Last year, Verdugo Hills Golf Course in Los Angeles closed. The owner wants to build housing. The neighborhood doesn’t. What should we do with these 61 acres of urban infill?
Verdugo Hills Golf Course was a par three golf course, driving range, and tavern located in the Tujunga neighborhood of Los Angeles. It is a twenty minute drive to downtown. It was open for over fifty years. Many Angelenos, myself included, learned how to play golf at the course. The course was majestic. I miss it dearly.
In 2004, the course was sold to a real estate developer for $7,600,000. The zoning in place at purchase is the same zoning that remains today. The zoning allows for the development 20 homes in a best case scenario on the property. Shortly after purchase, the developer proposed plans for a 320 unit condominium complex on the course. This proposal began an intense opposition movement from the local community that continues to this day.
The developer revised his proposal to a 269 unit condo. After receiving more opposition, in 2007 the developer filed a zone change application for 229 single family homes. That application remains in limbo today. In the fall of 2016, the developer closed the golf course. Today the property is a dry, empty piece of blight.
The dead golf course is a microcosm for our California housing crisis. What should we do with large urban infill properties that have obsolete zoning?
It is important for everyone to accept that the golf course is not coming back. The golf course industry is dying in the United States. People are not playing golf anymore. Courses can not stay profitable enough to stay open.
The community cites traffic, water, and stress on the schools as reasons for blocking the zone change. I don’t buy any of that. I am against the zone change for three other reasons.
First, in general I am against zone changes for new residential development. Trained planners should make zoning laws, not developers looking to make a profit. I can not stand developers that buy properties that are not zoned for housing and demand zone changes because “we have a housing crisis”. If the developer receives his zone change for 229 units, those approvals alone will make the property worth over $50,000,000. That is just for the approvals. The developer won’t have to put a shovel into the ground. To solve the California housing crisis, we need to stop rewarding these speculative developers and commit to solutions through long range planning.
Second, the project is right next to the 210 freeway. I have never built a residential project next to a freeway. I hate them. There are health concerns. It is not great planning to see cars on a freeway from the window of your home. There is also the sound. At night with the window open I can hear the 210 freeway at night from my house. I live over half a mile away from the freeway as the crow flys. Homes on the golf course would have major noise issues.
Finally, most importantly, there are better places to put new housing in the Tujunga area. California needs to meet its new housing goals. Los Angeles, and California, badly needs new housing. But we need it in the right places. This is best done with professional planners comprehensively drafting planning documents with community input. The main commercial boulevard in Tujunga, Foothill Blvd, currently does not allow residential housing on almost all of the street. This is unique, Los Angeles is one of the few (only?) cities that allow 100% residential on most of its commercially zoned properties. But Foothill Blvd in Tujunga has a document called the Foothill Boulevard Corridor Specific Plan that bans residential. This document, drafted in 1995, is grossly out of date and is responsible for much of the current blight on Foothill that you see below. These 11 acres alone that I profiled in a tweet thread have been vacant for over FOURTEEN years.
In 2013, Eric Garcetti made a campaign stop in Tujunga while running for Mayor. At the stop he said two things of note. First, he promised to block any development at Verdugo Hills Golf Course. Second, he commented that Foothill Blvd could use a revival similar to the one Atwater Village received when he was the local Councilmember there. I agree with the Mayor. The Foothill Boulevard Corridor Specific Plan needs to be revised to allow residential development and mixed use development that will activate the street and remove blight. Now that the Mayor has had over four years to settle in, and his hand picked candidate is the new local Councilmember, now would be a great time to start that process.
We don’t need to build houses on the golf course. But we do need to build housing in all of Los Angeles, including Tujunga. Adjusting the Foothill Boulevard Corridor Specific Plan can revitalize the main commercial boulevard and bring housing in a way that minimizes disruption in existing residential neighborhoods.
What do we do about the golf course? It can’t stay in its current condition. It is a tinder box. A major fire is waiting to happen. The area has already had major evacuations twice since Labor Day for fires. Unlike those fires, this golf course is right next to tens of thousands of connected residential homes. We have to redevelop the property for something. But what? I am no expert. But I have two common sense ideas.
Build a youth soccer complex. As reported on Bryant Gumble’s HBO show, there is a thriving national business for building soccer field complexes to host youth teams. We have a desperate shortage of available soccer fields for our youth. I believe the number one reason why the United States embarrassingly failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup Finals is because we do not have enough youth soccer facilities in our urban areas. The City of Los Angeles has over half a million more residents than Uruguay. In the last decade Uruguay has won a South American championship and reached the semi finals of the World Cup. Bill Simmons constantly complains on his podcast about having to drive hours every weekend outside of Los Angeles to take his daughter to soccer tournaments. He also complains that we have insufficient field space for girls teams. Enough is enough.
Another option is to have a California winery grow some grapes on the hill and open a satellite wine tasting facility on site. This concept has worked well for Stonehaus winery with their Westlake Village location.
Verdugo Hills Golf Course is an interesting case study for our state’s housing crisis. Just because we need housing, doesn’t mean anyone should be able to build it anywhere. I just wish the golf course was still open.