When golf trumps cash
By JIM RIGHEIMER - DP 5/26/07
What is the ideal use of land? That is a difficult question to answer without first looking at several factors: What is it being used as currently? Do you have alternative uses? What does the public want? These are all important questions to ask, but the answer to one alone will not suffice.
I raise this issue because the lease will soon be up on the back nine holes of the Newport Beach Golf Course. The county leases the land to a course operator, and at the same time, John Wayne Airport needs more space for rental car companies. Should the county extend the lease or make another use of the property?
This is clearly becoming a heated issue around town, but so far all I have heard are the anecdotal stories of how much people love the course. Give that credit to Dave Ellis, the consultant hired by the course operators to get their lease extended. No one knows how to craft a debate better than Ellis.
In the end this may be more of a political decision than an economic one. Going against golf courses is more dangerous than fighting Republicans, Democrats, union bosses and big business combined. It could be because so many of these people mentioned are golfers themselves. Let's face it: Golfers can be a little fanatical. What other sport calls spouses golf widows?
Let me start off by saying that I am not on either side of this debate. I live on a golf course (Mesa Verde Country Club). It's a great game, and the last thing I want to do is tear out a golf course and put in a parking lot. I do, however, want the debate to be more than just, "I like golf, so the golf course should stay."
We need to look at the issue as a whole and come to a few conclusions before we make a decision. And if that decision is to keep the golf course, then I will be more than happy. I just want to make sure that the decision is made with all the facts on the table. I am always amazed by how many of these issues are decided without all the facts.
So here is my stab at some of the important questions.
How large is the back nine? My back-of-the-napkin calculations put it at 30 acres plus.
How much is it worth? Land in the area easily sells for $2 million an acre for office buildings. Let's discount it 25% for being under the flight path, about $1.5 million per acre. That times 30 acres equals $45 million. Now we're talking about real money.
Does the county have any other uses for the land? So far we have only heard about the rental car lot.
But there are other competing issues. John Wayne's proposed expansion adds a new terminal and an additional 2,500-space parking structure. You might ask yourself if we would have to build a parking structure that large if we had some land for parking, hence the back nine. Parking structures cost roughly $25,000 a space. If we move half the new need at JWA (1,250 spaces) multiplied by $25,000 we save at least $31,250,000 in construction costs, and we only used eight of those 30 acres.
So in the end, I am just asking a few simple questions, the most important of which is this: How much is it worth to the taxpayers to have the back nine? Thirty-one million dollars? Forty-five million dollars?
The driving force behind all these issues is the expansion of John Wayne. As we have predicted for years, the airport use is going up.
Bottom line, if the airport gets expanded it will need more parking for passengers and rental car companies. And, therefore, this decision — and many more like it — are coming down the pike.
So while we get the hard decisions in this part of the county, Irvine is debating how to spend its $1.5 billion on El Toro Great Park instead of El Toro airport.
Maybe they should use some of that money to pay for the additional parking structures needed. That way we wouldn't have to worry about losing our golf course.
# JIM RIGHEIMER is a Costa Mesa planning commissioner, a local developer and a GOP activist.
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Rob Dickson wrote on May 27, 2007 1:33 PM:
" Government serves people, not shareholders. Government isn't profitable, nor should it be. Parks are a horrendous return on the dollar, as are freeways, beaches, and sports fields. You KNOW this, but still present this ludicrous argument for the best use of the land from a purely fiscal perspective. There is no question that a golf course (open, green space) used by countless residents for decades, and where countless learn the sport, is a better use than a rental car parking lot, profit be damned. As for the El Toro quip - it is time to stop kicking that horse. "