OC golf course development plans spark concern from residents who fear getting priced out

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (KABC) -- The Willowick Golf Course is a public property sitting on the edge of Santa Ana, owned by the city of Garden Grove. Neighbors are concerned about its future because Garden Grove has plans to lease it to a developer for a mixed-use project. Some longtime residents fear it would raise property values and rent, therefore forcing them out.

"We're right up on the chopping block," said Santa Ana resident Byron Lopez. "It's happened throughout Santa Ana, throughout Orange County, throughout the country."

Lopez lives in a mobile home park right next to the golf course. He says a major development would force him into homelessness.

"Honestly it kind of keeps me up at night wondering what's gonna happen to my family. I mean we don't really have anywhere else to go," Lopez said.

Marlha Sanchez has had four generations of family who have lived in her Santa Ana home. She fears the city's trying to rush a deal, instead of listening.

"I fear for the homeless situation too because there's not a lot of affordable housing," Sanchez said. "And city councils and the O.C. Board of Supervisors and everybody's up in arms about this homeless stuff. And at the same time, they're making it worse because they're not providing affordable housing and they're making more and more spaces where you have to have money to participate in life."

Activists have formed a coalition called Rise Up Willowick. They recently filed a lawsuit claiming the city was violating the California Surplus Land Act by not prioritizing affordable housing and open space.

"Essentially they didn't notify any public agencies or affordable housing developers that this land, this public land is available," said Flor Barajas Tena, an activist with Rise Up Willowick.

Tuesday, the group claimed victory after securing a preliminary injunction on the land, meaning the city can't close a deal until the case is closed. A judge will eventually rule on Willowick's surplus land status.

"And it's not just me you know. There's so many people struggling in Santa Ana and Orange County as a whole and I think right now is the time for the City Council to take notice of what we're trying to say and to what the needs are," Sanchez said.

"Parks, community centers, community gardens and affordable housing. We're not against development necessarily. What we're against is development that focuses on profit and basically forcing out everybody who doesn't make enough money to buy one of these condos," Lopez said.

Eyewitness News reached out to Garden Grove city officials, but they didn't want to comment. They still planned to discuss the future of the golf course at a City Council meeting Tuesday. The city of Santa Ana responded with a statement saying, "The injunction does not apply to the City of Santa Ana, which does not own the property. The City has filed a demurrer to be dismissed from the case in its entirety. That is scheduled to be heard on Feb. 25, 2020."
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