A crowd of over 300 people attended a public meeting Monday evening, Feb. 24 at San Luis Rey Downs (SLRD) clubhouse in Bonsall, and learned the closure of the golf course appears certain.
Bill Thead, who has worked with three generations of the Vessels family (owner of San Luis Rey Downs Enterprises), told the crowd “A once profitable golf course, [SLRD] has lost money each year for nine years and nothing will change that in the foreseeable future. It makes no sense to lose money year after year. Seeing it close is a sad event.”
Pending final regulatory approval, it was explained that the 185-acre property would be sold to Conservation Land Group (CLG), which would work to return the property to its natural state circa mid-1940s, before development.
Tim DeGraff of WRA Environmental Consultants said, “We would be putting back some of the historical aspects of the area and help restore riparian birds and the Arroyo toad.”
The new plan to create Moosa Creek mitigation bank would rehabilitate and re-establish riverline and depressional wetlands and restore wetland and non-wetland riparian habitat. Once transformed, CLG would operate the environmental mitigation bank, selling credits to developers who are required by government agencies to offset the environmental impact of their construction projects. Speakers indicated the mitigation bank could serve not only developers in San Diego County, but in southern Orange County as well.
“In an appraisal of the property, it was clear the highest and best use for it was not as a golf course, but as a mitigation bank,” said Thead. “There will not be any houses built on the land… it will be in an irrevocable conservation agreement.”
Thead took issue with comments from community members that the existing owners “owed it to the community” to keep the property operating as a golf course.
“No one would sell it for a pittance of its value,” said Thead. “CLG has the exclusive option to purchase this property for a mitigation bank. No one else can purchase it. We feel this is a sound use for this property.”
Thead also discounted the need for the course to provide a venue for area high school and college teams to play or practice; or to host charity tournaments.
“We have been happy to host high school and college teams here, but there is a great supply of courses in the area and [the teams] will easily find other solutions, the same with charity tournaments,” said Thead.
Duff McGrath, coach of the Vista High School golf team, graciously expressed a different opinion.
“Vista High has played here since the 1960s and we’ve had a wonderful relationship [with SLRD],” said McGrath. “I thought this was a meeting where we could provide input, but I can see it’s more of a done deal. I’m sad, but want to thank SLRD management for letting schools play here. It’s not as easy as you say to find a course. I think we will become a team without one.”
Jon Frandell, president of the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce, addressed the panel of speakers and voiced his concerns about the environment an area of extensive wetlands could create, including flooding, virus-carrying pests, and stagnant pools of water.
According to Kevin Knowles, one of the three owners of CLG along with Ed Flynn and Brian Sweeney, “We also have the option to buy a separate, 60-acre parcel on the north side of Camino Del Rey from SLRD Enterprises. We aren’t sure if we will exercise that option or not yet.
A large number of attendees expressed concern about what might happen to their property values if they bordered a mitigation bank/wetland.
Knowles said, “There is no way for us to say for certain how it will affect property values.”
Bob Hillery, a local real estate professional, said property owners should be concerned. “Essentially, this will bring a marsh to the doorsteps of many homeowners, and standing water brings critters, bugs, and it smells.”
“I have serious concerns that property values will decrease with these wetlands,” said Hillery.
It appears the mitigation bank may also provide significant credits for the final segment of the State Route 76 expansion project and be compatible with the future San Luis Rey River Park which is planned to feature active recreation, passive recreation, and biological open space.
“When SANDAG and Caltrans build a road, they need mitigation credits,” said DeGraff.
“It is well-known that these credits are like gold and can be bought and sold; they must be worth a lot of money,” said Deborah Howard, a Bonsall resident of two years. “I love our beautiful Bonsall and want to preserve the quality of life we have here. The intended consequences of this river are far reaching and because of it, I can foresee another Temecula-like community when the 76 construction is complete.”
The Moosa Creek mitigation bank project is currently under review by the Army Corps of Engineers and the public comment period has now been extended for a second time, until March 31, to allow opportunity for neighbors of the land to provide their input about the proposed plan.
The plan may be reviewed at www.usace.army.mil/Portals/17/docs/publicnotices/MoosaCreek_PN.pdf
Comments about it may be emailed to Shanti.A.Santulli@usace.army.mil.