illegal Morgan Hill golf course
After the City of Morgan Hill granted a (grossly after-the-fact) Temporary Use Permit for the course, the Committee and Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society (SCVAS) appealed. The Morgan Hill Planning Commission denied our appeal, but we are working to shut down the illegal operation until the proper permits and environmental review are completed.Golf course history filled with strife and illegal actions
The expanded golf course, east of 101 at the former Hill Country Golf Course on Foothill Avenue in Morgan Hill, was constructed illegally in 1998 as part of the planned American Institute of Mathematics (AIM) Conference Center, a project of Fry's Electronics CEO John Fry and AIM executive Steve Sorenson. Fry's Electronics has a long association with AIM, including providing substantial financial support and sharing office space at the Fry's Palo Alto store location.
The owners have been scuffling with Morgan Hill officials for more than four years. They originally obtained a permit to grade 40 acres to improve the nine-hole course, but then graded 150 acres and doubled the course size. The City ordered the work stopped and required the production and approval of an Environmental Impact Report. The temporary use permit (which allowed limited use of the golf course) expired in May 2001, but the owners continued to golf on the property.
Two years later, in May of 2003, CGF and SCVAS alerted the city that the golf course was in use, and operating without required permits. The City Planning Department then prohibited play on the course until the proper permits were secured. Despite the City's warning, golfers continued to use the course.Course poses serious environmental impacts
The course's construction, maintenance and use pose serious environmental impacts, including loss of habitat for endangered species and wildlife and threats to surface and groundwater from the unpermitted course's fertilizer and pesticide use. These impacts were all described by a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the golf course prepared by the City of Morgan Hill, as well as a later revised DEIR.
Like other golf courses, this project threatens a myriad of environmental resources, including the probable destruction and loss of habitat for several endangered species, including the federally threatened California red-legged frog, and the California tiger salamander and western pond turtle, both species of special concern. In addition, use of fertilizers and herbicides on the course may be damaging groundwater supplies.
The city's DEIR noted that nitrogen in drinking water could rise to three times the recommended health level. This in an area already affected by perchlorate, making the impacts on water quality especially severe.Violations occuring at all levels of government
Morgan Hill's DEIR also notes potential violations of the federal Clean Water Act, the California Water Code, the California Department of Fish and Game Code and the federal Endangered Species Act.
CGF and SCVAS have filed complaints with the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game, asking them to take enforcement actions against past and present violations of environmental laws at the golf course.Recent permit issued by City was illegal; history may repeat itself
Compounding the problem, the City of Morgan Hill in August 2003 issued a Temporary Use Permit (TUP), allowing the illegal course to operate before it completes its environmental documentation, without giving notice to the public or environmental groups.
According to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), any use of the course is illegal until the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project is completed and certified. Because the TUP is legally flawed and does not protect human health or the environment, CGF and SCVAS filed an appeal of this permit. The Morgan Hill Planning Commission denied that appeal in October 2003.What's next? UPDATED
Although the Morgan Hill Planning Commissioners denied our appeal of the Temporary Use Permit, they did require the operators to submit a fertilizing plan and mowing plan for the duration of the TUP, and this will act somewhat to limit the course's environmental impacts.
Importantly, City staff also supported changing the Temporary Use Permit process, acknowledging that large projects like the golf course should not receive TUPs. The City will also reconsider the prohibitively expensive $1000 filing fee they require for appeals of TUPs, the amount CGF and SCVAS had to pay in order to have the public's voice be heard on this issue.
The next steps will include the preparation of another Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR), receipt of comments and issuance of a Final EIR, all of which were supposed to be due by the end of March 2004. Because course operators have refused to mitigate impacts, they have delayed the process. The Morgan Hill City Council will not certify the EIR, which includes steps to mitigate the damage caused by the construction of the course, until at least July 7, 2004.
The owners' Temporary Use Permit expired in March 2004, but the course operators have applied for another "Temporary" Use Permit, one that has no end date. The course operators are continuing to flaunt the law by operating their course without a use permit. On April 8, 2004, Committee for Green Foothills and Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society filed a code enforcement request with the City of Morgan Hill.
What you can do
1. Help us monitor use of the illegal golf course
The owners of the course have promised not
to play golf during the winter, when the lands are more susceptible to
damage and erosion. In addition, the expiration of their TUP in March
2004 leaves them without permission to use or maintain the course. You
can help us monitor their compliance.
The golf course is located southeast of the intersection of Foothill Avenue and Maple Avenue in Morgan Hill. Be sure to observe from bordering streets - please do not trespass. The best views of the course are from along Maple Avenue (just east of its intersection with Foothill), looking south.
Please let us know if you see any maintenance operations or golfing on the course so we can report any illegal activities.
2. Watch for future action alerts on this issue.Watch this webpage for updates, or sign up for our email action alerts about the golf course - when the time comes, we'll be passing along suggestions about responding to the draft EIR.
3. Learn more.
4. Support Committee for
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