Palm Desert City Council votes down Desert Willow resident golf rate changes, for now
After almost a year of study sessions, resident feedback and cost analysis research, the Palm Desert City Council rejected city staff’s recommendation to change resident prices at Desert Willow Golf Resort during Thursday night’s council meeting.
For now, resident fees at the golf course will remain status quo, but the council is expected to take up the matter again later this month.
Palm Desert city staff asked the council to consider changing the price residents pay to golf, how far in advance residents can book tee times and what – exactly – is the definition of a “resident.”
Currently, residents pay $50 to book tee times and cannot book more than three days in advance to receive the discount – and that will continue for now. The option that city staff proposed to the council on Thursday night would have allowed residents to pay $30 for low-demand times, including high noon and late afternoon, and up to $130 for peak tee times. The $130 fee is a result of a 30 percent resident discount during peak times off the non-resident price of $185.
The approval would also have allowed more flexibility in the definition of what a resident is, allowing more people to have access to that resident discount. It also would have allowed residents to book times in advance while still receiving the percent discount.
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After reviewing the options, the council was divided on the best action to take and consequently voted down the proposal. Some council members thought the status quo was fine. Others thought the definition of resident should stay the same, while some wanted a flat price increase for residents.
City staff is now tasked with coming up with a new proposal that calls for increasing the resident flat rate based on inflation.
The task force that reviewed the golf rates was originally formed about a year ago to address concerns that residents lack equal access to the golf course because of the restrictions on how far out they could book course time. But the handful of residents that were at the Palm Desert City Council meeting on Thursday urged the council not to change the rules.
Councilwoman Kathleen Kelly said that sometimes it takes a review process to realize that things are just fine the way they are.
But Mayor Sabby Jonathan argued that the nine residents who addressed council on Thursday do not represent the 3,500 resident card holders that golf are Desert Willow and a decision needs to be made that is in the best interest of everyone.
Jonathan said that the residents’ cost for tee times hasn’t kept up with inflation and if the price formula doesn’t change, that the city will be subsidizing the golf course in five years – at the cost of $1 million to the general fund. Jonathan said if the $50 resident flat rate had kept up with inflation, it would be at $74 today.
Councilwoman Jan Harnik reminded the council that the golf course was not intended to be a low-cost or free to residents, likes public parks are. It was meant to generate revenue for the city, she said. Currently the golf course is self-sustaining, though some argue it has the potential to be a revenue generator.
Residents argued that any change to resident rates would discourage new residents from moving into the city.
Palm Desert real estate agent Todd Later, who also lives in the city, said he often promotes the discounted resident rate to potential buyers when selling homes. He said it is a real consideration for retired golfers who are looking to move to the desert community later in life. He said he is strongly opposed to the dynamic pricing model.
Dennis Brealey, a Palm Desert resident, said he believes the dynamic pricing model would have effectively ended the resident golf program instead of expanding it.
While the conversation about Desert Willow Golf Resort began focused on how residents can have more access to golf times at an affordable rate, it is now a conversation about what the city needs to ensure general fund dollars aren’t subsidizing the course in the years to come.
Desert Sun reporter Nicole Hayden covers the cities of La Quinta, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert. She can be reached at Nicole.Hayden@desertsun.com or (760) 778-4623. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_A_Hayden.