Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD) filed a lawsuit on Monday in an effort to halt the sale of Willowick Golf Course being eyed for future development. The oldest 18-hole public golf course in OC rests within SanTana but is owned by Garden Grove. In April, Garden Grove, in tandem with SanTana, issued a Request for Proposals without prioritizing the publicly-owned land for open space or affordable housing.
Not doing so ran afoul of California’s Surplus Land Act, according to the suit.
“We have been forced to take this step due to both cities’ lack of transparency during the development process,” said Cynthia Guerra at a morning press conference held by the Rise Up Willowick Coalition at Cesar Chavez Campesino Park in SanTana. “Instead, they are prioritizing monetary profit that will not benefit the residents of this area.”
Before filing suit, the coalition, comprised of residents and organizations like OCCORD, Chispa and the Kennedy Commission, took the issue directly to residents living in adjacent neighborhoods in an effort to understand what they wanted to see for the future of the golf course site. The results informed the “Willowick: Opportunity to Use Public Land for Public Good” report released by the coalition.
“Unsurprisingly, when we surveyed almost 325 homes surrounding the Willowick Golf Course, we found that the vast majority had no idea of what was being planned for our community,” said Byron Lopez, a Santa Anita neighborhood resident and coalition member. “This is unacceptable for such a large plot of land whose development could have damaging results for our community.”
A year ago, Garden Grove hired a consultant that offered a narrow vision during community outreach asking residents if they desired a stadium, tech center, luxury housing on the site. All three options prompt fears of gentrification and displacement for some residents living in neighborhoods that are already heavily burdened by rent.
“We envision a community that includes parks and open space that are safe and well-maintained,” said Robert Escandon, a former Santa Anita youth sports coach. “We don’t need private development that will take away our public land. We don’t need development that will displace us. We don’t need development that will hurt us.”
Escandon called the community’s wish list one that reflects what residents value. There’s also an undeniable need. Both SanTana and Garden Grove are notoriously park poor. The coalition claims that only one percent of Garden Grove’s total land is park space, bested slightly by SanTana’s four percent stat.
“What is at stake is 102 acres of opportunity to meet the needs of this community,” Guerra added. “It is clear by the cities’ priorities that they are willing to waste that opportunity.”
But the coalition is unwilling to let that happen, not without a challenge. OCCORD made several attempts to contact Garden Grove in wanting to know what developers submitted proposals to develop the golf site. Before filing suit, the nonprofit also requested documentation of compliance with the Surplus Land Act, a law that stipulates a 90-day window for good faith negotiations with interested affordable housing developers.
Having seen none, OCCORD took the cities to court on behalf of the coalition.
“There is no question that the Willowick property is covered by the Surplus Land Act,” said Brian Olney, an attorney with a firm litigating the case. “Unfortunately, there’s also no question that the cities are refusing to follow the law.”