COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | LARRY STIRLING

Presidio Hills Golf Course: more city mismanagement

Nestled in the heart of Old Town, along the ancient path from the (then nearby) San Diego River up the hill to the historic Spanish Presidio is a quaint 18-hole, chip-and-putt facility called Presidio Hills Golf Course.

The location is so old that the clubhouse is California Registered Landmark #74, the Casa de Carrillo.

The Casa was built by former San Diego Presidio Commandante Francisco Ruiz for his fellow soldier Joaquin Carrillo and his large family in 1821.

The condition of the home and its surroundings boomed and busted until 1932, when San Diego’s angel and department-store owner George Marston led a group of interested citizens to rehabilitate the Casa and purchase the grounds as a golf course, which they then donated to the City of San Diego.

For over 80 years, the petite, picturesque course provided opportunities to thousands of young San Diego golfers who enjoyed local and national youth tournaments won by the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and the graceful Lorena Ochoa.

But those glory days are gone.

We live nearby and walk past the course nearly daily.

I have observed a homeless camp, large fields of weeds, trash, decayed signs and benches, graffiti, greens about as smooth as our city streets, t-boxes damaged beyond repair, pepper trees along Juan Street completely blocking the sidewalks, piles of junk dotted here and there, and brown grass throughout the course.

But it is not just me. Here are public comments found on the course’s website:

“I moved my rating down from three stars because the course is in pretty bad shape.”

“What happened to the course? Why is it being left to die? No one is taking care of it. Divots are everywhere. Dry patches too.”

“This used to be my favorite little course. But now it is only a memory and not a place for me anymore.”

“By comparison, Colina del Sol is beautiful. The same price. Go there instead. You will be stunned and pleasantly surprised.”

“Presidio Hills Golf Course is an eyesore for such an area like Old Town. It is a barren course … with about 70 percent covered with dead brown grass….”

“Essentially the most poorly landscaped course in San Diego.”

“The lack of maintenance was disappointing. The only grass was right around the holes.”

“It is a gem, worth saving. But it needs money. It needs help.”

The culprit here is the same city ninny who decided it was a good idea to stop picking up people’s trash just because they were already paying for their own streets; the same mentality that concluded that Balboa Park should be given away to a bunch of well-connected private citizens.

Sadly, that is what they already did with the Presidio Hills Golf Course.

You would think that a city golf course would be under the supervision of the city Golf Division.

Not so. It is overseen by the Property Department, where apparently no one plays golf or even sees very well.

So the Property Department decided to contract Presidio out to a private operator and save all those pesky expenses and maybe make money instead.

Apparently the geniuses in the Property Department have little command of economics.

This small course cannot support itself from children’s greens fees.

The only way any operator can possibly make money is to stint on the care, maintenance and watering.

Or he could park cars on the golf course, which he did last Cinco de Mayo.

And when he parked cars on the course, they destroyed the irrigation system on the west part of the course, the same irrigation system the operator claims was damaged before he took over the course.

I have reviewed the very poorly drafted Use and Occupancy Permit that controls the golf course operations.

The document fails the public interest in many ways.

First of all, the city is charging only $850 a month for the multimillion-dollar piece of property in one of the most visited tourist venues in the entire county.

There are dozens of other deficiencies in the agreement reflecting badly on those city officials who approved it.

The key deficiency is the vagueness of the standard of care expected of the operator.

The permit uses such loose terms as “keep in good order and repair,” “safe, healthy, sanitary condition,” and “free and clear of rubbish and weeds,” every condition of which this operator and the last have violated for years on end.

Apparently the deputy city attorney is not capable of crafting legal conditions for how to run a golf course.

The city is not relying on an air-tight, well thought-out agreement, but instead on the perspicacity of its field inspectors.

And that appears to be yet another failure. The city Property Department inspectors either don’t leave their desks or wear blinders when they do.

This matter has been called to the attention of the councilmember for the area, the popular interim Mayor Todd Gloria.

Gloria promised Channel 10 that he would take action to make sure this golf course is returned to good order.

So far, no action on the part of Gloria.

I informed the mayor that I was writing this column and gave him a chance to comment. So far, no comment.

Does anyone in the city give a damn about lousy city operations?

Stirling, a former U.S. Army officer, has been elected to the San Diego City Council, state Assembly and state Senate. He also served as a municipal and superior court judge in San Diego. Send comments to larry.stirling@sddt.com. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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