A trial in Marin County Superior Court this week will set the stage for the next round of legal action in an ongoing dispute over the fate of the San Geronimo National Golf Course.
Judge Paul Haakenson issued a preliminary injunction in June that blocked a planned sale of the 157-acre golf course to Marin County. On Friday, Oct. 26, the court will rule on whether the golf course along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard is subject to a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review. The county, meanwhile, is in a holding pattern as it seeks to complete a deal to buy the course from a third-party nonprofit, the Trust for Public Land (TPL), and turn it into parkland.
Depending on the outcome, the legal challenge to the county’s fast-track plan to take over the golf course is shaping up as a potential triple bogey. The county is currently overseeing a revenue-deficit golf business that will cost it $62,300 in maintenance fees by year’s end; it’s looking at a finding in favor of a CEQA study that could run into the millions of dollars (the county has balked at such an outcome and says a negative ruling could put the kibosh on the whole plan); and there is the potential that environmental remediation of the golf course could threaten the very creeks the open-space initiative is designed to protect and enhance.
Why would the county need to conduct a full environmental review in order to return a golf course that’s been operational since 1961 to a more “natural” state?
Fair question. And supporters of the CEQA challenge that there are a bunch of reasons. The course contains an underground garbage pit from a ranch that was dug up in the early 1960s and that has all sorts of paint cans, farm implements, cans of oil and the like; the minerals chromite and mariposite were excavated nearby in the 1960s; fire-hazardous ghost pine trees populate the golf course; artifacts from Native Americans have also been discovered; and there’s an unremediated underground contaminant leak that the California Water Resource Board GeoTracker has an eye on.
And then there’s the Back 9, where gold mining occurred during the 1870s—and where, also in the 1960s, cinnabar deposits were “used to construct earthworks on the golf course,” according to an online explainer from the organization San Geronimo Valley Stewards. They are supporting the CEQA review and according to their website, support a continuation of recreational golf in the valley—and further efforts at local creek restoration, too.—Tom Gogola