In Needles A New Form Of Recreation Takes Up The Slack For An Older One

The City of Needles, which for decades was on a downward financial spiral, now has its head above water enough to transfer $2.8 million out of its general fund reserve account to cover arrearages that have been accumulating as a consequence of its municipal golf course running in the red over the last five years.
The Rivers Edge Golf Course is owned and operated by the City of Needles and offers a championship par 71, 18-hole golf course, running 6,515 yards, or 3.7 miles. It is the only golf course in the Tri-State Region at the confluence of the California, Nevada and Arizona borders located on the Colorado River and where golfers are permitted to walk the course. The site consists of a driving range, short game practice field and putting green, cart barn, golf pro shop, and a clubhouse concession that occupies a leased area of the pro shop.
Rivers Edge Golf Course is located on the Colorado River off interstate 40 and Historic Route 66. The course was built in 1960 and has maintained a rich history as a golfing venue. It has hosted the Flip Mendez Youth Fund Golf Tournament in May for the past 23 years. The course is next door to the Needles Marina Resort, a popular recreational vehicle oasis that overlooks the Colorado River. It is described by golfers as a relatively flat and well-kempt course with nice character, wide fairways and gentle angles, where rounds are more than reasonably priced at $13 for 9 holes on a walking weekday morning. It fills the niche of a course for snowbirds coming to the region in winter months as well as rivergoers in the spring, summer and fall. The course is open year-round.
Despite those advantages, the facility has not been able to function at a profit for some time.
In 2020, the city solicited proposals for an experienced individual or firm providing golf course management services to operate the links, ranges, pro shop/country club and other amenities. According to the document the city put out in conjunction with that solicitation, in fiscal year 2018 the course generated $492,657 in revenue; another $706,957 in fiscal year 2019; was on course to stir up $696,515 in revenue in 2020; and the city was budgeting for fiscal year 2021 with the expectation that the course would bring in $834,309. The city indicated in that document that it anticipated increasing use of the course, such that it would be host to over 20,000 rounds of golf on an annual basis with a two-year average of 21,084 rounds. The ideal candidate for the new course management would, the document stated, “brand [the] course to attract golfers to create more golf tournament opportunities in the Tri-State Region” and “Reduce costs to improve the bottom line by efficiency and maintenance of the course.” The document noted that the course’s “water costs are fixed due to the city’s present perfected water rights.”
With the advent of the coronavirus crisis in 2020, however, Needles went into serious isolation. Remarkably, that sequestering worked. There were no reported COVID-19 cases in Needles in March, in April and into May of 2020, even as the contagion raged in all 23 of San Bernardino County’s other municipalities and in many of its unincorporated communities. That privileged status of unblemished health came to an end when two Needles residents, whose occupation required that they travel regularly between Needles and Barstow, became infected, apparently, toward the end of April. They did not report their illness, though they self-quarantined. Needles’ fortune held, and it remained one of the more COVID-free spots in America as Spring 2020 gave way to Summer 2020.
That positive distinction came at a price, however. The city’s golf course, already on a trajectory to lose money that year, fared even worse.
At the end of fiscal year 2019-2020 on June 30, 2020, the golf course for those 12 months had expenses of $938,724, while simultaneously having charged its golfers/customers $357,568, a loss of $581,156. Rivers Edge did even more poorly in 2020-21, although the city has not released precise figures. It remained in the red until earlier this month, with 2021-2022 having progressed into its eighth month.
At its February 8 meeting, upon hearing that the city’s golf fund deficit will reach $2,800,000 as of February 28, 2022, the Needles City Council voted to transfer $2.8 million from its reserves to clear that debt.
The city was able to take that action because its coffers have been swelled with revenue from municipal levies upon commercial marijuana enterprises within its city limits. In 2012, Needles became the first of the cities in San Bernardino County to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate within its jurisdiction. At that time, like the county’s 21 other cities and two incorporated towns, the county did not allow marijuana to be dispensed in its unincorporated areas. In this way, Needles got in on the ground floor of the marijuana boom not only in San Bernardino County but California, as well.
At that point, marijuana was legally available in California for medicinal use in locations where local government was amenable to its sale. In 2016, California’s voters passed Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, allowing marijuana and its derivatives to be sold for their intoxicative effect. Needles did not miss a stroke, and now marijuana shops selling both medical and highly potent psychoactive marijuana proliferate in Needles as do marijuana cultivation operations. The city imposes a duty on those sales. At this point, the cities of San Bernardino, Adelanto and Barstow have consented to allowing the commercial availability of marijuana and Hesperia permits marijuana delivery services to function there.
Needles, like San Bernardino and Adelanto, has not been forthcoming with regard to how much revenue it is capturing by the tax/fees imposed on marijuana and cannabis-related product sales, and Barstow has not advanced far enough in allowing sales for revenue information to be available. Whatever Needles’ take of the lucrative marijuana enterprises it has permitted, it apparently has exceeded $2.8 million.
It was observed that there was some level of poetic justice in what had occurred in Needles on February 8, in that the recreational use of marijuana in the city is now paying for the drop-off in recreational activity at the golf course.
-Mark Gutglueck

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