By Alfredo Santana
MONTEBELLO — In a controversial special session attended by only three City Council members, Montebello hired contractor McCarthy Building Companies to design and build a sprawling entertainment golf facility that would be managed by TopGolf USA for an estimated $45.5 million.
Council members Angie Jimenez, Salvador Melendez and Mayor Kimberly Cobos-Cawthorne voted to approve the contract on Nov. 10, two days after the mid-term elections were held Nov. 8. Cobos-Cawthorne was defeated in her bid for reelection Nov. 8.
Money to build the facility will come from a series of municipal bonds approved unanimously in September to develop the Montebello Driving Range Project, to be christened as Topgolf Montebello.
The city plans to recoup the investment under a long-term lease with TopGolf, a company with corporate headquarters in Dallas, Texas, that operates more than 70 locations in the United States, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Australia and Dubai.
TopGolf manages driving ranges with electronically tracked balls and automatically scores drives.
A report from City Manager Rene Bobadilla indicated that Series 2022B bonds were issued after the City Council passed the ordinance.
“This has been a long, long road to try to get to this point today,” Bobadilla said. “And the reason for the urgency is that TopGolf has a deadline for construction that ends in December of next year. So they really need to start working and we need to get this agreement approved so they can get on site and start doing what they need to do in advance of going full force. That’s what the urgency was.”
Bobadilla said that before the special meeting, staff did not have the agreements ready and had to amend contract language to bring the documents before the council to vote.
“Even as early as a couple hours ago, you’ve got the latest update. I just want to be clear and transparent that we’ve been working closely with our legal team and Topgolf legal team,” he said.
The city manager said it was 18 months ago when the first public conversation on the golf course transformation took place, and what appeared a project headed for failure became a huge achievement.
From the beginning, McCarthy Building had a preferential treatment from staff, obtaining a non-bidding waiver that helped clinch the contract to build the technologically advanced golf range facility due to being “the only available design-build contractor with experience on similar projects,” according to a public document written by City Attorney Arnold Alvarez-Glasman.
Blueprints call for a three-story facility with climate-controlled driving ranges to host 102 hitting bays, a 215-yard outfield with 11 targets on the ground, state of the art kitchens with capacity to serve a full food and beverage menu to all guests and several restaurants and bars for the public.
The entertainment complex would include retailers of golf-themed merchandise, parking for 450 to 500 cars, room to host private and corporate events and office space, and a miniature golf course.
The entertainment venue will be built in connection with the redesign of the existing Montebello Golf Course.
On Sept.14, the City Council approved the sale of bonds for $15.3 million to finance the reconstruction of the Montebello Municipal Golf Course with a total renovation cost of $20.3 million.
The golf course has been closed since Sept. 26.
Absent city council members Scarlet Peralta and David Torres said in emails they asked to read for the record as part of the proceedings that they were not able to attend due to schedule conflicts booked days before the special meeting was called.
Peralta and Torres both said they asked their colleagues to table the item until the scheduled Nov. 16 meeting.
“City Council and its residents deserve more than a 24-hour window to analyze and read over these items,” Peralta said in an email read by Bobadilla at the meeting.
In his email, Torres apologized for his absence and blasted Cobos-Cawthorne for calling a meeting without the full council being present, and raised the specter of a Ralph M. Brown Act violation, which requires legislative bodies to post public advisories with at least 24 hours before special meetings are called.
“The agenda was posted nearly exactly 24 hours in advance, which prevented me from [being] given proper Brown Act notice, or participating by teleconference,” Torres said in his email, also read by Bobadilla.
“The mayor should be considerate of the obligations of the council and staff, communicating prospective meetings in advance, so postings can make a more effective organization by ensuring business can be conducted in a more inclusive organization by valuing the participation of the entire body.”
Torres said that he checked with Bobadilla on Nov. 2 and on that date “there was no projected” special meeting to vote on the item.
Defending her decision, Cobos-Cawthorne said that all her colleagues were contacted by city staff, and insisted that the item had been on their radar to be dealt with for months, but legalities and proximity with Election Day forced them to postpone it.
Cobos-Cawthorne underscored that the 24-hour period provided by the Brown Act applies for the public in general, and obtained assurances from Melendez and Jimenez that the post was placed online in time and form.
“Let me clarify, our deputy clerk posted online 24 hours before. That is a posting for the public,” Cobos- Cawthorne said. “Each of us are polled by staff, then we are emailed by staff. We’ve been trying to have this months ago.”
Features at other TopGolf facilities include televisions that broadcast various sporting events, loudspeakers to play music, snack vendors such as spicy Buffalo Wings, sales of hamburgers and beer, golf lessons, tournaments and concerts.
The city expects that the high-tech attraction will bring enough revenue from TopGolf to make the entire property self-sustaining and provide cash flow to wipe off decades-old subsidies that kept the golf course open.
Earlier this year, TopGolf began its footprint in Southern California with expansion venues in Ontario and El Segundo.