Public seeks answers from Lemoore City Council on sale of Municipal Golf Course

By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor
A concerned Lemoore resident and golfer asks a question during study session on golf course.
A concerned Lemoore resident and golfer asks a question during study session on golf course.

If Tuesday night’s city council study session regarding the selling of the city’s golf course were a movie, it might have earned about 100 thumbs down from the 100 or so critics who were in attendance. While Lemoore City Councilmembers have yet to take an official stance on selling the Lemoore Municipal Golf Course, just the thought of city leaders entertaining the idea didn’t set well for the 100-plus citizens who showed up to tell councilmembers they shouldn’t even think about selling it.

The crowd was so big it wouldn’t fit into the regular council chambers, so was moved to the Civic Auditorium where only one local resident voiced an opinion supporting the selling of the course. Lemoore’s Buzz Felleke, a local business owner, suggested that the Tachi Yokut Tribe, which two weeks ago submitted a $5 million offer to purchase the 23-year-old course, may want to build their own someday and selling the course may be beneficial to the city in the long run. “I think it’s a good idea to look into selling,” he said.

The Tachi Yokut’s offer may not be the only offer on the table. Lemoore Golf Course Manager Rich Rhoads submitted an offer to the city to lease the course, ensuring that the course would remain in the hands of the public. Rhoads gave the proposal to City Manager Jeff Laws and hasn’t sat down to talk to councilmembers yet.

“I want the city to own the golf course,” said Rhoads, who has been the pro or the course manager since the course opened in 1991. “I think my plan is better than their plan,” he said in referring to the Tachi proposal.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first of two scheduled meetings seeking the public’s input into the possible sale of the golf course, a move that has been on the minds of many for several months. There were also a few raised eyebrows.

Last summer Mayor Billy Siegel, Recreation Director Joe Simonson and another employee joined Tachi Chief Financial Officer James Snead in a golf outing. At least one city councilmember, Eddie Neal, was taken somewhat aback by the news, suggesting that the mayor was acting without authority from the council in negotiating a sale. The Tachi Yokut tribe paid an outside appraiser to place a value on the course, which he did to the tune of $3 million.

The second public meeting is scheduled for the December 17 council meeting when councilmembers will recieve more give and take from Lemoore’s citizens.

The remaining citizens who spoke at Tuesday’s study session, while for the most part were respectful, seemed firmly opposed to the idea of selling the course, despite a continuing debt that will linger at least until 2027 when city financial analyst Cheryl Silva told the audience the $3.8 million debt service would be retired.

Karen Osterland, a frequent critic when it comes to the sale of the golf course, asked councilmembers how the Tachi plan to pay for the course. “Will they pay for it immediately or over time?”

City Manager Jeff Laws responded that the Tachi have offered to pay the $5 million cost of the course over 14 years, a figure that Osterland found somewhat incredulous since it would take the city only 13 years to pay if off.

“That is still under negotiation,” said Laws insisting that there have been no negotiations as to the terms of a possible sale.

Osterland, as well as others in attendance, questioned if it would still be a golf course over time, wondering aloud whether the land might eventually be used for something else, once it leaves the city’s hands.

Siegel said he didn’t think that would happen. “We would want it to remain a golf course,” he said. Lemoore’s city attorney, Laurie Avedisian the city could impose covenants which would require that the property always remain a golf course.

In response to a question about the city requiring a four fifths vote to sell public property, and whether councilmembers were required to adhere to California Codes which mandate a four fifths vote to overrule public protests, Avedisian was vague. “Process of this sale will be determined by the council as this process goes forward,” she said.

Early on in the meeting, Siegel tried to lay the ground work for the purpose of the public hearings. “We want to try to get as much information as possible,” he said prior to making any kind of decision. Both he and Laws emphasized that there have been no negotiations, only a formal offer.

Simonson, the city’s recreation director, cautioned that currently the city does not have an asset replacement fund, in case the golf course needs repairs or updating. He said there is always a risk of future unexpected costs as well as competition from other area golf courses which could drive down the value of Lemoore’s course. He suggested it would be difficult to take funds away from other public services like fire or police to pay unexpected golf course costs.

Dan Gudgel, a 19-year resident of Lemoore, said the Lemoore course is a real asset for the city. “We’ve got quite an asset here,” said Gudgel. “It’s a very good course. It’s one of the finest courses in the valley…I don’t see a real rush to sell an asset like the golf course.”

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