“Not having is no excuse for not getting.”
The devil, or just another devilishly intriguing sort of critter, whispered in my ear the other day. It used the magic words that always fire my imagination: “what if?”
Specifically, we are thinking about that two-word tease in the context of the Willowick Golf Course. As you’ve no doubt heard or read before, that’s a parcel of 101.5 nearly flat acres that is owned by the City of Garden Grove, but within the borders of Santa Ana.
Now that the lease to operate the land as a golf course is nearly expired, the two cities are – metaphorically – rubbing their hands together in anticipation of a very big deal that would shove prestige and cash into the fists and coffers of the two cities.
Up to this point, the discussion has centered on A Big Project, such as a stadium, or a business campus, or a mixed-use development that could combine housing, retail, open space and even some urban farming.
But what if, instead of going through the process – which, believe me, would seem endless – of developing a latter-day Oz, we just, you know, sold the land?
I have no idea what the going price would be for 100-plus acres of basically vacant land in the middle of crowded central Orange County. Fifty million bucks? A hundred million? More? Of course, the price would have to reflect its development potential, not just its current market value as an 18-hole golf course.
What could be done with that kind of cash? What could Garden Grove do with a check that would make Jeff Bezos stop and look? Assuming that this largess would not go into the city’s operating budget to pay salaries and benefits and instead go into more permanent uses, what could we use?
Here’s my list:
- A library on the east side of town. We already have three, but nothing east of 9th Street.
- Expansion and/or replacement of the main branch library on Stanford Avenue. Built on soft soil with a high water table, the lower level of that structure sometimes suffers water damage.
- At least one new fair-sized park with an enclosed rec center similar to the one in Garden Grove Park.
- Smaller parks as a means of clearing blight. I’d buy up that eyesore strip center on the east side of Brookhurst, south of Chapman (across the street from the El Pollo Loco) and make an urban oasis out of it. From the street, it looks too shallow, but there is a lot of land behind those aging buildings. Let’s make it a Veteran’s Memorial Park with art and statuary honoring local heroes and service members.
- Alternately, buy up some of the commercial land at the southeast corner of West Street and Chapman Avenue and combine it with the existing flood control basin. Revive it to its one-time status as “Kid’s Haven” and provide fishing, camping and other recreational uses as it was in the Sixties.
- A “navigation center” for the unsheltered in some remote industrial area. C’mon, you know we need to do it. We can’t complain about the homeless while not providing a place for them to stay. I know it wouldn’t solve the problem entirely, but it’s a step forward.
- Invest in the downtown area with appealing signage, lighting and street furniture. Place an eye-catching element in the Village Green Park such as a carousel or fountain. Then do the same thing for other key areas such as “uptown” (Brookhurst and Chapman), the Grove District (hotels on Harbor) and West Grove (Valley View).
- A new police/fire headquarters building.
That’s my “short” list. But I’m still not convinced about the idea of selling the property. Remember the wisdom of Lex Luthor in the first “Superman” movie.
He said – quoting his father – “Stocks and bonds may rise and fall. Transportation and utility systems may collapse. People are no damn good. But they will always need land, and they will pay through the nose to get it.”
So, get thee behind me, devil. For now, anyway …
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts column appears on Wednesdays.