Stockton considers housing on Swenson Golf Course

Across California, many city governments are sitting on prime infill land that is woefully underutilized. Parking lots, storage yards, and empty buildings dot the asset sheets of various cities up and down the state even as builders struggle to find opportunities to provide housing in quality locations. It’s this exact imbalance that has led some in the housing advocacy world to call for cities to open up these sites for development as a means of easing our state’s housing crisis. And that’s why I was so encouraged to read that the City of Stockton is already ahead of this curve with a proposal to convert one of the city’s publicly owned golf courses into a major, mixed-use development. With some of the fastest growing rents and home prices in the nation, Stockton sorely needs to build more housing of all types. And make no mistake, the fact that Stockton’s top brass are even considering turning Swenson Golf Course—a 200 acre infill site in one of the city’s higher opportunity neighborhoods—into housing represents a major step forward in leadership and could serve as a model for other land-strapped cities to follow.

On Monday, the city council will begin discussion on what to do with the city’s two publicly owned golf courses—Swenson and Van Buskirk. According to the staff report, patronage at both courses has plummeted as they both face mounting maintenance costs just to bring each course up to par (I’m sorry I couldn’t resist). The two courses currently require a subsidy of over $700,000 annually to operate. Needless to say, the land that makes up Swenson and Van Buskirk should be better utilized, especially given the broad selection of public golf courses available elsewhere in the area.

While both courses represent major opportunities for new growth in the city, Swenson is the most intriguing option in regards to housing (Van Buskirk must be used for recreational purposes according to the deed for the land) and will be the focus of this post.

Ahead of Monday’s meeting, the city has prepared a report on the feasibility of various housing options at Swenson. I won’t go over the details; you can find them in the staff report here. Long story short, there’s a range of options that could be applied to this land, to an emphasis on single family homes, to more dense, mixed-use development with a new “main street” commercial concept. The number of units ranges from nearly 700 to just under 950, though that number could easily be more or less. In my opinion, the city should demand a design that embraces a variety of housing options, mixed-use, and open space; a combination of housing types, from single family homes, to townhomes, to medium density apartments, combined with small-scale retail opportunities to serve not just the new residents but also the long time homeowners in the community. And because Swenson already includes natural elements, there is an incredible opportunity to incorporate meandering bike and pedestrian paths, reusing the fairways, mature trees and water hazards to design a truly unique experience. This is not simply an opportunity to build more homes, but a chance to craft an exceptional neighborhood that enhances the value of the surrounding existing area.

Swenson Aerial

Aerial view of the 200 acre Swenson Golf Course

And that may be the biggest advantage of this site: its infill location within Lincoln Village, one of the city’s more affluent communities. Throughout the state, cities struggle to get more housing built in communities of high opportunity, and the Swenson site certainly qualifies given its proximity to Lincoln Unified schools and high values of existing homes. Moreover, the site represents the infill priorities of the forthcoming General Plan, as well as the city’s existing Climate Action Plan. Simply put, the Swenson site represents the exact type of development location city residents and leaders have asked long for.

Of course, when an infill project of this magnitude presents itself, there are bound to be questions and criticism from residents of the adjacent neighborhoods, and they have a right to be heard. The conversion of Swenson from quiet, empty golf course to bustling residential community would be a big change, and the community should be fully involved in the process. With that being said, I sincerely hope the residents of Lincoln Village see this as an opportunity to allow more Stocktonians to enjoy their neighborhood, allowing homes to be built closer to jobs and schools and not on farm land. And if designed correctly, this new “Swenson Village” should be a boon to their community with benefits for all.

It’s exciting to see Stockton consider something as forward thinking as converting Swenson to new development, even though it may prove controversial. While it would be easy to take a pass and continue subsidizing golf, it will take vision and political will to change course and facilitate the transformation of this severely underperforming asset.  In the end, if carried out appropriately, Stockton could serve as a model for other cities looking to leverage their existing land to create more housing opportunities.

 

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Categories: Community Commentary, Development News

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia created SCL in March of 2012. Garcia is a Stockton native with a background in urban policy and planning, holding a Bachelor's Degree from UCLA as well as a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. He currently serves as the Policy Director at the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. David was also COO at Ten Space, a real estate development firm focused exclusively on Downtown Stockton, and continues to advise on their projects. Prior to that, he worked three years as a researcher/analyst for a Congressional research agency in Washington, DC. The views expressed on this site are entirely of the author's

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  1. Today’s Headlines – Streetsblog California - December 4, 2017

    […] Stockton to consider putting housing on golf course (Stockton City Limits) […]

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