ALIFORNIA’S THERMAL — A plan by music industry executive Irving Azoff is on the verge of bringing a private golf course to the eastern Coachella Valley, but the project is not without its detractors.
On around 300 acres of land northeast of the intersection of Van Buren Street and 70th Avenue, Azoff and his team of developers have suggested developing an 18-hole golf course, as well as a 9-hole practice course, on an existing citrus and mango grove. Anthony Vineyards, situated in Bakersfield, owns the property.
Azoff is the chairman and CEO of Azoff MSG Entertainment, having previously served as the CEO of Ticketmaster and Live Nation. In 2012, Billboard Magazine called him “the most powerful person in the music industry.”
The Jeule Ranch Golf Club’s exclusive golf course would have severely limited access, with just 50 memberships available and a maximum of eight persons per membership allowed on-site at any given time. The golf club would limit the number of persons who could utilize the course each day to 25.
Some community residents and activists have criticized the project, which was approved by a Riverside County Planning Director’s hearing on Monday, claiming it has no place in Thermal, where the poverty rate is more than double the statewide average, according to American Community Survey data.
The project’s director, David Smith, listed many obligations made by the course developers to the surrounding community in a letter to the county, similar to the method recently taken by developers of the nearby Thermal Beach Club.
The golf club has pledged to recruit Thermal residents, develop a staff scholarship program, mentor Coachella Valley high school golf teams, and provide field maintenance services to local elementary and high schools.
While approximately 30 acres of citrus trees will remain near the course after development, Smith said that many of the remaining trees will be transferred to local community facilities.
Smith also committed to giving $100,000 to the Desert Recreation District for its planned park in Thermal, which just got state funding, as well as a handful of other parks in the valley, in a follow-up letter to the county.
“We are pleased to contribute to the Desert Recreation District’s construction of this new park that will provide much needed recreational opportunities for the Thermal community,” Smith wrote in his letter. “Already approved as part of the Desert Recreation District’s long-range park plan and recently the recipient of a state grant, we are pleased to contribute to the Desert Recreation District’s construction of this new park that will provide much needed recreational opportunities for the Thermal community.”
Smith also addressed at the meeting on Monday, pointing out that the course is not bordered by any housing developments. Smith presented Gil Hanse, the golf course’s architect, who has worked on a number of notable projects, including the 2016 Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro.
Hanse, who remarked that “very few” courses in the Coachella Valley just offer golf, added that the course will try to fit in with the surroundings, with plans for a citrus grove lining the course’s boundary.
Azoff, who is widely regarded as one of the most powerful persons in the music industry, is not the first to urge a Coachella Valley development. Azoff is also a major co-investor in the Coachella Valley’s new hockey rink, which is expected to open next year, and he gave Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez $20,000 when the project was approved by the county earlier this year.
‘I’ve had it with developers treating our communities like a sandbox.’
Residents of Thermal, on the other hand, are not unified in their support for the proposal. The Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, a community organization that has opposed numerous luxury developments in the east valley, wrote a statement to the county earlier this month opposing the course, which was co-signed by ten local citizens.
Brenda Ortiz, a Thermal homeowner, said she was “struck with disappointment” after learning about the intended course at the meeting on Monday.
“I’ve had it with developers exploiting our communities as a sandbox,” Ortiz added, “because we’re real people with real lives.” “We’ve been battling for clean water, affordable housing, and improved infrastructure for years, and now a golf club is a priority?”
The course developers met with the Thermal-Oasis Community Council earlier this year to get feedback on the project. Ortiz, the only resident who testified at the hearing, contended that the community outreach was insufficient, claiming that despite living in the area her entire life, she was never aware of the council meetings.
Omar Gastelum, a policy director with the LCJA, emphasized the need of community outreach, pointing out that many Thermal people lack internet access and thus are unable to attend virtual sessions.
Regarding the community advantages indicated by the course’s creators, Gastelum said he appreciated the effort, but he demanded that the project developers agree to a timeframe for distributing the community benefit cash before the project begins construction.
Gastelum repeated at the end of his remarks that the project “is just not an acceptable for the community of Thermal and a desert location in general.”
“There are currently well over 100 golf courses in the Coachella Valley,” Gastelum added. “It is absolutely improper and a reckless use of resources to place another one in a neighborhood that has been clamoring for basic infrastructure and accessible services, such as green spaces, recreational facilities, clinics, and community centers, for years.”
Despite the planning director’s designee’s approval on Monday, it’s unclear when the project would break ground in the coming months, as Smith and Hanse did not indicate a schedule in their presentation. The golf course, according to a county planning document, could be ready for use by January 2023.