Judge: Wild Equity Wins Lawsuit, Sharp Park Golf Course Must Pay $386,000 for Legal Violations

July 2, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Brent Plater, Wild Equity Institute, (415) 572-6989


Conservationists Win Lawsuit
Sharp Park Golf Course Must Pay $386,000
for Illegally Killing Endangered Species

San Francisco— U.S. District Judge Susan Illston today found that six conservation organizations “prevailed” in a lawsuit against the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department’s (SFRPD) Sharp Park Golf Course, and ordered the golf course to pay $386,000 for illegally killing endangered species.

“Sharp Park Golf Course illegally kills endangered species, and San Francisco taxpayers continue to foot the bill for this environmental crime,” said Brent Plater, executive director of the Wild Equity Institute. “We look forward to working with the City to implement today’s order and craft a new public park at Sharp Park everyone can enjoy—including endangered wildlife.”

In the order, Judge Illston wrote that “defendants denied they were causing any take of the [threatened California red-legged frogs] or [endangered San Francisco garter snakes] at Sharp Park,” but expressly rejected this defense, noting that “as a result of construction activities and golf course maintenance operations, all Frogs, all Snakes, and 130 egg masses will be subject to incidental take.” Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the definition of “take” includes acts that kill, injure, and harass protected species.

Judge Illston went on to state that “plaintiffs’ litigation goal was the halt [SIC] defendants’ taking of the Frogs and Snakes without first obtaining authorization pursuant to the ESA. . . . The Court also finds that this objective was met.”

Although Judge Illston did not award all of the fees requested by the conservation groups, the $386,000 award adds to the financial losses facing Sharp Park Golf Course, which is bleeding San Francisco’s recreation budgets dry. In its most recent budget, SFRPD has proposed to increase the General Fund subsidy to golf courses by $2.5 million, a 47% increase over last year (p. 5). RPD claims that this massive shortfall is caused by low demand for golf and environmental problems at Sharp Park Golf Course (p. 2).

None of these expenditures would be necessary if SFRPD would consider creating a 21st Century public park at Sharp Park in partnership with the National Park Service. Congress has preapproved this new public park, the National Park Service has stated on several occasions that it would be willing to manage the property as a new National Park, and a majority of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors has voted to implement this plan on five different occasions.

The Washington, D.C. public-interest law firm Meyer, Glitzenstein & Crystal represents the coalition of conservation groups in the lawsuit.

Background

Sharp Park is a wetland owned by San Francisco but located in San Mateo County. The City drains Sharp Park year-round to operate a golf course on the land. The golf course loses money, harms two endangered species, and puts the surrounding community at risk when the course floods. The Wild Equity Institute is working to build a better public park at Sharp Park, a park that saves San Francisco money, protects the environment, sustainably adapts to sea level rise and climate change, and provides recreational opportunities that everyone can enjoy.

More than 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 request was supported by a 2011 peer-reviewed scientific study by independent scientists and coastal experts which concluded that the most cost-effective option for Sharp Park is to remove the golf course and restore the functions of the original natural ecosystem, which will also provide the most benefit to endangered species.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors most recently passed legislation in December 2011 to create this 21st Century public park, but Mayor Ed Lee, an avid golfer, vetoed the legislation.

Under the Mayor’s direction, SFRPD is instead pursuing a plan to invest millions into recreating Sharp Park Golf Course’s original design, a design so poorly conceived that it was destroyed by coastal storms and flooding within a few years of the course’s opening date.

If the Mayor’s plan succeeds, Sharp Park’s endangered species will be lost, prices at Sharp Park Golf Course will likely rise to between $80 and $120 per round, and millions of dollars in general fund monies will be diverted annually from San Francisco’s neighborhood parks and community services to subsidize a suburban golf course.

To find out more about Wild Equity’s campaign to build a new National Park at Sharp Park visit http://wildequity.org/.

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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