maintains property values in the area, encouraging people to visit, shop and live in Stockton.
In 2010, when our City of Stockton was in deep financial stress, an idea surfaced to sell the Swenson property to developers for a financial wind-fall that could help the situation at the time. The city council decided to issue a “Request for Proposal,” or RFP instead. An RFP is basically an opportunity to bid on the leasing or renting of the golf course from the city. The city would collect rents and the tenant would be responsible for the upkeep, improvement and hopefully profit from the property. Unfortunately, the RFP did not receive a single inquiry or offer. It failed.
On December 4th of 2017, a closed council meeting was scheduled to discuss a study which was requested by current Mayor, Tubbs. This 70 page document outlined plans and maps to develop Swenson Park into Affordable Housing, between 600-900 units. The plan itself disclosed that developing the property was not feasible and flawed in many different directions. You may read the study here: https://stockton.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3248925&GUID=06511007-FC29-4B2A-86A7-B369EDA2218A
In response to this meeting to discuss the fate of Swenson Golf Course and Park, 200+ citizens showed up to protest this proposal and the Save Swenson movement was born.
In defense of the position that Swenson Golf Course and Park is a financial drain, the city lumped together Van Buskirk Golf Course with Swenson Golf Course and claimed the drain on the city park subsidies was in excess of $850,000. This created much confusion.
The Van Buskirk Golf Course property is very different from the Swenson Golf Course property in several ways. Any prudent accounting system would have put these two profit centers into their own separate categories, evaluating each on its’ own merits.
At a “Town Hall” meeting held by the City Council and office of the City Manager, January 29th of 2018, at Sierra Middle School, neighbors and concerned citizens were presented with a break-down of the costs involved with the 2 golf courses. Per this slide-show, Swenson Park showed an annual subsidy of around $320,000 per year. Van Buskirk’s subsidy was much higher, at around $500k. You may read the actual financial reports filed by the city here: http://www.stocktongov.com/files/GolfFinancials.pdf
The two properties are different in many ways. The Van Buskirk property was donated to the City of Stockton by the Van Buskirk family with a Deed Restriction, limiting the use of the property for recreation only. The City may not ever sell this property for development or for any other purpose. The neighborhood demographics of the two courses is also very different. Swenson is surrounded by middle and upper middle class housing, up-scale shopping and directly across the street from Lincoln High School, (in an already traffic congested area.)
Also, Swenson Golf Course is unique, it boasts 2 golf courses. One is a full 18-hole championship course, which will challenge any experienced golfer. The other is a 9-hole, 3 par course, perfect for junior golfers learning the game, novice or less-skilled golfer and seniors. Swenson is the home of the First Tee program, which is a San Joaquin County wide junior golf program. Swenson also has it's own Junior Golf Program, which encourages our youth to learn the valuable lessons that golf can provide. Members of Swenson Golf Course, and neighbors help sponsor those children who would otherwise be unable to afford to golf. Without the golf course, our youth would have few options and our seniors would lose their affordable retirement pass-time.
Swenson Park is owned by the city and therefore with a vote of 4 city council members, the city may sell the property or basically do whatever they want with it, at any time, regardless of what the neighbors want. It probably looked like a simple solution as the property, estimated at $20million, is worth quite a bit of money. From the City’s perspective, they were solving a budget issue, improving the property they couldn’t sell (Van Buskirk) and providing affordable housing to the masses who are currently struggling with housing shortages. This is SHORT-SIGHTED! We cannot afford to lose this beautiful green space forever, to solve a temporary problem.
Both golf courses have been neglected for many years and have not been given the customary upgrades which would make them competitive with more modern courses. The estimate to upgrade Swenson is about $1.5million. Van Buskirk has many other issues which amount to about $6million, according to the Town Hall presentation. You may read it here: http://www.stocktongov.com/files/GolfCourseCommunityMeeting_January_29_2018.pdf
It is also important to note that the numbers regarding the subsidy for Swenson golf course do not match what we’ve been told by the current management company. The numbers in the report do not add up as there are many more rounds of golf at Swenson than Van Buskirk and the per golfer cost or subsidy is much, lower, about 1/3 of Van Buskirk. Also note the subsidies being paid for other local parks listed in the report. Every city subsidizes parks and recreation. Quality of life, clean air and water, are major factors for anyone wanting to live in a city with a healthy environment.
In addition ~ Great News ~ Since the Save Swenson movement has started, the golf course revenue has jumped substantially. I've even heard that Swenson may be out of the red and into the black, actually making a profit. I am very interested to see how it all shakes out.
With a loud outcry of protest from Stocktonians everywhere, the city announced, they would NOT sell Swenson. Instead, they would issue an “RFP.” Recall, the last RFP failed. The problem with the current RFP is it requires the new tenant to take over management of the golf course, pay rent to the city and be responsible for the $1.5million in upgrades. The new tenant would be completely responsible for their own profit margin without any help from the city. The RFP also states, the city, with 180 days-notice, may take back the property and cancel the rental agreement.
I don’t know of any company that would agree to such a thing, however solid negotiations with the city may overcome the short-comings of the RFP. We can remain hopeful. You may read a copy of the RFP here: http://www.stocktongov.com/files/RFP_PUR_18_012_SwensonGolfCourse.pdf
In addition, the RFP expired on August 16th, 2018….Now what? I’ve heard that the current management company, Kemper has made an offer, along with 2 other organizations. I have my fingers crossed. Regardless, I still believe we cannot afford to be complacent. There are too many catastrophic factors involved. Let’s face it, it wouldn’t be the first time elected officials sold property without caring how it affects the people who live there.
DO NOT TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE BALL FOLKS! Swenson is NOT Saved!
HUGE Issues with development of Swenson Park. Reality: All it takes is 4 votes of the Stockton City Council to sell the property. That could happen any time, tomorrow, next year, 5 years or even 10 years from now.
1. Infrastructure ~ to build housing units on Swenson will require a complete revamp of the current water, sewer, drainage systems. The Swenson property would require streets, lighting and much more.
2. Traffic Issues ~ Benjamin Holt Drive would have to be completely redesigned due the additional 1,000-2,000 cars that would be added to the area. The cost of this one thing alone could add up to 10s of $millions!
3. Safety concerns ~ with Lincoln High School and Sierra Middle School across the street from the Swenson property, the safety of our children would be at serious risk. The population of the Swenson development would probably be around 2,700 people, at an average size of 2.5 per household.
4. Lincoln Unified ~ it has been estimated that Lincoln Unified would require about $100Million to accommodate the influx of new students, including building a new school. They are already over capacity with over 3,000 students at the High School alone. Lincoln Unified would be completely over loaded and unable to handle this large of a development.
5. Green Space ~ The importance of Green Space in our community cannot be overstated. Stockton is the lowest in the nation per capita for green space at a miserable 1.8 - 3%. Sacramento, our neighbor is #1 in the nation at 10% green space. Why is this important? According to the Stockton Tree Foundation's report, Swenson provides 14,000 people with oxygen. The golf course greens and fairways, trees and plants filter water allowing it to seep back into the water table where it is desperately needed. The tree canopy itself sequesters tons of carbon emissions and pollution, keeping it out of our lungs and water. The old growth oak trees date back to the civil war and provide a snap shot of what Stockton and San Joaquin Valley looked like before it was developed. The golf course and park is home to several protected and endangered wildlife. Read all about it.
6. Swenson Park Golf Course ~ Swenson Golf Course is Unique. People from everywhere come to Stockton to enjoy the beautiful golf courses. Swenson boasts 2 golf courses. A championship 18 hole course and a 9 hold, par 3 course, perfect for seniors, beginners and junior golfers. Swenson is affordable, unlike the surrounding private country clubs. The course provides revenue which helps off-set the city subsidies. With some upgrades and an event center, Swenson could be profitable. Swenson is home of First-Tee of San Joaquin, a program designed to teach children the value of self-discipline, enjoyment and self-esteem through the game of golf, and, Swenson has its’ own Junior Golf Program and has been the home-course of many up and coming professional golfers, such as Ricky Barnes.
7. Property Values in the Area ~ the value of the residences within a 2 mile radius would be negatively affected by the loss of the "country club" feel of the area. Swenson Golf Course and Park add value. You can expect an immediate drop in your property values without the park. Probably the most frustrating part of this situation is that the majority of the households are in county pockets. These county residents have no voice with regards to city budget issues, they cannot vote on it, and the County Supervisor’s Office has said loud and clear, they will not make a statement or take action on behalf of their constituents in the county at this time. “We will not get involved in City budget issues.”
8. Mello-Roos ~ How will all these new costs for services, infrastructure and schools be handled? The County, City, and school district may assess a Mello-Roos Tax against your property. Here is some information I found online about how it can be assessed.
"A Closer Look at Mello-Roos
In 1982, The Mello-Roos Community Facilities District Act was enacted as an alternative financing plan for municipal improvements and services. Named for California State Senator Henry Mello and Assemblyman Mike Ross, the Act was passed as a response to Proposition 13 which limited the ability of local governments to finance new projects. Mello-Roos allows any school district, city, county, or joint powers of authority to establish what is known as a Mello-Roos Community Facilities District.
These districts supplement services such as police, fire, ambulance, infrastructure, libraries, museums, cultural facilities, parks, schools, and sewer system through bonds; which are paid for by a special tax assessed to homeowners in those districts. So, is Mello-Roos good, or is it bad?
How is Mello-Roos Calculated?
Mello-Roos is calculated based on the value of usage of your property. This was a way governments could get around proposition 13. It’s all about the verbage.
According to Steve Lander, Author and Financial Consultant at Zacks, Mello-Roos typically does not exceed 1.5% of a property's value. Mello-Roos is calculated based on the value of usage of your property.
According to Steve Lander, Author and Financial Consultant at Zacks, Mello-Roos typically does not exceed 1.5% of a property's value. Although not calculated on value, due to Proposition 13, this formula is pretty accurate.
For example, if your home is worth $350,000, you could be assessed a Mello-Roos tax up to around $5,250 per year. This assessment could go on forever, or could end once bonds used to pay for the infrastructure needs have been repaid.
What are You Willing to Pay? What are you willing to risk?
The Recreational Park District ~ a Recreational Park District is a method that has been used successfully by our Sacramento neighbors over 20 times. A park district takes over the park properties within the district, from the city, and are managed by the people who live there, the people with the most to gain or lose, those who care the most. To fund the project and get it off the ground, the property owners within the district would pay a modest $50-$150 per year assessment, (depends on how many houses are within the district.) This is a HUGE difference from Mello-Roos.
The beauty of this park district, is that as funds are raised in other ways, such as concerts, events, sponsorships, donations, the assessment can be cancelled. The board/neighbors would be able to vote on how to manage the parks and recreation. Sometimes cities stay involved and continue to offer subsidies and services.
Sacramento County, a leader in the nation for green space boasts 20 Recreational Park Districts. Other smaller communities near Stockton, also have Recreational Park Districts. Swenson Oaks Recreational Park District would be the first in Stockton. That’s pretty exciting. This would assure the property could never be sold for development and the property owners who benefit most from the intrinsic value of the park would be in charge of it. The challenge with creating the Recreational Park District, is it requires a very detailed legal process and ballot measure that would be voted on by the people in the proposed district. In Stockton, voter participation is extremely low. The cost for the engineering report, defining the boundaries runs around $40,000. The entire cost of the project is estimated to run around $80k - $100k.
This is not insurmountable, however. For example, if 1,000 residents of the 29,000 households involved pitched in $10 per month…we would have $10,000 per month to work with. We could do this.
Save Swenson Political Action Committee conducted a poll recently, to ask the homeowners in the proposed district if they would vote in favor of the Recreational Park District, and if they would be willing to pay an assessment. It was clear that the majority of those polled were in favor of Saving Swenson and would be amenable to paying the small amount that would be needed.
Confusion arose when asked if they were willing to support other parks in the district, Grupe Park in Lincoln Village West and Stuart Gibbons Park on Hammer Lane, Colonial Heights area. Every park within the district boundaries would become a part of the Recreational Park District. A neighbor from each neighborhood would be on the board and able to provide input on their respective park, on behalf of the neighborhood. Results of the poll indicated that people in Colonial Heights did not favor supporting Grupe, and conversely, people in Lincoln Village West were not in favor of supporting Stuart Gibbons. All agreed we need to Save Swenson.
So hopefully, now you have more information than you did before. You know what is at risk, and you've been provided with a solution. What are you willing to do to help #SaveSwenson? It will take all of us to do it. Right now, we need funds to move forward.
Concerts in the Park ~ Putting on the concerts shows what we can do with this beautiful property. The concerts provide us a venue to come together to enjoy each other, and also talk about this important issue. We’re giving a voice to the heart and soul of this beautiful property. The concerts take a great deal of effort and a budget of over $2,000 per event. We cannot do this alone. We need you! Donate your time, get involved, educate yourself on what's at stake here, make a monthly financial commitment to help pay for the processes that are coming, to improve and protect this beautiful park, all of our parks. Sponsor a show or have your company sponsor all of our shows.
Ready to donate? Go to Soundsofswenson.com.
Thank you for your time and energy. It is greatly appreciated.
Warmly, Suzie Bowers, CFO, Sounds of Swenson