It is said in the West that whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.
Santa Fians is about to witness a water war.
The city of Santa Fe fired its first rocket in July when it filed a 26-page complaint seeking to end a decades-old arrangement whereby the Santa Fe Country Club and Golf Association watered the golf course with the city’s liquid water in exchange for allowing city residents who are not members to play the club’s course.
The country club’s 44-page answer and counterclaim filed in August make it clear that the club is willing to do battle to preserve the agreement, which dates back to the Cold War era.
At stake is approximately 700,000 gallons of treated effluent that the city provides to the club to irrigate the 18-hole golf course.
The city says the water is worth more now than it was when it struck the deal in 1959—millions of dollars more—and access to the greens is less valuable than it was decades ago, especially since the city now owns and operates its own golf course.
In a recent interview, Andrew J.
Both say the conflict is not just about the dollar value of the assets on both sides of the deal.
“The lawsuit concerns the city’s right to control critical resources and renegotiate the contract for a fair value,” city spokeswoman Kristin Bustos-Mihelcic wrote in an email last week.
For the club, Schultz said, it was about keeping one’s word, or in this case honoring a legal contract.
“It’s not just a matter of wastewater,” he said. “It was a quid pro quo for the City to do something and for the Golf Association to do something for the City.”
Schultz said the city agreed to provide water to the course as long as it functioned as a golf course that was open for members of the public to play. The club continued to operate a golf course and kept it open to the public for a reasonable green fee.
“The Santa Fe Country Club delivered on its promise,” he said.
Prices at the club are about 20% higher than they are at city-owned Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe, according to their websites, but Schultz said “Every time there was a raise, we sent a notice to the city council, and they didn’t object.”
Meanwhile, Schultz said, the city has failed on numerous occasions to provide the water it is contractually obligated to provide due to equipment malfunctions or failure to meet state standards for pollutant levels — forcing the club to close or purchase potable water to prevent turf death. .
“So, now for the city to come forward and say, ‘Oh my God,’ he said, ‘I did everything we asked before, but now we think things might have changed’—well, that’s not the contract they made.” No party to the contract has the right to say, Oh my God, we really don’t like the deal we made, so let’s just break it.” That’s not how it works.
Schultz’s counterclaim on behalf of the club accuses the city of breach of contract and more nefarious things including organizational takeover, breach of good faith and fair dealing, unlawful enrichment and more.
The club’s filing says the city cycle is operating at an annual deficit of more than $1 million annually and describes the city’s attempt to get out of its agreement as “monopolistic anti-competitive behavior” in violation of federal and state antitrust laws.
In the club’s response to the lawsuit, Schultz wrote: “The city brought the present lawsuit … in a deliberate attempt to destroy its competition and monopoly on the public golf market in Santa Fe.”
The club says in its registration that there is something else in play as well – the property on which the country club is located.
The famous Catron family — whose patriarch Thomas Benton Catron, attorney, former mayor of Santa Fe and one of New Mexico’s first two post-state senators, a man credited with developing the entire east side of Santa Fe Plaza — transferred ownership, Schultz said. to the city for use as a golf course in the 1930s.
According to Schultz, the city attempted to operate a golf course there for about a decade, but in 1949 leased the property to the Santa Fe Golf Association. In 1959, he said, the city returned the property to the Catron family. The family then transferred him to the Santa Fe Golf Association, and the city and club entered into the bargain—water in exchange for running the course.
Schultz says in the club’s counterclaim that the contract asserts that if the club cannot continue to operate a public golf course on the property, it will lease it to the city for $1 per year on the condition that the city operate it as a local golf course.
Under the terms of the deal, Schultz said, if the city fails to run a golf course on the property, it will revert to the club. But if the club defaults on its mortgage and the bank forecloses on the land, the 1959 contract allows the city to redeem the property in the event of foreclosure “thus acquiring the property for pennies on the dollar.”
Even within the family, the early history of the deal is merely folklore.
“I’m afraid too many generations of my family have passed for me to be useful to you,” Santa Fe attorney Fletcher Catron wrote in an email Friday when asked about it.
Fletcher Catron added, “My father, Thomas Catron III, told me that his uncle, Charles Catron, had given the land to the Country Club in return for permanent membership to himself and his family.” “I know his brother, my grandfather, Fletcher A. Catron, was a great golfer, and I suppose Charlie was too.
He added, “I am also aware, of course, of the city’s attempt to back out of its contract to water the golf course.”
Schultz rejects the suggestion that what might have been a good deal for the citizens of Santa Fe Manhe decades ago may not be appropriate in the eyes of current leaders who live in a world where water has become more valuable and golf courses less scarce.
It wasn’t just some long-dead dealmakers, he said, who felt the country club’s golf courses provided a valuable service to the community. Multiple city administrations have officially recognized the value of the course over the years.
“The city has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to this contract,” said Schultz.
For example, he said, when the club filed a quiet title action in 1965, the city went to court to establish a reverse interest in the property.
“They weren’t afraid to say that the contract value was there when they wanted to assert an interest,” Schultz said.
In 1981, the city considered selling the waters to the Santa Fe Downs, he said, adding that the club was worried about what that might mean for their deal. And the city issued a decision reaffirming its dealings with the club.
The Santa Fe Golf Association has made investments based on those assurances, Schultz said, building a new pipeline to carry water when the city built a new sewage treatment plant and investing in irrigation and irrigation systems for more efficient water management.
Schultz claims that the city’s main aim is to retroactively force the club into a new deal in compliance with the Treated Effluent Management Ordinance 2003. This requires that all agreements be limited to four-year time periods and that all effluents be sold at market value.
But Schultz said even that law recognized the commitment the city had already made to the club, noting that it was a “go-forward order” which he explicitly said only applied to post-1999 agreements.
“They want to break the 60-year-old agreement so they can try to renegotiate a deal under this decree,” Schultz said.
If the city were allowed to do so, he wrote in the club’s reply, “Santa Fe Country Club will be denied all economically beneficial uses of its property.”
It is not clear exactly when the city’s thinking about the arrangement began to shift.
Schultz said the city approached the club about a contract renegotiation in 1998.
According to Bestos-Mihelcic, a city spokeswoman, the city attorney wrote the club in late 2021 requesting a renegotiation of the deal, and those discussions continued throughout the spring of 2022.
During negotiations, the city’s attorney suggested that the city be willing to move to a contract that could include the possibility of a “tiered pricing scheme that scales over time” or “non-monetary compensation” according to a schedule provided by Bustos-Mihlkic.
But the club has repeatedly indicated it is not interested in the contract expiring or asking the club to pay for sewage treatment, forcing the city to take the case to court, she wrote.
The city filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the club’s counterclaims, disputing allegations of bad faith dealing, appropriation or simply breach of contract.
“The country club claims that the 1964 contract indefinitely obligated the city to provide it with 700,000 gallons of treated effluent per day, free of charge regardless of the circumstances,” attorney Seth T. Cohen wrote in the suit.
“In the face of drought and climate change, and with increasing demand for water and dwindling supplies, this impediment to the city’s ability to manage a vital resource is untenable,” says the movement.
The notes say the city has not stopped providing water to the club or rescinded its contract.
“Instead, preserving the status quo…the city took a measured approach by seeking judicial determination of its rights to terminate the contract.”
It will now be up to County Judge Matthew Wilson to decide. He is scheduled to hold a preliminary hearing in the case in March.
Meanwhile, former president of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce and avid golfer Simon Brackley said in a recent conversation that “we have two great courses, both on the south side of town, and both are an asset to the community.”
He said that many non-members like himself enjoy playing the two courses, and he sees the value of having two public courses, both watered with waste water.
Brackley said the Santa Fe Country Club has done a great job keeping the course open to all for the past half century.
He said, “It’s not special.” “It’s not a place behind a wall of stone. It would be very sad if it couldn’t stay in business and be built.
He said, “Let’s figure it out.” “There is definitely a way to make it work.”