The Goleta City Council’s 3-2 rejection of a study examining Glen Annie Golf Club’s plan to convert its 176-acre, 18-hole course into a nine-hole executive course surrounded by 190 units of housing has caused current owner ValleyCrest Companies to effectively throw in the towel. Beginning July 6, the course will be under new ownership, although current management is unsure who it will be and what that means for golfers who currently use the course. “As far as this ownership is concerned, we’re closing our doors on July 6,” said Rich Nahas, the club’s general manager. “It’s sad. The place has been an amazing integral part of the Goleta and Santa Barbara Community for 12 years.” The club, which does not require private membership, is one of the more affordable courses in the area. ValleyCrest had looked into the option of selling private memberships in an effort to raise more revenue, although it was later determined that the loss of visitors caused by that move would further decrease income generated by the course.
Between the restaurant, golf course, and pro shop, Glen Annie Golf Club currently employs 75 people, but Nahas said annual losses stand at about $1 million. Saddled with a debt of approximately $15 million, ValleyCrest was looking for other options. After more than 200 community meetings over the past three years, the housing plan, known as Glen Annie Fields was their way out of financial distress. Nahas posited that by denying study of the project, the city forced the owner’s hand into selling. He reported receiving a high volume of calls from people upset about the decision.
The Council majority who voted against studying the plan were focused upon the property’s current agricultural zoning, which would require a general plan amendment to change, as well as annexation from the County by the City of Goleta, the Goleta Water District, and Goleta West Sanitary District. “The only thing the City of Goleta would get out of it would be the impacts, because 50 percent of the property tax goes to the County. We have to provide 100 percent of the services – police, fire, and everything else,” said Mayor Roger Aceves, pointing out that the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, in whose jurisdiction the golf course is currently located, denied the housing plan in 2004. “Now they’re blaming us for closing their golf course when it was their fault,” he said, referencing what he called an offensive advertisement taken out by ValleyCrest in the Santa Barbara News-Press this week. “It was a poor business plan from the beginning, and is the wrong reason to change the land use zoning.”
Although the city’s planning staff had recommended study of the plan, Director of Planning and Environmental Services Steve Chase said that the Council was worried about the slippery slope effect of such an action. “That land conversion is a big deal,” he said, noting planning staff’s recommendation last year to deny a general plan amendment allowing conversion of agricultural land at Bishop Ranch, which is located within city limits. “Why are we being held to fixing a real estate financial dilemma?” queried Chase, who was the County’s Deputy Planning Director when Glen Annie’s management approached the County with the Glen Annie Fields Plan. When the golf course project was begun in 1994, the agricultural land use designation was maintained, along with a conditional use permit granted by the County allowing a golf course to operate there. According to those rules, said Chase, the land is supposed to revert to pure agricultural zoning should the golf course fail.
One of the key issues facing golfers affected by Glen Annie’s potential closure has been the availability of similarly-priced public courses in the area. While Glen Annie offers rates ranging from $39-74 per game – depending upon a variety of factors, mostly whether a game is played on the weekend or during the week – the only other nearby course with comparable rates is the Santa Barbara municipal course, which charges $40-50, and which is known by most players to be less challenging and more crowded. The other two public courses, Sandpiper and Rancho San Marcos, charge $139-159 and $95-120 respectively. “It’s unfortunate, because a lot of the people who play in Goleta will go to La Purisima [in Lompoc] and take revenue away from the City,” said Gary Rhodes, president of the Glen Annie Mens’ Club, which offers its members discounted rates and participation in monthly tournaments.
Citing past economic viability studies, Mike Dingman – a ValleyCrest Senior Vice President who has been personally involved in the golf course’s management since its inception – said that while the future of the property is uncertain, it is unlikely that it will revert to agricultural use. With current zoning, possibilities include selling the four 40-acre parcels as large estates, selling the entire property to another golf course operator, or to another developer that could try its luck later. “At the end of the day, I’d like to see [Glen Annie Golf Club] still benefit the customers and community that have supported us the 12 years we’ve been open,” said Dingman with a note of sadness in his voice. “It wasn’t in the cards for us.”