San Diego San Diego's jockstrap plutocrats, with support and succor from city councilmember Scott Peters, are muscling in on land that belongs to the public, say critics. It's happening in two places: on the beach in front of the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club and at the city-owned Torrey Pines Golf Course. The California Coastal Commission will be a major arbiter in both of these disputes.
On September 11, the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club filed suit in superior court to overturn a July decision by the coastal commission that, among other things, required the City to place signage on the beach in front of the club saying "Public Beach Access Permitted." The beach and tennis club wants the sign to add "Along the Water's Edge." Even after the commission's decision, the club's enforcers have booted commoners off that area of the beach.
The club claims that because of land decisions dating back to the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, it owns the beach out to the mean high tide line. But global warming and other factors are causing sea levels to rise, and the old mean high tide lines don't mean much in this new environment. "It's a public beach. I don't think anyone on the commission would disagree with that," says San Diegan Pat Kruer, vice chairman of the commission. "The mean high tide line goes quite a ways up that beach." Others point out that even in the summer, the high tide line laps up against the club's buildings, including the Marine Room. The club rejects such assertions.
At the July meeting of the coastal commission, executive director Peter Douglas commented, "With rising sea level there is no doubt this is going to be public [trust land]." But the commission did not make a decision on that point, and it will have to be adjudicated.
In its filing, the club's lawyers said that the commission presented no evidence at the hearing that the beach club's alleged property belongs to the public. The signage change means that the public will trespass, the club's beach guards will summon the police, and the club's expenses will rise, lamented the lawyers.
In August, almost a month after the commission's decision, Denise Knapp of Poway and a friend decided to give the matter a test. They sat down on the beach in front of the club. "I didn't expect to be hassled," says Knapp. "A security guard came over and said we were trespassing and we had to leave or he would call the police." Knapp cited the commission's ruling. "He said it was incorrect; he pulled out a map that showed we couldn't sit there. But the sand was still damp. I knew the high tide line was above that point. He said that didn't matter because the property line extended to where the tide line used to be [in 1938]. His supervisor called the police," and Knapp and her friend left.
The Torrey Pines situation involves similar bullying. After a half-year of civic brouhaha, the city council in late June approved Mayor Jerry Sanders's five-year plan that effectively turns the Torrey Pines Golf Course over to upper-crust civic boosters who want to use it to attract major professional golf tournaments. Local golfers will have to pay higher fees and get in fewer full rounds. It was a victory for the tourist industry and the Century Club, a small group of nobles that already runs the Buick Open and wants to attract more major pro championships after the 2008 U.S. Open is played at Torrey Pines.
"The city's assets are being taken by a private organization," says attorney Paul Spiegelman, head of the San Diego Municipal Golfer's Alliance. The Century Club is trying to "privatize Torrey Pines Golf Course, make it a regular site for professional golf tournaments, turn it into a destination resort for wealthy tourists" at the expense of local golfers.
Hardly surprisingly, the Century Club is claiming that sponsorship of the tournaments will boost the local economy, the same way the Super Bowl is said to be worth $350 million to the host city. The U.S. Open will directly and indirectly add $100 million to $150 million to local coffers, asserts the club. "That's phony baloney," says Spiegelman, and that is a restrained critique. Economists say that a Super Bowl stimulates a regional economy by about one-tenth of what the National Football League claims.
In late April, the City approved demolition of a two-story 18,800-square-foot clubhouse at Torrey Pines and construction of a 27,000-square-foot clubhouse and 11,600-square-foot support building. The San Diego Municipal Golfer's Alliance has appealed to the coastal commission, claiming that its members did not receive notice of the hearing and that part of the land is under the control of the commission. The new buildings would ruin the view to the ocean from North Torrey Pines Road, among many things. The big point: the objective of turning the courses into sites for pro tournaments runs counter to the commission's goal of maximizing public access along the coast.
Tom Wilson, executive director of the Century Club, says that Spiegelman's group had plenty of notice about the City's demolition and construction plans. Wilson says he doesn't know whether the coastal commission has any legitimate authority in the matter.
Spiegelman says that at the 2008 U.S. Open, and at other subsequent pro events, "the North Course will be destroyed" with corporate tents and the like while the tournament is played on the famed South Course. Wilson concedes the grass under the tents will die but says it will be reseeded, "and in three to five weeks it will be back to where it was." Because the tents will be in the rough, not on fairways, people will be playing the North Course in a "week to ten days" after the tournament, he says.
Sanders spent five weeks with the hotel industry and Century Club "to figure out how to screw the people," says Spiegelman. The final council vote was the typical 7 to 1 for Sanders's plan. Only Donna Frye stood up for the people. Peters carried Sanders's water by, among other things, distorting statistics to make it look as though ordinary golfers would not be so burdened. "Scott Peters is an honorary member of the Century Club. We asked him to recuse himself and he declined," says Spiegelman.