TopGolf was nowhere on the City Council’s agenda Tuesday night, nor was the council anywhere near a decision on the proposed $20 million high-tech driving range and lounge proposed a year ago at The Lakes in El Segundo municipal golf course.
But a line of nearly three dozen residents reached from the podium all the way out the entrance to council chambers at the beginning of the meeting, nearly all who’d come to voice opposition to TopGolf and plead with the council to either leave The Lakes as it is or issue a Request For Proposal (RFP) aimed at attracting operators other than TopGolf.
Residents’ concerns centered on the impact bringing a more entertainment-oriented facility – featuring a bar, gourmet food, and a higher-priced microchip-embedded golf ball game – would have on the family-oriented nature of The Lakes.
Resident Lynn Norton told the council that she, her husband and two kids all take lessons and go regularly to the existing driving range, a decidedly lo-tech facility beloved by many local golfers.
“We just think it’s such a valuable facility for this community to have and it strikes us as a shame we would turn it into an entertainment facility,” Norton said. “It’s like turning it into a [TGI] Fridays or something….It sounds like it’s become a dollar thing.”
“I think if you give it to TopGolf, quite frankly you will be signing a death warrant for the future of the Lakes at El Segundo,” said resident Mike Dugan.
“I’m not interested in creating an arcade atmosphere at The Lakes,” said resident Mary Wilson. “To me, that’s not real golf.”
“Once you go TopGolf, you can’t go back,” said Laurie Livingston. “I mean, you are going to pave paradise and put up a parking lot.”
Manhattan Beach resident Tom Courtney said he’d found public documents that tallied TopGolf’s alcohol sales at its three sites in Texas that made it one of the top five alcohol sellers in those respective markets, counter to the company’s claims that alcohol comprised less than 10 percent of revenues. “To say alcohol is only 10 percent is a falsehood,” he said.
“Alchohol?” said Barbara Umanoff, a Manhattan Beach Middle School teacher. “I won’t send my students here anymore. It’s not a place where children should be any more. And it’s no longer, I think, the community you have, when you allow companies to come in and chip away at the special small town environment you have.”
Another Manhattan Beach resident, Debra Geist, had an item placed on the public communications agenda that called for the council to issue an RFP. She said the nature of the process – which at this point remains a closed session negotiation matter – has raised suspicions.
“It seems a decision has already been made,” she said. “By your action, you are going sole source to TopGolf, and that does not make sense to this community.”
Mayor Bill Fisher, while stressing that no deal had been struck, said that an RFP made little sense, as no operator would offer comparable terms as TopGolf, which in addition to making a $20 million investment (including $2.5 million to The Lakes nine hole course) in city-owned property would employee 80 people fulltime.
“Why would we go to RFP process if there is no bidder out there?” Fisher said.
Mayor pro tem Carl Jacobson urged people to be patient, noting that negotiations take time.
“All I can say is this deal has taken much longer than we expected for it…Just like the Chevron deal did,” he said. “It’s just a fact of life. Everybody is jumping the gun here.”
Councilman Dave Atkinson said he couldn’t help being a little “ticked off” at the repeated concerns and accusations, many from residents of other cities.
“It’s just all the same things we hear day in and day out,” he said. “I wonder if you are all this passionate about your own cities?”
Marie Fellhauer said that she’d received numerous threats via email and even in person regarding the issue that ultimately would not sway her.
“Emails say you have blood on your hands or you are stealing….” she said. “I am here to do what is best for the city, but that is not necessarily what everyone here wants. So my decision will be based on what is best for the city of El Segundo. So please, stop with the threats. It makes no impact on me.”