Statements by Conservation Groups on San Francisco’s Change of Position on Sharp Park Golf Course Management
Sharp Park golf course, owned and operated by the city of San Francisco and located in Pacifica within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, faces significant problems with flooding, achieving environmental compliance and financial losses. The coastal wetland is home to two endangered species, the San Francisco garter snake and the California red-legged frog. A recently released, peer-reviewed scientific study by coastal restoration experts concluded that restoration of the natural lagoon and beach processes provides the most public benefit and best protects endangered species, and is much less expensive than a San Francisco Park Department plan or maintaining the status quo.
In a change of position Wednesday, the Park Department abandoned plans to reinforce a beach-eroding seawall that is needed to support golf operations; it has also concluded that current golf operations are not compatible with protection of endangered species at the site. A working group of land managers convened by the Park Department issued a puzzlingly brief two-page policy findings report on Sharp Park that agreed with the conclusions of the peer-reviewed study on the impacts of sea-level rise and coastal erosion and the futility of armoring, maintaining or further raising a seawall that protects the golf course and recommended a transition to a naturally managed “barrier lagoon” at Sharp Park. Below are statements on the position change from conservation groups involved in the issue.
Statement by Neal Desai, Pacific Region associate director of the National Parks Conservation Association: “The Park Department now appears to acknowledge the conclusions of the recent scientific study by coastal experts at ESA–PWA that preserving the current golf operations is not financially sustainable and is damaging to the recovery of the endangered San Francisco garter snake and California red-legged frog within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. San Francisco policymakers should seriously consider the science-based ESA–PWA study as a blueprint for how to solve the various problems plaguing Sharp Park so our national treasure is preserved and protected for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.”
Statement by Brent Plater, executive director of the Wild Equity Institute: “We agree that recreation can coexist with endangered species protection at Sharp Park; however, recreation that relies on dredging, pumping and mowing operations is not compatible with endangered species. Bay Area residents want our parks more sustainable and expect our scarce parks funding to improve recreational services within San Francisco communities, not subsidize suburban golf in Pacifica. Restoring Sharp Park in partnership with the National Park Service can build a better public park that everyone can enjoy.”
Statement by Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity: “The Park Department’s working group seems to be embracing a more sensible approach to restoring this important wetland and concurs that reviving the natural barrier beach and lagoon system is the only viable option for Sharp Park. However, some of the working group’s two-page ‘findings’ are unexplained assumptions and unsubstantiated assertions that lack the scientific foundation of the peer-reviewed 212-page scientific study. The best science shows, first, that restoring Sharp Park is the cheapest option, particularly compared to the San Francisco Park Department plan or maintaining the status quo; second, that restoring natural processes of the lagoon and surrounding wetlands will provide the best flood protection for neighbors against sea-level rise and coastal storm events; and third, that removing the golf course to restore habitat to the east of the lagoon is essential for the long-term sustainability of endangered species found on the site.”
Some of the assertions in the Park Department policy statement are unsupported and contrary to the conclusions of the peer-reviewed scientific report by coastal restoration experts. The claim that short-term habitat enhancements and golf “could be compatible” is unexplained, and the ESA–PWA report shows maintaining the golf course is not compatible with protecting the endangered species at the site, since the Park Department “restoration” plan would squeeze endangered species habitats between the golf course and the seawall in the area most vulnerable to salinity intrusion. The working group adopts the misguided Park Department recommendation to dredge the lagoon to reduce sediment, ignoring the fact that loss of open-water habitat is caused by artificial pumping down of the lagoon to maintain the golf course, not sedimentation. Dredging is extremely expensive, damaging to endangered species habitat, and unnecessary; the preferred solution is to raise the lagoon water levels and allow the wetlands to expand and spread eastward where the golf course is currently located.
The working group statement cites a new pumping protocol for the lagoon, initiated due to illegal pumping and drawdown of water levels killing endangered red-legged frog egg masses after the Park Department received a notice of violation from the Fish and Wildlife Service and a notice of intent to sue by conservation groups. The statement disingenuously and falsely implies the pumping problem is solved, yet conservation groups documented dewatering by pumping this month and illegal stranding of red-legged egg masses this week, in violation of federal law.
A public briefing, titled “The Future of Sharp Park,” on the ESA–PWA report will take place March 17 at 12:30 p.m. at the San Francisco Planning Urban Research Association (SPUR), 654 Mission Street, San Francisco. Click here for more information about the event.
To read the ESA–PWA peer-reviewed scientific report, go to wildequity.org.