Blogging Bayport Alameda

April 12, 2011

Don’t tell me not to live, just sit and putt

Tonight, the City Council, which has been meeting quite a few times since the new Council was seated, will be taking up the issue of the Golf Course, different options and asking for direction from the City Council on how to move forward.   Interestingly enough, as part of the packet, City Staff has included several letters from a few different golf operators who are interested in stepping in if Kemper is unwilling or unable  to do what the City Council would like them to do.  At least three different companies: Bellows Golf Management, Greenway Golf, and Bill Casper Golf, have sent solicitations to the City of Alameda.

And, if that wasn’t enough to complicate matters, there is a letter from Ron Cowan of Harbor Bay Isle Associates who has now come forward about his interest in the land swap idea that was floating around two years ago.   The land swap idea, just to remind folks, is that the City would transfer the land that the Mif Albright is currently situated on for this site that is currently owned by Harbor Bay Isle Associates.    He is offering to build Alameda favorites, soccer fields and baseball fields, in exchange from being able to build his homes on the Mif Albright land.

The problem with this is that as a positive a spin as the letter seems to propose that this deal is, Ron Cowan’s recent exclusive with the Island, personally, put a damper on whatever good vibes are there.   For example:

“The only thing on the table is 36 holes, or 27,” Cowan said, adding that he’d still offer athletic fields and a new, nine-hole course. “If the golfers refuse to cooperate on the design of the 36, we will lend Kemper the money to do their 27-hole plan.”

That sort of “take it or leave it” attitude doesn’t make people necessarily want to sign up for whatever Ron Cowan is selling.

Considering that there is renewed interest in a long term operator from several new companies, it might be a good option for the City Council to step back and see what these companies can offer.   The RFP that was issued for management of the Chuck Corica Golf Course was pretty vague and put the power in the hands of the bidder to shape how the Golf Course should function instead of having the City Council dictate policy.   It would be good for the City Council to take control of this process instead of having KemperSports  or Ron Cowan telling them what they should do about the Golf Course.


  1. I don’t think it’s so much “take it or leave it” with Cowan. It’s more like “this is what I’m willing to do.” The problem with so much that goes on in this town is that too many people want unlimited access to other people’s money. Someone wants to invest in something that can have a positive effect and still make money for themselves. That’s how it works. Unfortunately, some people think the wealthy should only be allowed to give. If they want some of the take, they’re sneered at. There was a time when, if you had the money and owned the land, you built whatever you damn well pleased, like a Borox factory that did more harm than good to the community. It’s these past sins that have given investors and developers a bad name but we are not talking about a factory here, folks. Mr. Cowan is offering what he hopes will be a win/win. Of course it isn’t charity, there’s something in it for him but, if the alternative is less desirable for the community, who cares? (Okay, maybe M.I. who’d like to have him over for dinner with fava beans and a nice Chianti. 😉 )

    Comment by Denise Shelton — April 12, 2011 @ 7:12 am

  2. For third meeting in a row, the Board of Education has been moved out of City Council chambers and their meeting will be at Alameda High school cafeteria at Walnut and Oak. Among the topics of discussion is a report on the swimming pools and what the passage of Measure A means for the Master Plan.

    Comment by Mike McMahon — April 12, 2011 @ 7:17 am

  3. I would hope that the Council, when considering Mr. Cowan’s “offer” will insure that there is a good trade off. He stands to make over $100 million from the homes he wants to do, so lending the City $6 million and promising to do $3 million in park space is not a whole lot. Maybe he could up the offer to invest the whole $9 million in the development of the golf and recreation space and insure a fund to maintain it. Parks are not passive; they need maintenance and upkeep – water, mowing, sodding, sprinkler and equipment repair and so on. The trade may be a good win-win, but the terms need to be played out with a some hard ball. The City is not going to make a profit, but Mr. Cowan certainly is, and that is what he is in business for; he should be willing to do a lot for the City in return for the right to develop.

    Comment by Kate Quick — April 12, 2011 @ 7:36 am

  4. damn Ron Cowan must be ancient by now. He’s like the Al Davis of Alameda. I wonder if they ever get together, the Raider headquarters *is* on his land after all.

    Comment by E — April 12, 2011 @ 7:43 am

  5. Well, finally all the cards are on the table. We know why it’s taken so long to resolve this golf course deal, because of the politics. When Cowan’s puppet, also known as former Mayor Bev Johnson and her cohort Gallant were in power they were reluctant to reveal their scheme. Since the sun has shone on City Hall and all the nasty little back room maneuvers are being exposed Cowan is offering up some dough.

    Hold firm Council!!! Get more than the $9 million being offered. Aren’t we through with developers making gazillions and the poor city left holding all the obligation — BAYPORT–

    ALL Eyes should be on Bev tonight. When she talks, let’s see if we can see Cowan’s lips moving or if he’s moving her marionette strings. All she does is get her friends and supporters City $$$$. I can’t wait for her political career to be over, I have a calendar where I’m marking off the days!!

    Comment by Oliver Chase — April 12, 2011 @ 8:29 am

  6. Denise, I’m salivating over those Wall Street guys, not some old leg of mutton. “Fut-fut-fut-fut!”

    Comment by M.I. — April 12, 2011 @ 9:18 am

  7. Kate,

    I’m with you. The city could actually rezone the property and entitle it themselves (they own it), and then sell all or portions of the property and use a portion of the proceeds to make the $6m in improvements to the the golf complex.

    They don’t actually need Cowan so I hope they get more than he’s offering.

    Comment by Karen Bey — April 12, 2011 @ 9:42 am

  8. Karen, don’t forget that there is a court settlement between the city and Cowan for him to be able to build X number of homes. I guess that is where he comes into the deal. I would just go back to the original plan that he had to do homes on his existing property and see if we can’t get that done. My problem with selling off open space park land is that it can never be replaced. No matter what you put on it, its gone forever.

    post#5, Oliver I could not agree with you more, you nailed it.

    Comment by John P. — April 12, 2011 @ 9:56 am

  9. 1, 3, 5:

    The way Ron Cowan has presented this “offer” it sure feels like a “Take it or leave it” deal, and not a terribly generous or fair one for Alameda at that.

    I want to make sure he has fulfilled all of his original obligations from the agreements he made at the beginning of Harbor Bay , too. As I understand it he promised to fund community benefits and then failed to do so, but that was before I arrived here. The fact that he wants the City of Alameda to help him make a profit is NOT a valid reason for the City to move a popular golf course.

    I have lots of questions:

    1. IF moving the Mif Albright was important, a good value for the City, and a worthy idea on its own merits, why is the AJGA not in favor of moving it?

    2. What happens to the $250K grant and all the support that AJGA has won for improving the Mif under Cowan’s proposal?

    3. Why is Ron Cowan not willing to fund the 36-hole improvements entirely in order to make over $100 million?

    4. What happens to the current quality of the two 18-hole courses under his proposed “renovation”?
    If they are shrunk down will we just have 2 large miniature golf courses that are no longer championship quality?

    5. Why did Ron Cowan hold off on making his offer public when the golf complex renovation has been under consideration for over a year?

    His last-minute timing severely limits careful and comprehensive community consideration. In my mind the timing of Cowan’s poker-game “offer” is reason enough to NOT accept his offer, regardless of its merits. Transparency and full consideration in open debate are critical in all this.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — April 12, 2011 @ 10:33 am

  10. One thing that is not being mentioned here is that the city is in the middle of a budget crisis. It’s important that our enterprise funds contribute to the city’s general fund – which is the main purpose of an enterprise fund. An enterprise fund operates like a profit center and the profits are transferred to city.

    This is an opportunity to think outside the box and make use of our assets to help offset future budget deficits, while at the same time making substantial improvements to the golf complex. We’re making this personal instead of looking of ways to improve the deal for the city.

    Comment by Karen Bey — April 12, 2011 @ 11:08 am

  11. #8 The settlement agreement runs with the land, not the devloper. It is an entitlement.

    In general, with any land swap, the devil is in the details. We need to hold our Mayor accountable to her transparency platform. I promise not to judge until all the facts are on the table in full view of the public.

    Comment by fergus jones — April 12, 2011 @ 11:10 am

  12. Karen, I’ll try to not make this personal Why can’t the M.I.F. be separated from the current golf courses and allow it to become a non-profit. Again my reason for this is to preserve the land for use by the public. Then have the council start talking to these other groups to see if we can come up with something better than Kemper who seems to be getting a lot of negative comments. I know this is a bad time to do this, but I also think its a bad time to sell off city open space. That should be done at the top of a market not the bottom. I would also be concerned that if the M.I.F. gets sold to a developer and plans are made to build housing that developer could take years to build out because of the economy. This would mean that the M.I.F. property could sit vacant and an eyesore for many years before it is finally completed.
    Example, Cattelus still not developed after three different plans.

    Comment by John P. — April 12, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

  13. John, I know you feel strongly about this golf complex and your reasoning may win, but I like the idea of extending the life of the golf complex by increasing revenues for the golf enterprise fund and ultimately for the general fund. A city owned club house where the city participates in the profits with the management company would do that, and it would add tremendous value to the golf complex not to mention the entire Island.

    Also phasing the project would address some of your concerns about the property sitting vacant. Phase 1 could be the $6m improvements plus the construction of a new club house. You can’t force a developer to build when there is no market, but we can push for the golf course improvements and the construction of the club house.

    Comment by Karen Bey — April 12, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

  14. Karen makes a lot of sense. I also think John P. is right about not selling at the bottom of the market. It also reminds me that the Islander Lodge deal is a stinker for just that reason. The owner wants way too much in this market but figures he can play the City for a sucker.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — April 12, 2011 @ 4:31 pm

  15. If the golf course is intended to make money for the city, I can think of two better ways to go about it:

    1) Sell it to an operator. Add the proceeds to reserves which need it, or to budget for other parks, which also need it. A privately owned course would also pay property taxes, which are the city’s largest source of revenue.

    2) Sell it to a developer for homes. A few hundred new homes would be a nice addition to property taxes, and there’s another golf course a few minutes down the road.

    Comment by dave — April 12, 2011 @ 5:25 pm

  16. Better yet, give it away free to some government agency.

    Comment by Jack Richard — April 12, 2011 @ 5:53 pm

  17. Lauren, did you get watch the very last item last night. It was a golf commission report about the cities accounting practices when it comes to the golf course. Very interesting.

    Comment by John P. — April 13, 2011 @ 10:25 am

  18. City of Alameda, webcast, 4-12-11 special council meeting. time, 3:34:42 Joe Van Winkle.

    Comment by John P. — April 13, 2011 @ 10:42 am

  19. 15, 16:Making money for the City is far from the primary purpose of a public park. And the Chuck Corica Golf Complex is first and foremost a public park and resource, providing recreation, wildlife habitat, and open space for the community.

    That said, the Corica is perfectly capable of being a healthy, self-sustaining facility once again, once it is properly managed and it is allowed to reinvest enough of its own revenues in course improvements and maintenance. (Neither has occurred for at least a decade.)

    REad the Golf Commission’s excellent report (item 3A) here:

    Comment by Jon Spangler — April 14, 2011 @ 10:00 am

  20. Public parks are both essential and free. Golf course is neither. It’s a business owned by the city.

    Comment by dave — April 14, 2011 @ 10:55 am

  21. Public parks are neither essential or free.

    Comment by Jack Richard — April 14, 2011 @ 12:24 pm

  22. Most of the other 70,000 people in Alameda consider them essential, and “free” of course, means “at no charge to user.”

    Comment by dave — April 14, 2011 @ 12:41 pm

  23. Parks are not free S.F. keeps admission fee for Botanical Garden.

    Comment by Joe — April 16, 2011 @ 7:19 am

  24. The other 1016 acres of Golden Gate Park are free. So are almost every other inch of municipal parkland in America.

    Comment by dave — April 16, 2011 @ 8:04 am

  25. They’re free unless you happen to be a taxpayer. Then you pay but it’s not so noticable. Essential like a latte is essential to start the day not like air, water, and chocolate.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — April 16, 2011 @ 8:41 am

  26. All highways except toll roads are free. All k-12 public education is free. Alameda Hospital is free if you don’t use it and don’t own a home in Alameda. Police and Fire services are free. National defense and kinetic action is free. Pretty soon all health care will be free. Going to the moon is free. Foreign aid is free. Removing KIadafi is free. Iraq is free. Pretty soon Afgans will be free.

    Everything for free

    Comment by Jack Richard — April 16, 2011 @ 11:53 am

  27. Nevermind. Enjoy your obtuse wordsmithing ways.

    Comment by dave — April 16, 2011 @ 1:40 pm

  28. pot calling the k…, oh nevermind

    Comment by Jack Richard — April 16, 2011 @ 4:46 pm

  29. Jack this isn’t an argument over what is free and what is not free. Its about what the residents of this city want for our children and ourselves when it comes to parks and recreation. I agree with your statement that they are not free or essential. They are what the majority of people want in Alameda so we will have them and those of us who pay taxes will pay pay for them like it or not. I happen to like it because I am a crazy liberal.

    Comment by John P. — April 16, 2011 @ 7:13 pm

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