The Oswit Land Trust is working to combine three nearby Palm Springs golf courses into the Mesquite Desert Preserve. Photo courtesy of the Oswit Land Trust

There’s a difference of opinion among residents in the neighborhoods near the two city-owned Tahquitz Creek Golf Resort courses in Palm Springs.

Some are in favor of an Oswit Land Trust (OLT) proposal to purchase the land on which these two courses reside—as well as two other nearby golf-course properties—to create a permanent desert nature preserve and botanical garden in south Palm Springs.

Others have established an opposition group called Save PS Golf (SPSG)—a nonprofit organization that, as of this writing, has garnered more than 2,700 signatures on a Change.org petition. The group wants the city to keep control of the two courses and maintain them for the enjoyment of golfers.

Oswit Land Trust wants to combine one of those two Tahquitz Creek courses—the Resort Course—with the now-closed Bel Air Greens course and the Mesquite Golf Course to create what the trust calls the Mesquite Desert Preserve.

Jane Garrison, the founder and president of the Oswit Land Trust, said that after listening to nearby residents, the group decided that one of the two Tahquitz Creek courses—the Legend Course—should remain open for golf.

“Originally, we proposed including both of those city golf courses in the preserve, but now, after meeting with golfers and biologists, we have decided that we’d like to have one of those golf courses preserved as open space as a part of the Mesquite Desert Preserve, while the other one (the Legend) is retained as a golf course,” Garrison said.

That change in plans is not enough for the members of Save PS Golf, which was formed to oppose the proposed sale of the public Tahquitz Creek courses to the Oswit Land Trust—or any other prospective purchaser.

“I came to find out that the golf course (means) just so much more to the community from an economic, tourist, resort-city standpoint … compared to the private golf courses in this area,” stated Ernest Cecena, the chairman of Save PS Golf. “And we see that affordability equals diversity. Palm Springs is a very diverse community, and these golf courses are used by everyone from First Tee kids just getting started in the sport, to high schools that use the courses to practice, and every age after that.”

Cecena—who, interestingly, is not himself a golfer—said he lives on the Legend course.

“When we moved in, both the Legend and Resort courses were on the table (as part of) the conversation about their possible sale,” Cecena said. “Also, I’m the chairman of the Tahquitz Creek Golf Neighborhood … and in talking with my neighbors, I saw that nobody seemed to have all the information. They weren’t organized, but everybody wanted to do something.”

“We would get very simple answers (from the Oswit Land Trust) when we were looking for detail. How was it going to be maintained? What was it going to cost to maintain? The answers that were being provided just did not sit well with anyone.” Ernest Cecena, chairman of Save PS Golf

Cecena therefore decided to help organize his neighbors.

“It started off just as concerned neighbors wanting to understand, and having a lot of questions, because we weren’t finding a lot of answers as to what OLT was trying to do,” Cecena said. “… These questions were always presented back to OLT. How did they plan to afford this? We would get very simple answers when we were looking for detail. How was it going to be maintained? What was it going to cost to maintain? The answers that were being provided just did not sit well with anyone.”

Cecena said OLT’s change in plans to keep the Legend Course open to golfers is not enough to satisfy him and his fellow Save PS Golf members.

“It has never been our mission to dice up the golf courses,” said Cecena. “You can see it on OLT’s Facebook page, and they call it a compromise. They say that they talked to golfers, and that golfers felt it was a compromise. Save PS Golf is endorsed by a number of golf organizations with up to a total of 160,000 members. The golfers have spoken, and that is not a compromise.”

Instead, Save PS Golf is working on a compromise of its own: The group is talking with the city about putting a conservation easement on the courses. The state’s civil code defines a conservation easement as “any limitation in a deed, will, or other instrument … the purpose of which is to retain land predominantly in its natural, scenic, historical, agricultural, forested, or open‐space condition.”

Cecena said discussions with the city are in their infancy, but that he is optimistic the strategy will work.

“In simple terms, it wouldn’t keep the courses from being sold,” Cecena said. “But it protects them from ever being developed. It solidifies that this area would have to remain as open space. It’s a simple solution, and it’s a win-win for everybody.”

Garrison expressed doubts about the conservation easement idea.

“The only way you can protect land permanently is to own it,” Garrison said. “Then we can (make sure) that there are protections on the deed and title, and that it stays in the ownership of the land trust. So, if we want to see these golf course properties remain as open space, we have to own them.”

Garrison wanted to dispel any notion that OLT was unduly fixated on golf courses.

“I think it’s important to note that the Oswit Land Trust is in escrow for two (completely unrelated) properties right now,” she said. “We have our eye on about eight other very important pieces of land for conservation. We have plenty of projects to keep us busy. If we felt that those golf courses were safe from development, we would not be focused on them. But we know the reality—and the reality is that it’s not a matter of if those golf courses will be developed; it’s a matter of when, unless we do something about them.”

“The only way you can protect land permanently is to own it. Then we can (make sure) that there are protections on the deed and title, and that it stays in the ownership of the land trust.” Jane Garrison, the founder and president of the Oswit Land Trust

Garrison pointed to Assembly Bill 1910, sponsored by Bell Gardens-area Rep. Cristina Garcia, as a reason for her concerns.

“It is back for a third time, and it’s a housing bill that encourages development of low-income housing on city golf courses,” Garrison said. “It takes away any protection that the land has through the California Environmental Quality Act and the Surplus Land Act. So if that bill gets passed, the city can easily just sell those golf courses to developers. It’s a big threat to that open space. Even though we believe that the current City Council probably would not do that, the current City Council is not going to be the current City Council for long. … There’s such a decline in interest in golf, so we need to be proactive and not reactive, and try to put some kind of protection on that land.”

As for the other two courses that would make up the Mesquite Desert Preserve: Garrison said the Oswit Land Trust has received a big boost in its efforts to acquire Bel Aire Greens—a $4 million acquisition grant thought the state of California.

“That is really exciting. It required a lot of work, and we worked together with the Trust for Public Land to get that,” Garrison said. “We’d been working on it with them for over a year now. The next step on that is to have the owners agree to have an appraisal done. We’re required to have an appraisal before we can use that funding grant. Unfortunately, there is a lease holder for Bel Aire Greens, and he has submitted development plans to the city. So, that does complicate things a bit.”

The Mesquite Golf Course land remains for sale, and the trust plans to continue conversations regarding the land, Garrison said.

She expressed hope that her group and Save PS Golf can collaborate—especially if AB 1910 advances in the Legislature.

“When we originally met with them, we said that we really needed to work together,” Garrison said. “We needed to come up with some plan that prevents development on both of these golf courses. It’s a handful of individuals who are really digging their heel in, and now don’t want any of the courses to become part of the preserve. I think we’ll all lose in the end if we don’t work together on this.”

Cecena said he has great respect for the Oswit Land Trust, based on its past successes—most notably acquiring and preserving Oswit Canyon from an imminent housing development.

“That was great work on their part, preserving land from being developed,” Cecena said. “But now, building something—and removing something from the community? That’s where we draw the line.”

Kevin Fitzgerald

Kevin Fitzgerald is the staff writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. He started as a freelance writer for the Independent in June 2013, more than a year after he and his wife moved from Los Angeles...

4 replies on “Which Course to Take? The Oswit Land Trust’s Efforts to Protect Golf Areas as Open Space Garner Opposition”

  1. We’re shocked that destroying Tahquitz is still actively being considered. It’s truly and absurd idea: Take a beautiful golf course widely used by locals and visitors and let it go fallow – especially when there are many other great options for natural, open space. We will not allow the well-maintained, landscaped Tahquitz Resorts golf course to become a dusty dumping ground and homeless magnet.

    We have so much undeveloped desert land in our community that could be used as a preserve. Start there first. Take a look at the land behind Lowes. It is littered with TVs, mattresses and trash. Homeless have set up camps with shopping carts and makeshift shelters. Once converted to native, open space, this is the future for Tahquitz!

    If Oswit is serious about transforming our community, they should start their preserve by transforming abandoned land first.

    We can have it all here in Palm Springs – both wild nature preserve and open space golf courses. Tahquitz Resort Golf is a treasure in our community and must be saved.

  2. I’m all for turning the Mesquite course into open space for all. Compared to Tahquitz it’s rarely used.

  3. The readers of the CV Independent need to know that what Jane Garrison says about AB 1910 in this article is simply not true. It does NOT obviate the California Environmental Quality Act nor the Surplus Land Act; indeed, the analysis that the Assembly Housing & Community Development Staff put together for Wednesday’s hearing on the bill pointed out in vivid detail how the prescriptions of the Surplus Land Act would continue to apply were AB 1910 to make it all the way to the Governor’s desk and signed into law in 2022.

    This is the bill’s 3rd time at bat. As AB 672 it failed in 2021 to get docketed on either of its policy committees of reference. As a 2-year holdover bill it failed to get out of Assembly Appropriations Committee in January.

    AB 1910, unlike its original 672 iteration, is 100% permissive in that it would merely facilitate conversions of municipal golf courses to affordable housing if local agencies want to pursue such. The City of Palm Springs would remain in firm control of that decision, and given the way the local community has responded in support of keeping Tahquitz Creek a 36-hole golf course as opposed to a desert preserve, it is simply disingenuous to suggest that the passage of AB 1910 would somehow take that control out of the hands of the local community and the persons they elect to represent them on the Palm Springs City Council.

    Ms. Garrison is correct; the only way to keep the Tahquitz Creek parcel open recreational space is to own it, and who better to exercise those ownership rights than a city government accountable to the residents of Palm Springs? The Oswit Land Trust would not be similarly accountable, and there is no set of deed restrictions that can overcome that.

    Ms. Garrison is entitled to her opinion that a desert preserve in the middle of a large desert is preferable to an affordable, accessible golf course, but she is not entitled to her own facts about AB 1910. And she is certainly not entitled to keep scaring the residents of Palm Springs that the only thing that stands between them and residential development in their Tahquitz Creek neighborhood is to sell the land to the Oswit Land Trust. Palm Springs can keep 36 holes of golf at Tahquitz if it so chooses. For that matter, it can do a multiplicity of other things on the property should that be the desire of its residents. And that’s the issue here — the will of the residents through their elected representatives, not the will of Jane Garrison per false premises and scare tactics.

  4. I agree it’s a total shame to change such a beautiful community activity. It has its own natural beauty and would be sad to destroy something that’s profitable by locals and the city. Please leave the golf courses and go find a preserve at the Salton sea!!!!!

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