The move to save Rancho Del Pueblo – the golf course on a fast track to be sold to help fill projected budget gaps – received strong support from the San Jose Planning Commission as it sent the Envision General Plan update to the city council.
The commission unanimously approved a recommendation from the Envision Task Force that the golf course on King Road remain zoned as open space rather than rezoned as mixed neighborhood, which would have allowed the land to be sold to a developer who could build 570 units on the 31-acre site. The Rancho Del Pueblo item was one of several considered separately in the updated general plan approval on Wednesday, September 28.
“This is an important open space area we can’t afford to lose,” said Commission Chair Hope Cahan, Planning Commission chair. “We need this gem in our community.”
The San Jose City Council will vote on rezoning Rancho Del Pueblo on October 25, and is likely to take up the Envision General Plan on November 1. The general plan is a blueprint for mapping out future growth and development. Included in the plan is the concept of building urban villages along transit lines, an idea that emerged from residents of Little Portugal and CommUniverCity San Jose.
Support to save the nine-hole golf course in East San Jose has been growing, with residents and environmentalists from across the city voicing outrage at three community meetings. They argue that housing would result in more traffic, pollution and overcrowding in an already congested area, and most important, the loss of open space and a recreation venue for at-risk children.
“Why is the city always going after assets in East San Jose,” asked a 36-year resident, Dave Bennett. “Why don’t we sell City Hall?”
Rancho Del Pueblo is one of several city-owned properties that the city could sell to boost the general fund. The 31-acre golf course is worth an estimated $20 million. The debt the city still owes on the land is $5.6 million, and the city says the course lost $279,965 in operating costs last year.
The golf course is popular among seniors as well as children enrolled in the First Tee program, which teaches golf and life lessons. It is also a natural habitat for wildlife. The former Thunderbird Golf Course land was sold to the city by the landowners who wanted 31 acres preserved for the golf course, which also has housing adjacent to it.
In their vote, commissioners followed a recommendation by city planning staff that the area remain open space. Changing the zoning is inconsistent with many of the Envision Plan goals, pointed out Vice Chair Edesa Bit-Badal, including the economic development goal to balance jobs to housing.
“If we’re really looking to selling this, we really should be looking to retail use,” she said. “Uses that will generate funding and not be a burden to our police and fire and other resources.”
But pressure to find revenue sources as the city faces an economic crisis is also building, with Mayor Chuck Reed and at least two other council members in favor of selling the land.
The last community meeting to get public input on Rancho Del Pueblo was hosted by District 1 Councilman Pete Constant, who pointed out the realities of escalating pension costs that are driving 11 years of deficits, including an estimated $78 million to $115 million for next year. Then he listened to a couple hours of testimony.
“We have to draw a line in the sand. No sale of open space,” said Randi Kinman, a resident of Sherman Oaks Neighborhood in District 6. “We can’t let an ounce of public dirt in this city be sold.”
But Carlos Da Silva, a District 7 resident, disagreed, along with several others at the meeting. “If this golf course can’t be made profitable, then it should be closed,” he said.
Support for saving Rancho Del Pueblo was strong at the planning commission hearing.
“The loss of this facility would be a great blow to the community,” said Hugh Graham, a District 9 resident and Neighborhoods Commissioner.