Hole in One
By Alex Distefano
Open space? Soccer stadium? Shopping center? It might be too late to preserve the Riverside Golf Club
It has been almost three years since the closure of the Riverside Golf Club, located on Orange Street just west of the 215 Freeway. The 125-acre, 18-hole golf course, along with the adjacent Reid Park and 56-acre Ab Brown Sports Complex properties, has become the focus of Riverside city officials, the Redevelopment Agency, potential private investors and concerned residents.
What’s the big deal?
Some residents and opponents of development say the city should leave the golf course as open land, a public park-type area with fields, trees and hiking paths. Further, the city has yet to provide a formal environmental analysis of any potential development, and critics of the development say that a species of Western Bluebird—and possibly other animals native to the area—would be threatened by the loss of trees should development ensue.
But some who are open to the idea of developing the golf course say that in economic times like these anything that could potentially bring jobs and income to the area should be a priority. Two people seeking the mayor’s office in Riverside—Councilman Andy Melendrez and former Councilman Ed Adkison—are in favor of using the site for something like a grocery store or shopping center (Adkison) or a soccer stadium (Melendrez)
According to The Press-Enterprise, Melendrez is the driving force behind turning the shuttered golf course into a home for a professional soccer team and a 5,000-seat stadium.
Adkison has opined that the land would be put to better use if it was developed to create jobs.
But to concerned residents like Karen Wright, this idea to create jobs using open space makes little sense.
“My family has been in Riverside since the early 1900s,” Wright tells the Weekly. “I am not a golfer but this open space is not only important to me, it’s important to a lot of people that live in Riverside. The city is rapidly wiping out its open spaces, and this 125-acre site should be maintained as an open area, divided between sports uses, garden areas and natural areas for citizens to enjoy with no businesses other than the amenities and parking as needed.”
Wright, who lives roughly five miles away from the site, says the potential loss of plants and animals are another reason to oppose development.
“We need all those trees,” she says. “You know it’s a shame. Riverside used to be called the ‘City of Trees.’”
Erin Snyder, outreach director and volunteer coordinator for the Riverside-Corona Resource Conservation District, confirms the possible loss of animal life, saying a species of Western Bluebirds uses the trees throughout the golf course as habitat. Deforestation at the local level will decimate the bird population,” Snyder tells the Weekly.
“There are still Bluebirds there at the golf course and neighborhood volunteers that monitor them through nest boxes we set up,” she says.
Plans to transform the area into a shopping center will have a detrimental effect on the bluebird population, which could trigger a spike in the local insect population, Bluebirds’ food source.
But, according to Councilman (and mayoral candidate) Mike Gardner, the economy is more important than flying critters. With Riverside’s unemployment near 15 percent, Gardner says job creation is his first priority.
“Part of our responsibility is to encourage things that will create quality jobs and make Riverside a better place to live,” he told The Press-Enterprise last year.
But all this debate might be moot.
Emilio Ramirez, with the city’s Office of Economic Development, tells the Weekly that the city is already considering various proposals and details that will be made public “within the next two to three months, at the latest.” The proposals? A soccer stadium.
But this is too soon, says Dvone Pitruzzello, another mayoral candidate, a local activist blogger (www.thirtymilesofcorruption.com) and a teacher of at-risk youth who has also spent the past couple of years looking into Riverside’s shell-game finances. In the case of the Riverside Golf Club, she says the city needs to listen to what taxpaying residents want.
“The people in the community are still opposed to major development,” she says. “The city already has a lot of industrial buildings that are empty, so this plan makes no sense.”