title=golf course in Modesto. Photographed in Modesto, Calif. On Friday, November 12, 2021.” title=”Community advocates are lobbying the city to build affordable housing on the closed nine-hole Muni golf course in Modesto. Photographed in Modesto, Calif. On Friday, November 12, 2021.” loading=”lazy”/>

Community advocates are lobbying the city to build affordable housing on the closed nine-hole Muni golf course in Modesto. Photographed in Modesto, Calif. On Friday, November 12, 2021.

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The city closed its municipal Modesto golf course about 20 months ago and is in the process of determining the future of the 54-acre site. But the answer is obvious: build affordable housing to help alleviate the city’s overwhelming housing crisis.

This is the message that representatives of the NAACP, Faith in the Valley and the LGBTQ collaboration conveyed to city council at its meeting on Tuesday. Representatives lacked details, but said these can be worked out. The important thing is for the city to resolve the crisis as soon as possible.

Sharon Froba, chair of the NACCP housing committee, referred to the California Housing Partnership’s May report, which indicated that there were 15,485 low-income renter households in Stanislaus County without access to affordable housing. And 76% of very low-income households spend more than half of their income on housing.

The Partnership published reports for each of California’s 58 counties.

“… They are at a roaming disaster,” Froba told the council in public comments, in which the public can speak to their elected officials about issues not on the meeting’s agenda. “We cannot ignore their needs. Using the municipal golf course, a land for affordable low-income housing, would be a blessing for so many struggling families. To act otherwise would be an affront to our fellow citizens. Thank you.”

Froba’s husband David told council members that using the golf course for housing would help address the historic wrongs of racially restrictive acts that have prevented people of color from buying homes in parts of the cities.

The Frobas studied these racially restrictive housing practices and found that they affected half of the Modesto area. David Froba said these practices were in effect across the country until 1968.

The Modesto-Stanislaus branch of the NAACP, Faith in the Valley Stanislaus and the Modesto base LGBTQ collaboration are working together to lobby Modesto for affordable housing on the nine-hole golf course next to John Thurman Field in western Modesto.

A duty to help those who need it

“… It is your civic duty to help the city and its people in times of need,” said Latricia Beasley-Day, a community organizer from Faith in the Valley and associate pastor at Victory in Praise Church in Modesto.

She ended her remarks to the council by quoting the Bible. “I am going to leave you tonight with a word from my tradition of faith, which is Christianity, found in Proverbs 29, verse 7 (and) of the New Living Translation. It reads: “The righteous care about justice for the poor. But the bad guys don’t have this worry. I consider the city council to be fair. Please consider using what you already own to build housing for your people.

City manager Joe Lopez gave a brief response later in the meeting on the golf course and its future. “We continue to do our due diligence on the proper disposition of this property,” he said. “No final decision has been taken. And we’re still collecting public comment at this time. “

Modesto held two meetings to collect public comments. Suggestions included its reopening to golf, affordable housing, and mixed-use development of homes, stores and offices. But the most popular option has been to use the course for open spaces and recreation.

More than a dozen residents living near the golf course told The Bee that they no longer want housing, especially rental or affordable housing.

They said the golf course, which has an abundance of trees and is surrounded by houses, is one of the few amenities in a part of town that doesn’t have many. West Modesto is one of the city’s poorest and most diverse communities.

Residents would walk or run around the perimeter of the course when golfers were on the course. And when golfers were out for the day, residents would picnic, walk through Muni Park, and let their kids play.

Course still in use

Two owners who live across from the golf course echoed the comments on Thursday.

“I love it for a park, for walking and for the trees,” said Magdalena Navarrete, 51, who lives across from Muni on Roselawn and South avenues. She said she walks around the course every day.

She agrees that Modesto needs more housing, but is convinced that the golf course is not the answer. “Not here, not here,” she said when asked about accommodation in Muni.

A 70-year-old man said he had lived in his Roselawn Avenue home since 1975, first as a tenant and then buying it in the 1980s. The man, who declined to give his name, said his first choice was recreation. “I would make a park out of it,” he said, “so people could enjoy it. It is a beautiful sight.

He said building beautiful single-family homes along where the course faces Tuolumne Boulevard would be good as long as the interior of the golf course is a park. And he would agree with a mall that had a grocery store and a drugstore.

But he insisted that Muni shouldn’t be used for rental, low-income or affordable housing. “There would be too many problems,” he said.

Modesto had planned to put a fence around the golf course when it closed, to guard against vagrancy, vandalism and other problems. But the city has not closed the route, in part because it closed Muni earlier than expected due to the pandemic. The course was not plagued by the problems the city feared.

Large enough for many uses

The owner of Roselawn said people who live near Muni continued to use it as a park during the pandemic. He said he saw people putting up blankets and sitting on them, children playing baseball and other games, and even occasionally people hitting golf balls.

Community advocates lobbying Modesto to build affordable housing say Muni is large enough for housing, parks and other amenities. They also say the city has a rare opportunity as it owns the land and can partner with a developer.

“You can have leisure. You can have both, ”Steven Cullen of the LGBTQ Collaborative said in an interview. “We can meet the needs of the neighborhood and provide affordable housing. Cullen, who also spoke at the city council meeting, said there are many opportunities for the land, including senior housing.

“We can have a happy medium,” Beasley-Day said with Faith in the Valley in an interview. “There is an opportunity to build housing and develop the neighborhood with the amenities that are essential.

Beasley-Day said she and other community advocates will continue to speak at city council meetings, meet one-on-one with council members and speak with residents who live near the golf course.

Public meeting in early 2022?

The city council decided in January 2020 to close the Modesto municipal golf course, which generations had learned to play since it opened in the 1930s. The city had determined that it could not afford to have three courses of golf. The town has two 18-hole courses, Dryden and Creekside, which remain open.

Director of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Laurie Smith said in an interview that her staff continued to analyze information from the two town halls and explore potential re-uses of the golf course. She said she expects parks and recreation to have a report for the city manager to review by the end of the year.

The pandemic has delayed the work of the city. The city held the first public meeting in March 2020 and the second in October.

Smith said she expects Modesto to hold another public meeting in early 2022 to review the report’s findings and solicit further comment. Smith said after that she expects city staff to present what they learned at a council committee meeting before asking the entire city council for direction on next steps.

This story was originally published November 15, 2021 5:00 a.m.

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Kevin Valine covers local government, homelessness, and general assignment for The Modesto Bee. He graduated from San José State University.