The Case to Save Swenson Golf Course

Last December 4th, 2017, the Stockton City Council rolled out a proposal which would sell the property known as Swenson Park Golf Course to Developers. The plan included 600-900 affordable housing units, a small park and a school.

Most Stockton residents, including the approximately 30,000 households in both the City of Stockton and the County, which surrounds the park, were not aware of this proposal and how it would directly affect their property values, traffic congestion, property taxes, potential for new Mello-Roos taxes and overall quality of life. The obvious influx of student population to an already over-crowded Lincoln Unified School District is estimated to run up a cost into the $100 million range, much more than the school district could handle at this time. This cost would be passed onto the residents within the district. Not an acceptable situation.

A group of neighbors and concerned citizens got together to form Friends of Swenson/Save Swenson Community Committee to investigate possible solutions that would include keeping Swenson Golf Course and park as green space and stop the Stockton City government from selling the property.

City leadership contends that City budget issues are the concern, however the cost to the local residents and tax payers, far outweigh any benefit the city would receive due to a sale. Furthermore, every city subsidizes their green space and recreation areas as it adds value in health and quality of life for all residents. Stockton is already far behind the average community in greenspace as it is.

There are many devastating financial issues surrounding the sale of the Swenson property, but many believe the true value lies in the property itself.

Swenson Golf Course and Park consists of 224 acres of some of the most beautiful green space in our city. According to the Stockton Tree Foundation, there are over 900 trees on the Swenson Park property and acres of grass and other plants. Some of the trees are old growth oak trees dating back 200 years and are protected by law. Other factors include: water and air quality, an increase in pollution and decimation of endangered wildlife. See excerpt from Record Article guest author below.

“Environmentally speaking: Stockton currently has about 3 percent green space. Similar communities such as ours maintain 10 percent or more of green space for their residents. Many residents realize the detrimental impact this would have on the quality of life for all of Stockton. A recent Stockton Tree Foundation study reinforces the positive impact of Swenson, stating the park currently sequesters 94 tons of carbon dioxide per year. Converting the park to residential usage will result in a net increase of 720 tons of carbon emissions. The impact on air quality will have a negative effect on Stockton for generations to come.” Blair Hake, President, Friends of Swenson.

So, to put into simple terms, it’s estimated the property provides 14,000 people with oxygen. In comparison, our neighbor, Sacramento has 27% green space, in a recent Google Search. Developing Swenson for anything other than green space will have a negative impact on all residents here for generations to come. The park allows rainfall to refresh and regenerate the local water tables. Without the park, rain water would run off into the streets and cause an unsatisfactory condition which would require additional management and cost by several city and county services.

Trees also offer natural cooling, according to the Stockton Tree Foundation’s report. Without the 900 trees at the park, the temperature in the area would probably increase by about 7 degrees, which impacts all residents. There are many protected and endangered species also living at the park, which feed the birds coming to nest in the golf course canopy every year.
Swenson Golf Course ~ The golf course and park provide recreation and open space to enjoy nature, for junior golfers, First Tee, seniors, families and visitors to the area. In addition, the Swenson Golf Course brings in revenue and its’ potential has been untapped due to the city ignoring the need for updates and improvements.

Friends of Swenson prefers the City works with us and keeps everything out in the open and transparent. Although many cities subsidize their golf courses, parks and green spaces, due to our recent past financial challenges, the City of Stockton has seemed to be more interested in funding city coffers rather than quality of life in Stockton. This is “short-sighted!”
I think we all understand the complicated financial challenges of the City budget, but we cannot allow that temporary situation to destroy our home for generations to come.

Also, we encourage the saving of Van Buskirk as a recreational facility as well…however, we believe the two courses should be separated into different profit centers as Van Buskirk has deed restrictions and Swenson does not. In addition, Swenson’s subsidy is about 1/3 of the cost of Van Buskirk. (Per City Numbers: Swenson $220,000, Van Buskirk, $580,000.)
The properties are very different in many ways. As in any business, we believe each property’s assets and challenges should be addressed individually, not lumped together. We also believe the cost to operate Swenson Golf Course and Park could be offset with local events and improvements, making it sustainable if not profitable. Each property has its merits and value to our community.

Friends of Swenson and Save Swenson Groups have spent many hours of research and vetting various ideas over the past four months. Ideas such as rezoning, petitions and initiatives, but they all have one fatal flaw: They can all be overturned by the current or future city councils.

From Blair’s Article in the Record:
On March 7, the Save Swenson group shared their proposal for the future of Swenson Park with the community at Lincoln High School. We believe the best course of action is to create an independent recreation and park district, with an elected board of residents, to assume control of the property and provide for its ongoing maintenance and operations. The district would benefit all the residents in the area, protect property values and the safety of our kids, thereby preserving a fun family destination for our community and visitors.
The park district proposal was deemed the best proposal as it places the property in the care of a Recreational Park District, with a governing board elected by the residents of the district. These board members would be residents from the surrounding city and county neighborhoods. The community board would be responsible for the future maintenance and enhancement of the park. Most importantly it removes the threat that the city of Stockton will encumber, sell or change the green space known as Swenson Park for any other use. Park districts are common in other counties, with our neighboring County of Sacramento having more than 20 park districts.
Once formed, the park district board may undertake projects to enhance the aesthetic and financial stability of Swenson Park.
Solution: The quickest path forward is for the city council and the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors to pass a resolution of support for the establishment of the Swenson Oaks Recreation and Park District. We hope this can be done as soon as possible. The elected district board then would negotiate with the city to acquire the property, either through a long-term lease or a sale. The district would manage the property, ensuring that future generations benefit from this Stockton gem. We look forward to working with our city and county leaders to craft a solution that benefits all parties.
Some 67 years ago Bert Swenson had the foresight to plan what became Swenson Park. We now know that it is up to this generation to maintain and continue his vision for our community and sustain it for those who will live in Stockton 100 years from now and beyond. It is our responsibility to not only preserve and enhance Swenson Park, but let us use this experience to develop more green space throughout our community for future generations to enjoy.
As residents of Stockton and San Joaquin County, we need to protect our heritage, our quality of life and start paying attention to what our community leaders are doing. I encourage all Stocktonians to speak out, write your letters to local publications. Stand up for our children and grand-children.

This situation has been a wake-up call for myself and many others. We cannot afford to keep our head in the sand any longer. We are hopeful that our proposal will move forward successfully and set a new tone, for community cooperation, neighbors, city and county governments to work together successfully in preservation for what we hold dear.

Suzie Bowers
Friends of Swenson

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