Even though I am involved in the “Stay the Course San Ramon” group, I am NOT expressing any opinion on behalf of the group or of any homeowners. This is just my take on the situation, from the viewpoint of someone who has been a real estate broker for close to 4 decades (swear to GOD, I couldn’t be that old!).
I should also note that I do not live in direct proximity to the San Ramon Golf Club; I live in neighboring Sunny Glen. Development of the property (or its deterioration) would affect me far less than those residents closer to the golf course.
For anyone who is just returning from a trip from Alpha Centauri and isn’t familiar with what’s going on, here’s the Reader’s Digest account:
In January of this year, a group of investors and developers from Beverly Hills, headed by attorney Ronald Richards and developer Michael Schlesinger, bought the San Ramon Golf Club, which had been on the market for $4.1 million. They reportedly paid nearly $9 million for the 128-acre property. Based on their past history, their plan is to close the course after the end of their promise to keep the course open for one year. They would like to build homes on this very valuable parcel of real estate.
There are at least 120 homes that abut the course, and whose standard of living and property values would surely be negatively affected by this action. Others in the surrounding area would also feel the negative effects in the form of greater property density, more traffic, more crowded schools and possibly (depending on the type of housing proposed) an increased crime rate.
The property is zoned Golf Course/Agricultural. In order to build, the City Council and Planning Commission would have to agree, by a 4/5 vote, to amend the General Plan and change the zoning to allow Richards and his partners to build townhomes and other structures on what is now a golf course and open space. There is little evident support among the Council members for such a change in the General Plan or zoning.
No one can force the owners to continue to operate the property as a golf course. There are city ordinances to prevent blight and “nuisance,” but the fines–$1,000 per day–are trivial compared to the potential gains, which could run over $100 million for Richards and his backers.
In the past, Richards has bought golf courses, closed them and allowed them to go to blight. He clearly believes that the prospect of a brown, dry golf course will ultimately force the homeowners to agree to his plan. He has claimed that he is “willing to sit on the property for 100 years if necessary” until he gets his way.
Speaking as a real estate broker and mortgage lender, I can say that, at least for the homes adjacent to the present course, building homes of any kind there will cause an immediate drop in value of $20,000 or more for each property (I can explain exactly why if anyone is interested in specifics).
It is a safe bet that Richards will close the course after his legal obligation to keep it open has terminated. Then there is the question of whether he will continue to water and cut the grass to any extent. I believe this will be the case regardless of whether there is any prospect of a rezone in the near future or not. Golf courses are very expensive to maintain–think of the cost of keeping up a 128-acre lawn. Even if there were an immediate agreement to rezone and amend the General Plan, the process of getting the Tentative Map (subdivision) created and approved is not an overnight process. It can take years. I believe it is unlikely that he would agree to spend the considerable money to maintain the property during the time it would take to complete the process of a subdivision.
For Richards, letting these properties go to blight is his “nuclear option;” in other words, he considers his leverage to be his threat to ruin the property if he doesn’t get what he wants–a sort of “dog in the manger” approach. He assumes that the prospect of a large space of weeds will be enough to induce homeowners in the community to cave in to his demands.
We should all keep something in mind: Richards and his group are invaders. They are motivated ONLY by the prospect of making a great deal of money if they are successful. They have no interest in the community of San Ramon, or the effect on our standard of living, our schools or our property values. This is not an indictment of anyone in search of a profit, by the way–but I think it is important to keep in mind what his end goal is.
They bought this property knowing its zoning ad knowing the San Ramon General Plan. The bought the property gambling that they would be able to risk about $9 million ultimately to gain many times that. We as homeowners and residents of the City have absolutely no obligation to accommodate him in any way. His ONLY weapon is his threat of allowing the property to turn brown.
Someone has observed that if the golf course goes brown, it can ultimately be brought back–at least to green, open space. If there are houses on some or all of the space, it can NEVER be brought back.
I think the matter can be boiled down to two essential sides:
- Do we attempt to negotiate some compromise in advance in an effort to minimize any damage to real estate values and to the community in general, even though there is no actual proposal on the table? Is there a possibility of getting Richards and his group to agree to maintain the portion of the course that he does not develop so as to minimize the damage to the area?
- Do we stand fast in refusing to support a rezoning to allow Richards and his backers to go through with their plan, recognizing that the golf course will become 128 acres of fenced, brown grass?
The argument in favor of the first side includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- Being proactive in negotiations could result in convincing Richards et al to agree to a smaller development, thereby preserving at least some portion of the open space and golf course.
- Opening early negotiation could give us some insight into what Richards and his group want and expect.
Arguments in favor of standing firm and opposing any move to rezone and amend the General Plan include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Richards et al purchased the property for $4 million above its asking price knowing its zoning did not support development. He took that risk with the assumption that the voters and the City would cave in to his demands.
- The developer is, not to put too fine a point on the matter, an invader. His only motive is a profit motive, irrespective of any harm to property values or the community in general. We (the voters and homeowners) owe him nothing.
- Homeowners are faced with two alternatives: some unknown number of residences (presumably condos or townhomes, because they are the most profitable to develop) on the one hand, a closed, brown former golf course on the other. There are many who believe that a closed golf course in or near their back yard is less odious than high density housing.
- Negotiating with the “invader” before he has made even an overture to the City and Planning Commission puts us in a weak negotiating position. It is up to him, not us, to make the first move.
I have written this to open an orderly dialogue on the matter. When we have 350 people in a room, conversation is nearly impossible. This medium may provide a better platform for people to air their views.
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