Alameda sues the operators of its municipal golf course

Alameda sues the operators of its municipal golf course

ALAMEDA — A legal battle is driving relationships at Alameda’s municipal golf course into the rough.

Questions scrutinizing daily operations of Alameda’s 333-acre Corica Park complex have sparked allegations of discrimination, contract breaches and a “systematic campaign” by politicians and established players to regain control of the historic greens, according to opposing laws filed by the city and the golf course’s operators in Alameda County Superior Court.

What started as internal conflicts about financial management devolved into demands for bureaucratic audits of the company’s books and threats of terminating the course’s 40-year lease — actions the current managers say are motivated by “parochial political interests hoping to protect its friends with preferential access. ”

Corica Park, a city-owned course, was leased in August 2012 to Greenway Golf Associates (GGA), which manages the facility’s two 18-hole courses, 9-hole course, driving range and clubhouse on Bay Farm Island.

After GGA’s founders — George Kelley, Ken Campbell and Marc Logan — spearheaded a facelift of the greens in 2018, Golf Magazine deemed Corica Park that year’s “best municipal renovation course” and one of America’s best city-owned courses in 2021.

But shortly after Umesh and Avani Patel purchased Kelley and Campbell’s minority shares of the company and eventually took over operations in 2020, city officials gave them the cold shoulder and started sending notices of lease violations, claiming that the Patels had neglected the golfing greens and illegally swooped in to gain control — an allegation that runs contrary to the city’s own legal counsel’s opinion.

The Patels say they are being unfairly targeted, especially after they started trying to increase access to the publicly owned open space to a larger, more diverse set of players.

For the first time in five years, GGA increased greens fees across the board in 2021, including costs for several long-standing Alameda golf clubs that previously enjoyed cheap access to prime tee times. Umesh Patel said the changes made Corica Park price’s more competitive with nearby courses, helped fund multi-million dollar renovations and supported new programming, including opportunities for underprivileged youth to play for free.

ALAMEDA, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 3: Golfers from St. Joseph Notre Dame in Alameda practice their putting before a match at Corica Park Golf Course in Alameda, Calif., on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News group)

The Patels, who lived in Alameda for 21 years before moving to Oakland, said they don’t want to pit themselves against the city, but feel that a lawsuit is the only way to fight what they feel is retaliation for ruffling longtime golfers’ feathers , especially after shrinking the number of the clubs’ reserved tee times to accommodate more people from across the Bay Area.

“It’s not a new playbook — people, especially people of color, get pushed off public land by maligning their character, questioning their ability, auditing their finances and trying to find that ‘aha’ moment where you can take it back,” Umesh Patel said. “This city, I think, has begun upon on a terrible journey of harassment and prejudice.”

In a March 21 letter, City Manager Eric Levitt and Amy Wooldridge, director of recreation and parks, accused GGA of violating its lease by pausing construction of the North Course, and demanded the company provide a final schedule of the build-out.

The Patels say the delay isn’t of their own volition. Logan, the course’s chief agronomist who is now a minority shareholder and owner, was the manager of the construction project. But once Logan sued GGA over disputes about management of the company’s finances, the Patels put him on administrative leave while the case is disputed in court.

If the Patels can successfully settle with Logan, they say he can resume his work as an independent contractor or consultant. But if that falls through, GGA will hire a new construction firm altogether.

While some of the holes remain closed and cart access is limited in the meantime, the condition of the rest of the course is anything but subpar.

Nick Wolf, Alameda High School’s head golf coach who also leads small group lessons and mentorship for youth at Corica, said there’s no comparison to other regional links, such as Monarch Bay Golf Club in San Leandro or Oakland’s Lake Chabot Golf Course.

“Corica is far better in terms of how manicured it is and how well they maintain it — they’re in great shape,” Wolf said. “The thing that I think a lot of the public has a problem with is just that they haven’t finished it, but in terms of the quality of the course and the track, I feel like everybody loves it.”

ALAMEDA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 3: A golfer hits his approach shot on the 14th green at Corica Park Golf Course in Alameda, Calif., on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
ALAMEDA, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 3: A golfer hits his approach shot on the 14th green at Corica Park Golf Course in Alameda, Calif., on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

The city’s March 21 letter also alleges that GGA’s attorney lied and said the Patels did not have a majority of voting shares in April 2020 and failed to obtain prior, written consent from city officials for that kind of shift in the corporation’s decision-making process.

However, the Patels tried to inform city officials.

In an April 2020 memo from Mark Slater, GGA’s corporate counsel at the time, Alameda’s former Interim City Attorney Michael Roush confirmed city approval was not necessary for purchases of minority shares, acknowledging that “Mr. Patel simply wanted to be transparent with the city about the acquisition.”

Yet, the city stands by its assertions, and filed its own lawsuit against GGA and the Patels. Largely based on Logan’s allegations, Alameda is demanding a comprehensive audit under the threat of terminating the golf course’s lease.

“The city, as the steward of the community’s public assets, has the responsibility to determine if these allegations have any merit and therefore is seeking a full audit of Greenway’s finances,” Alameda spokesperson Sarah Henry said in a statement. “The city categorically rejects the claims raised in Greenway’s cross-complaint and looks forward to vindicating the city’s and the community’s rights in the litigation.”

But Patel argues that while the city has no contractual right to fish through its financial statements, city staff have rejected his offers to have a third party audit the records and settle the disagreements. Until that happens, he feels his only choice is to fight back.

“It’s a terrible abuse of power, and I made every effort to settle these claims,” Umesh Patel said. “I did not want to become the public face of the course, but honestly, I felt it was so imperative that just for the sake of our souls, we had to stand up to this.”

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