Federal Agency Rejects San Francisco’s Sharp Park Plans

December 16, 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contacts:

Brent Plater, Wild Equity Institute, (415) 572-6989
Arthur Feinstein, Sierra Club, 415-680-0643
Neal Desai, National Parks Conservation Association, (510) 368-0845

Federal Agency Rejects San Francisco’s Sharp Park Plans

Groups call on Mayor to Support Sharp Park Legislation, Address Mounting Problems

SAN FRANCISCO— A central element of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department’s plan to continue golf operations at Sharp Park Golf Course was rejected by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service last week. The move strengthens the need for San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee to sign legislation approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors that would allow City policymakers to consider a new park partnership option with the National Park Service.

For years, the Recreation and Parks Department has tried to convince regulators, the public, and public officials that Sharp Park Golf Course’s operations encourage the recovery of endangered species in the area. But a December 8, 2011 letter from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) denied the Department’s formal attempt to classify golf course activities as a “recovery action.”

In particular, the FWS rejected the Department’s application for a “recovery permit” to clear vegetation from wetlands and lagoons that the golf course uses as its drainage system. Instead, the FWS stated that the Department must either create a habitat conservation plan for Sharp Park or obtain a permit through a formal consultation process for projects that adversely affect endangered species.

“The City is now on notice that its activities are harming endangered species, and that they do not have permits to cause this harm,” said Brent Plater, executive Director of the Wild Equity Institute. “If the City nonetheless moves forward with its existing golf plans, City employees could be subject to civil and criminal penalties.”

“The City must change management activities at Sharp Park Golf Course to comply with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s directive,” said Neal Desai of the National Parks Conservation Association. “Mayor Lee’s approval of legislation that will allow for a potential partnership with the National Park Service, America’s leading expert in endangered species recovery, will provide opportunities and benefits for the City, including evaluations of feasible options that reduce fines, save San Francisco money, and allow it to sustain park services in San Francisco.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service letter also expressly rejected the Department’s contention that the golf course’s water management activities are beneficial for the California red-legged frog. For years, the City has been pumping water from Sharp Park’s wetlands to prevent flooding on the golf course. This exposes California red-legged frog egg masses to the air, causing the eggs to dry-out and die. Rather than obtain a permit for its pumping operations, the City received emergency authorization to move over 100 egg masses that were stranded at Sharp Park Golf Course during last year’s peak breeding season. The City intended to continue this practice this winter, but the Fish and Wildlife Service letter states that the City will no longer provide this authorization, and the City “must obtain incidental take coverage prior to seeking the movement of any egg masses that may be stranded this winter.”

“If San Francisco is going to retain any credibility in its commitment to protect our endangered wildlife, Mayor Lee needs to support the Sharp Park legislation,” said Arthur Feinstein of the Sierra Club, referencing legislation that would allow San Francisco policymakers the opportunity to review a potential partnership proposal with the National Park Service alongside proposals from San Mateo County.

Environmental groups are currently suing the City for violations of federal endangered species laws. On November 8, Judge Susan Illston decided to withold on-the-ground relief for endangered species until after the lawsuit reaches trial. The Judge’s opinion relied on the City’s assertion that it would move any stranded egg masses this winter pursuant to Fish and Wildlife Service authorization. Now that the Fish and Wildlife Service has rejected this request, the City must change its golf course operations. Extensive evidence of harm to red-legged frogs at the golf course last winter shows that the Park Department’s endangered species “compliance plan” has failed.

More information on the Sharp Park legislation:

The golf course at 400-acre Sharp Park is plagued by crumbling infrastructure, annual flooding problems and ongoing environmental violations. The site is home to two federally protected species, the California red-legged frog and San Francisco garter snake. Three dozen San Francisco community, recreation, environmental and social-justice groups have called for closing the golf course and creating a more sustainable public park at Sharp Park.

This month the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed legislation that would begin a restoration planning process for Sharp Park. The legislation is a preliminary step to an agreement with the Park Service for long-term managament of Sharp Park. If the legislation is not vetoed by Mayor Ed Lee, the Park Service is expected to work in partnership with the City to develope a management agreement with Sharp Park. Any management plan would go through an environmental review process, public review and hearings, and come back to the Board of Supervisors for final approval. The legislation allows the City to negotiate with other parties to manage the park, such as San Mateo County or Pacifica, but ensures city decision-making considers the potential Park Service partnership proposal as well.

The Park Service is expected to propose restoring the site to coastal habitat with a trail network and other public-serving amenities. Sharp Park is within the legislative boundary of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and adjacent to the Park Service’s Mori Point, where a successful, multimillion-dollar wildlife habitat and trail restoration project accommodates neighbors, school groups and families in a community-based model of park creation. Coastal restoration experts released a scientific study and restoration proposal for Sharp Park showing that removing the golf course and restoring the natural lagoon, wetlands and beach processes is the least costly and only sustainable solution for the land. Restoration will provide the most public benefit and best protect endangered species, at much less expense than the Park Department’s costly plan to dredge wetlands and physically alter golf holes.

If a long-term management plan is reached that closes the golf course, a transition plan would allow for continuation of golf during the planning phase under certain conditions that safeguard endangered species. Pacifica residents would be allowed to pay San Francisco resident rates at San Francisco’s five other golf courses and jobs held at Sharp Park golf course would be redeployed from Pacifica to San Francisco, to help improve neighborhood recreation and park facilities within San Francisco. Lincoln Golf Course, a potential beneficiary of these new staff resources, was identified in a 2007 National Golf Foundation study as needing increased maintenance staff to improve course conditions to attract more players and revenue.

Visit wildequity.org for more information about our campaign to Restore Sharp Park.

The Wild Equity Institute is building a healthy and sustainable global community for people
and the plants and animals that accompany us on Earth.

http://wildequity.org/

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