Golf Course vs Habitat

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I so wanted to write about the big battle in my garden: Slugs and Earwigs vs Seedlings, but the Nature Park, oh the Nature Park, is so much more important! So let’s start with a sunny, happy flower from the park. This bush sunflower (Encelia californica) was planted last year by volunteers from Occidental College, So Pas girl scouts, and other Nature Park stewards. It reminds me of how much progress we have made.


However, there is more work to be done. Those who follow this blog know that the So Pas City Council brought up in closed session the possibility of extending the golf course driving range to a small piece of land situated between the golf course and Nature Park. Today the city manager, several city councilmen and quite a few interested park stewards came to the park to have a look at the land in question.

Walking through the area I was impressed with its habitat value. A drain pipe from Pasadena Avenue above empties onto the property and then flows in a natural gully towards the Arroyo Seco. Before reaching the cement channel there is a broken concrete depression that acts as a small catchment basin allowing for some infiltration.


Inside there are several large, specimen western sycamores, coast live oaks, southern walnuts, blue elderberry, wild cucumber, poison oak, and at least one toyon. Of course there are lots of weeds as well. Given the progress we have made in the Nature Park, it is apparent that with a little TLC the native elements that are so valiantly making a stand, would thrive.

Young coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia).

As for the animals that rely on these plants, the wetness provides especially important habitat. Though I am not a good observer of animals (they move so much faster than plants!), there may very well be salamanders, lizards, small mammals, birds, and possibly even Arroyo toads.

Damp area where amphibians and reptiles might find a suitable home.

Although it would be a shame to lose this habitat, another serious issue is further degradation of the Arroyo Seco. For the land to be converted to an extension of the driving range it would have to be leveled (graded), and turf would be grown. The natural infiltration that currently occurs along the gully and in the depression at the bottom would be disrupted and irrigation water, probably laced with fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, would flow into the Arroyo, heading straight for the coast further reducing water quality at the beaches. Surely this change would require an Environmental Impact Report, oversight by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, or at least CEQA review. (CEQA, or the California Environmental Quality Act, is a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.)


We are told that it all comes down to money. An extension of the driving range will presumably bring more revenue to the city from the company that will operate the golf course; habitat… not so much. The cost of unclean water at our beaches, loss of species, polluted air from the machinery that collects the golf balls, mows the turf and spreads the toxins is not part of any equation. Clearly the numbers are rigged.


We have also been told that it may be possible to find a compromise. Having walked the land, I just don’t see how it could be used without being leveled. This would require either removing some or all of the trees, or creating conditions in which they will decline in health over time. Yes there are golf courses with trees, but usually they are planted in the golf course. Changing grade is always deleterious to trees, and often fatal, though it can take trees years to die, just as it takes them years to develop. The change to grade, drainage, and the addition of turf that requires summer water is incompatible with the health of these trees.

One of several specimen western sycamores (Platanus racemosa) in the area in question.

The trees, though, are only a small part of the picture. Habitat is a complex system containing trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants and a whole slew of animals. Turf grass is nothing but a green desert – few things can live in it, and those that do are usually unwanted pests.

Let your city council know how you feel about this issue. Rick Schneider, who has been an ardent supporter of the Nature Park, finishes his term on the council in March of 2012, as do Mike Ten and David Sifuentes. The city council election will be in November 2011.

Write letters to:
Mr. John Davidson
, City Manager

City Councilmen:
Michael Cacciotti
Mike Ten
David Sifuentes
Richard Schneider
Philip Putnam

City of South Pasadena
1414 Mission St.
South Pasadena, CA 91030