Update: Negotiations have stalled between the city of Rocklin and the owner of the former Rocklin Golf Club, the city announced Monday, June 19, 2017. The land is expected to remain as fenced-off open space for the foreseeable future.
A winding, cracked asphalt path snakes its way through the overgrown Rocklin Golf Club, past bushy trees and lingering wooden structures that dot the roughly 183-acre property.
Also known as Sunset Whitney Country Club, Rocklin Golf Club is surrounded on all sides by neat single-family homes mostly bought before the golf course closed its doors in 2015. Since then, residents have been calling, emailing and talking face to face with city officials, “just asking for something to be done with the land,” said Rocklin spokesman Michael Young.
Tuesday night, Rocklin’s City Council told city staff to go to the negotiating table with the property owner, a management group led by PGA professional Charlie Gibson. An initial proposal would see the property turned into park space and 281 single- and two-story homes. About 141 acres of land would be preserved as public open space.
Though the terms of the proposal were not binding, council members made the language less specific, saying they were not willing to support the number of proposed homes, location of the development or the $1.5 million purchase price to buy 27 acres. A further 114 acres would be donated to the city under the plan.
After hours of public comment, council members said they were uncomfortable with the proposal, but they didn’t want to leave the status quo in place.
“I do feel that there’s value to us … engaging in discussion because otherwise it just stays the way it is,” said Councilman Ken Broadway. “If the decision is ultimately made that we want to do nothing, then we do nothing.”
Councilwoman Jill Gayaldo said she’s worried about vagrants and vandalism on the property, concerns echoed by city staff and residents. The course is surrounded by a fence, but because the land is zoned as open space, there are fewer requirements for maintenance than there would be for a residential property.
The city will hold the next public meeting on the future of the golf course on April 24.
Residents filled the chamber Tuesday to hear about the plan, and more than 20 got up to speak, expressing concerns ranging from increased traffic on Midas and Argonaut avenues to distrust of Gibson’s management group, which includes developer Joe Syufy.
Carol Ellis, who said she’d lived in Rocklin for 30 years, was blunt. She’d rather see the course stay the way it is right now than see a single house built. She said many of her neighbors agree.
“No development right now, no development next week, no development next month or next year or this decade or this century,” she said. “I just don’t know how to make it any clearer.”
Another resident pitched building some sort of senior living facility, and a third suggested a park and bike trail similar to Davis’ Greenbelt.
Rocklin Golf Club opened in 1963 as Sunset Whitney. In its heyday, the golf course included a tennis club and swimming pools, but over the years, the club steadily declined until it sat in foreclosure for six years prior to Gibson’s purchase, City Manager Rick Horst said. Gibson’s group bought it for $2.5 million in 2011.
In 2015, the City Council unanimously rejected Gibson’s proposal to turn 7 acres into 32 single-family homes after an hourslong discussion. Gibson said he would be forced to close nine of the course’s 18 holes without the development. Opponents didn’t want to see natural land turned into homes. Supporters wanted the club to remain open with 18 holes.
“In contrast to last time, we’re asking (residents) to engage at the beginning of the process rather than at the end of the process,” Horst told the crowd Tuesday. “In essence, we’re asking our citizenry to help shape and define what a future application might look like.”
In August 2015, Gibson closed the course, citing continued financial losses. He said at the time the course lost money every year due to crumbling infrastructure and declining interest in golf. A city news release from 2015 said infrastructure improvements at the course would cost $3 million to $4 million.
Rocklin’s staff report on the new development proposal said the city thoroughly investigated whether a golf course could be sustainable on the site and determined “golf is in decline nationwide, with TV ratings plunging, players abandoning the game and both public and private courses are closing up shop.”
The city offered to buy the course from Gibson in August 2015, but according to media reports at the time, his company shot down the offer within a half-hour and didn’t counteroffer. Gibson did not return a message left at his Morgan Creek Golf Club, one of two other courses he runs.