Architect's rendering of clubhouse expansion
The City of San Diego, golfers who frequent the Balboa Park Golf Course, and pedestrians who traipse and cycle the the winding road where the clubhouse is located hope to replace the 1930s clubhouse, pathways, and the adjacent dirt parking lot. They hope to do so by using cash from the Golf Enterprise Fund, an extra fee tacked on to the green fees golfers pay to play the 18-hole city-owned golf course. Good news for them: the city attorney's office has changed their opinion and is now allowing the city to use those funds on non-golf-related portions of the project.
The change of heart comes amid questions over whether or not tapping into the "Golf Enterprise Fund" violated Proposition 26, the state law requiring any tax or fee’s approval by two-thirds of the electorate unless the revenues of said fee are used specifically to benefit those who pay the fee. Because the renovations include a bicycle and pedestrian path, updated wedding facilities, a new bar and restaurant — amenities that will be used by the general public and not solely golfers — using those revenues were at first thought to be contrary to the law.
Of course, the city has been stung by that provision before, most recently in the case of the Greater Golden Hill Maintenance Assessment District. In that case, the city was forced to dissolve the maintenance-assessment district for (among other issues) failing to address the specific benefits for residents who paid the assessment and the improvements benefiting the general public. The city continues to defend several lawsuits over special assessments.
Oddly enough, the same community that won the lawsuit wishes to use the golf revenues on the non-golf-related items.
In February of this year, the Greater Golden Hill Planning Group voted to deny the clubhouse expansion solely because, at the time, pedestrian improvements were not included in the plans. In fact, before the vote, city staffers were under the impression that the Golf Enterprise Fund could not be used for any pedestrian improvements.
This from a February 15 article by the Reader's Ian Anderson:
[Project manager Todd] Schmit indicated the Golf Enterprise Fund, which would be paying for the new development, would or could not be used for improvements to Golf Course Drive, which also cannot be funded by the city's Street Division because it is considered a park road.
While private developers would be required to provide pedestrian-access considerations, work on the public golf course seems to exist in a bureaucratic gray area, where the project does not seem to be accountable for maintenance or improvements to its access road.
Since siding with the residents, the city attorney's office has given the council and city staff the green light to move forward with the plan.
"The use of Golf Enterprise Funds to construct special event facilities at the proposed Balboa Park Golf Course Clubhouse is a permissible use of those funds if the special event facilities are for the operation, maintenance and development of the golf course," reads a May 27 memorandum from the city attorney's office.
"Similarly, the use of Golf Enterprise Funds for pedestrian and bicycle improvements to Golf Course Drive as part of the proposed Balboa Park Golf Course Clubhouse Project is a permissible use of these funds if these pedestrian and bicycle improvements are for the operation, maintenance and development of the golf course.
"The use of the Golf Enterprise Funds for these purposes is likely exempt from Proposition 26 under the 'specific benefits or privileges' exemption or the 'use of property' exemption, or both, although the 'specific benefits or privileges' exemption requires that a determination be made that these improvements provide a specific benefit to the payors, and that the fees charged do not exceed the reasonable cost to the government of providing that benefit or privilege."
The city council is expected to weigh in on the expansion project during an upcoming hearing.