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UPDATE: Environmentalists Sue San Francisco Over Alleged ESA Violations at Sharp Park Golf Course; City Claims this is a Record Year for Threatened Species

Golf at Sharp Park could be halted and environmentalists hope to force city to adopt a restoration plan

A group of environmental advocacy organizations made good on a promise to sue San Francisco today over what they call . 

The Wild Equity Institute, one of the plaintiff's in today's lawsuit filed with a United States District Court, had issued a 60-day intent to sue with the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (RPD), which manages the golf course, on Nov. 18, 2010, but nothing had been sent to a court until today. 

Alongside Wild Equity as plaintiffs are the Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association, Surfrider Foundation, Sequoia Audubon Society and the Sierra Club.

The plaintiffs' intentions in the suit are threefold, explained Neal Desai, associate director of the National Parks Conservation Association.

First, they want to compel the RPD to adopt a complete habitat restoration agenda for Sharp Park west of Highway 1 that does not include golf, similar to what is laid out in a study published by an environmental consulting firm in January and touted by environmentalists as the only “peer-reviewed” study to-date. 

Second, they want to force the RPD to develop a habitat protection process for the land that abides by federal ESA laws. However, there is a seemingly insurmountable stumbling block in the way of the department doing this, said Desai.

Because frogs, snakes and frog egg masses are still damaged regularly on the course, the city would have to get an Incidental Take Permit (ITP), which would allow for the killing of endangered and threatened species during normal golf course management activity while a protection process is being implemented, in order to continue to allow golf there.

"Getting a permit to kill species for golf is an absurd thing for the city to do," said Desai. "Not to mention that it's highly unlikely [the federal government would allow it]." 

Sharp Park Golf Course regularly floods and frogs, snakes and egg masses are damaged when course managers pump the water out. If the city cannot get an ITP as part of its habitat protection process, no pumping will be allowed and golfing would be impossible. 

Third, environmentalists want a cessation to endangered and threatened species deaths at Sharp Park. 

In the lawsuit, plaintiffs' complain that currently the city and county of San Francisco are unlawfully killing frogs and snakes.

"This case under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”), 16 U.S.C. §§ 1531-1544, challenges the City and County of San Francisco’s (“City”) unlawful “take”  e.g., killing, wounding, harm, and harassment – of two federally listed and highly imperiled species at Sharp Park Golf Course (“Sharp Park”), property owned and operated by the City and County of San Francisco,” reads the lawsuit. “The City’s operation and management of Sharp Park is taking the threatened California red-legged frog-also known as “Twain’s Frog” from Mark Twain’s story The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County – and the endangered San Francisco garter snake, deemed by reptile enthusiasts to be the most beautiful serpent in North America. By taking these species without obtaining an Incidental Take Permit (“ITP”) pursuant to Section 10 of the ESA,16 U.S.C. § 1539(a)(1)(B), the City is violating the ESA and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s (“FWS”) implementing regulations."

Plaintiffs also claim that damage has been done to these populations as recently as last week.

"Take of these endangered species is an ongoing, immediate concern. As recently as February 22, 2011, Plaintiffs have discovered California red-legged frog egg masses exposed to the air due to water management activities conducted by the City,” they assert in the lawsuit. “When the City drains Sharp Park’s wetlands, it exposes frog egg masses to the air. Because these egg masses must stay moist to survive, egg masses exposed to the air quickly dry out, and all the frog eggs die. A single egg mass can contain thousands of eggs: thus, the loss of even one egg mass results in significant mortality for the species, in ongoing violation of the ESA."

Plaintiffs are asking the court to “declare that Defendants are violating the ESA by illegally taking the California red-legged frog and the San Francisco garter snake without an ITP…Enjoin Defendants from engaging in operations and activities that cause take of the California red-legged frog and the San Francisco garter snake at Sharp Park unless and until Defendants obtain an ITP…Award Plaintiffs their costs and attorneys' fees, including expert witness fees; and…Grant Plaintiffs such other and further relief as this Court may deem just and proper."

If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, pumping at  could be halted until the Recreation and Parks Department receives an ITP. Golf would be impossible some days without pumping. 

"It’s clear that the city’s  to protect endangered species at Sharp Park has failed miserably and it’s time to stop this unnecessary harm to protected species,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity.

UPDATE 5:20pm

The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department had a chance to review the lawsuit and environmentalists claims against its management of the Sharp Park Golf Course.

"This lawsuit isn’t a surprise," said Elton Pon, spokesman for RPD said. "We knew it was coming because of the recent _ released by them. Our number one priority has been and always will be the protection of the wildlife out there. For the past couple of years we've been working with land managers, stakeholders and plaintiffs themselves to identify the best course of operation in terms of protecting the wildlife. We remain fully committed to protecting the environment, that’s generally it."

In response to plaintiffs’ claims that his agency is failing to protect endangered and threatened species at Sharp Park, Pon said "I think we've actually been doing a good job out there. Currently we’re monitoring 159 egg nests out there and that’s actually a banner year for the frog eggs over the last seven years I think. Our track record has been pretty good out there."

Lisa Wayne, natural areas manager at RPD, wasn't sure if it would in fact be possible for her agency to acquire an ITP in order to keep pumping water off the course while implementing a environmental protection plan.

"That’s something that takes a lot of back and forth with the Fish and Wildlife Service, as they're the regulatory agency. It's hard for me to say at this point."

The lawsuit is attached as a PDF. 

Butch Larroche March 10, 2011 at 04:48 AM
So Brennan, you're saying the members of the CBD/WEI should not be questioned because they are scientists, or have paid scientists to produce a report that goes their way? Could they not have an agenda while being scientists? Is Karin Swaim not a reliable source of scientific information? For you to tell me that I cannot question the findings of the bought and paid for peer review study by the CBD is laughable.
Butch Larroche March 10, 2011 at 05:35 AM
Now the course floods half the year!!!! If you had a real idea of what was going at Sharp Park you would not need Plater's handbook to try and make your points. How many rounds have you played at SP Brennan? How do you know the course is flooded half the year? Because Plater told you so?
Butch Larroche March 10, 2011 at 06:06 AM
Once again proving you know nothing about the course and play there. I have as much say in this as you do Brennan. I will extend the same invitation to you Brennan as I have to so many of your side. Come down to the course on Saturday or Sunday you choose. I'll buy you a beer and we can talk about this subject. I'll give you a tour, show you a historic pic of the place, before the tules invaded the pond and choked off the drainage . I play about 60-80 rounds a year at Sharp Park and I am president of the golf club there so, yeah, I do have a say.
Scotty March 10, 2011 at 07:42 AM
Brennan, you make less sense than Charlie Sheen, and you are not WINNING. Step away from the bong and put down the keyboard, please.
Butch Larroche March 10, 2011 at 03:15 PM
Well Brennan, thank you for stooping to my "simple and common minded" way of thinking. You know, you are no better than I am but seem to feel you are I guess. This whole mess is way more about frogs and snakes. It's a land grab pure and simple. That's all it is. If the WEI/CBD was really worried about the frogs & snakes they would have tried to shut down the SFO expansion. Plater and Arizona resident Miller only care about making a name for themselves. One thing I've wondered about, is a frog egg really a frog? How many of these egg sacks dry up due to normal evaporation of the water? I will not get off having the course closed either and don't feel you should be telling to do so. You and your group are trying to close a very special place. A place full of lifelong friends who enjoy golf and hanging out. If we are "simple and common minded" than so be it.
Bhatman March 10, 2011 at 04:40 PM
The Loma Prieta Chapter is at odds with SF Bay Chapter, which supports restoration at Sharp Park. There is much behind the scenes concern by many members that the leadership at Loma Prieta Chapter is not in step with the membership at large, and lately Loma Prieta seems to be working against the clubs core values. Hopefully new leadership will be coming soon, as it is needed.
Bhatman March 10, 2011 at 09:16 PM
This Op-Ed just published in the Pacifica Tribune answers Julie Lancelle's concerns point for point without rancor or finger pointing. http://www.mercurynews.com/pacifica/ci_17568042?nclick_check=1
Bhatman March 11, 2011 at 02:07 AM
Brennan, the pumping threatens the frog eggs in another way as well -- by pumping the lagoon to low levels relative to wave run-up (as sea level rises) it induces salinity intrusion due to lack of sufficient groundwater gradients. Salt water is a threat to egg survival as well.
Scotty March 11, 2011 at 02:24 AM
"Salt water is a threat to egg survival as well." Then why do you want to tear down the seawall and kill them? I'm surprised you guys don't get whiplash with the way you constantly talk out of both sides of your mouths.
Bhatman March 11, 2011 at 05:50 AM
It's because we understand the science - that tearing down the seawall will create a freshwater outlet lagoon with a sand barrier, not that the ocean will flow in. We happen to be using both sides of our brains.
Scotty March 11, 2011 at 06:06 AM
Which side of your brain told you that the seawall was meant to keep the dirt in, rather than the ocean out? Was it the same side that told you the ocean was made of fresh water? Or the one that told you to ignore the fact that there are also quite a few houses down there being protected by the sea wall?
Bhatman March 11, 2011 at 06:57 AM
Please Governor Brown, no more cuts in education!
Scotty March 11, 2011 at 07:48 AM
No kidding! We actually have some locals who think that "Linty" is a clever pseudonym, even though it isn't actually a name! If that isn't a cry for educational help, I don't know what is.
Scotty March 12, 2011 at 07:27 PM
Thank goodness we have a seawall that will help protect the frog eggs in the event of a wave caused by an earthquake closer to home. These self-aggrandizing environmental blowhards want to tear it down and permit waves to destroy egg masses (and snakes and houses and people).
Bhatman March 13, 2011 at 03:01 AM
I'm not sure if this is name calling or pseudonym calling.
Scotty March 13, 2011 at 04:52 AM
I don't recall naming names, but hey, if the shoe fits... Now please explain why you'd like to tear down the seawall and have waves destroy all the unborn frog eggs. BTW, I take it by your wacky frog egg stance that you guys are anti-abortion and opposed to women's reproductive rights, right? It's sometimes really hard to tell if you're wing-nut ultra-conservatives or wing-nut ultra-liberals.
Steve Sinai March 13, 2011 at 07:09 AM
Hey Hallman, why was the berm built in the first place, if not to keep seawater off the golf course? Don't you think storms would have driven salt water into Laguna Salada, aka, Salty Lagoon? Why do you choose to believe the Wild Equity/Center for Biological Diversity claim that Laguna Salada (Salty Lagoon,) was originally freshwater, rather than the findings by Tetra Tech that Laguna Salada (Salty Lagoon) was originally too saline to support a red-legged frog population? If the lagoon was originally fresh water, why would it be named Laguna Salada (Salty Lagoon?)
meredith Bunyard April 28, 2011 at 03:58 AM
This is directed to most of all of you for leaving bogus comments. Most of you have made assumptions with no evidence to back up your reasoning. Before you go making up what ever seems logical to you, actually do some research. Im sure that most people don't understand what a wetland,Lagoon,Marsh is? That is because we have dredged and filled most of them for our own personal use, Land fills, shopping malls, golf courses. They have a number of uses to our environment, one being a flood protection According to Robert Battalio , the costal principal engineer and resident of Pacifica. The plan for sharp park is to create drainage through the current levee, so the lagoon can drain itself when needed. Long-term changes and protection of the area will create resilience, as rainfall increases absorption. Wetlands are on the outskirts of coastal areas to act as a buffers when storms cause flooding by absorbing the excess water. With the restoration of the wetland, an armored sea wall is unnecessary, leaving Salada State Beach intact.
meredith Bunyard April 28, 2011 at 03:58 AM
And to answer your question about the money that is being taken away from sf tax payers: Currently, the City of San Francisco owns and operates the golf course, costing taxpayers approximately $1.5 million annually. By 2012, it is anticipated to grow to $3 million, if management and capital improvement changes are not made (SAN FRANCISCO RECREATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES STUDY SUMMARY REPORT done by the city 8). This means that the golf course will need to restore the golf course and surrounding areas, such the sea wall, to continue use. The estimated price for the restoration plan is approximately $5 million over 50 years. In contrast, the Park Department plan would drain taxpayers of between $12 million and $18 million in short-term costs, including sea wall construction, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for infrastructure operations and maintenance, and continuing liability for fines for Endangered Species Act violations (Miller 2011). In 1987, the San Francisco taxpayers’ general fund paid for a sea wall, but it the field remained unusable. Consequently, the general fund also supplied a water pump to release floodwater seasonally. Both endeavors detracted taxpayer funds from San Francisco public interests, such as playgrounds and public utility assistance in poor communities. 
meredith Bunyard April 28, 2011 at 03:58 AM
The Sharp Park Golf Course does not make adequate money to sustain itself or turn a profit. In the 2004 to 2005 fiscal year, the Golf Fund required a $536,372 allocation from the general fund to balance the budget (San Francisco Budget Analyst 12). There are several causes of this issue, such as the decline in golf as a sport in more modern times. According to a San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department assessment, only 81,050 of 337,710 households need golf facilities. Of those assessed, 258,010 consider walking and biking facilities necessary (San Francisco Recreation and Park Department 13). The money used by Sharp Park Golf Course could be applied to other golf courses, such as Harding and Lincoln Golf Course in San Francisco, which have a better chance of proper maintenance and profit. Get your facts strait. Not only are there issues of cost and protection for the surrounding areas but The gold course is currently breaching the Endangered Species Act Section 9(a)(1) of the Endangered Species Act provides the following protection for endangered species: With respect to any endangered species of fish or wild life listed pursuant to section 1533 of this article it is unlawful for any person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to...(B) take any such species within the United States or the territorial sea of the United States. 16 U.S.C. 1538(a)(1).
meredith Bunyard April 28, 2011 at 03:59 AM
Section 3(19) of the Act, 16 U.S.C 1532(19), defines the statutory term “take”: The term “take” means harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct” (ESA). Further more why the hell does everyone always have to talk shit about Environmentalists. Without the environment you would not be alive. Everything on this planet is here for a reason. Whether or not you think it is important to you, the planet is an interconnected organism. Sooner or later humans who are supposed to be the caretakers of the environment will get fired from our position for having such a disrespectful behavior to the planet. GO on continue driving your hummers and eating your poisoned food. Im sure someone you love has had cancer at some point. And maybe you have donated money to the foundation that has taken your money for their own profit. Yet we are still eating food covered in pesticides, and they are killing us. Our water is slowly killing us. What the hell is going to make you people see that we need to protect the environment because it is an extension of ourselves?
Scotty April 28, 2011 at 08:18 PM
"Get your facts strait" Get yours straight (and get a spell-checker while you're at it). No one is against the environment; they're against unrealistic fringe loonies who give environmentalism a bad name.
Markus May 01, 2011 at 05:12 PM
@ meredith Bunyard, Bhatman, Brennan et al Can any of you tell me if the 5 million figure oft repeated includes construction and maintenance of the neighborhood leevees? Also, how about neighborhood security since large unpoliced, unfenced spaces such as that proposed almost always turn into denizens of drug dealing, homeless enclaves, squatters etc. Does the 5 million include a provision for some kind of dedicated staff to oversee the area?
ian butler May 01, 2011 at 07:18 PM
Wow, I just scanned this thread and it's just like old times! Markus, I can answer your question, the $5 million does include the neighborhood levees, which are way cheaper and easier to maintain than a levee that's subject to wave erosion. it doesn't include security, as that need is purely speculative. Let's all keep in mind that maintaining the seawall is no longer being considered, because it's just too expensive. The only question is how much of the golf course can remain on the west of hwy 1, and how soon it has to adapt. For an in-depth overview of the Sharp Park Working Group watch my interview of Steve Rhodes on Wavelength: www.vimeo.com/channels/wavelength
Bhatman May 02, 2011 at 01:11 AM
Markus, don't believe this myth that homeless would move into a wetlands area. It's just a nutty scare tactic that is to be laughed at. Is there a homeless problem at Anno Nuevo or any other wetlands in California? I've never heard of it. I think the rangers of GGNRA will be able to take care of any homeless encampment, or they can be shooed off to the parking lot at Nick's.
PTP May 02, 2011 at 03:12 AM
http://www.fox5vegas.com/news/27586151/detail.html 'nuff said....
Paul Slavin May 02, 2011 at 06:33 AM
Ian, I’m just scanning the thread myself. What do you think of Meredith’s 8:59 pm post? You know, we just like to play some golf, as people have done here for generations. We truly love Sharp Park, and have a great appreciation of its historical, cultural, artistic, financial and recreational value to Pacifica. And by “we”, I mean a great many Pacificans, of every political, cultural, economic and ideological stripe. We believe a plan can be worked out that will preserve the golf course, the surrounding communities, and protect legitimate environmental interests. The attitude conveyed by meredith, or, for that matter, by Brent Plater in his latest City Hall escapade, won’t do much to further mutual conciliation. Do we really want to tear this town apart? By the way, I enjoyed your interview with Steve Rhodes. Paul Slavin
ian butler May 02, 2011 at 02:57 PM
Paul, I can understand Meredith's point of view, to anyone who really is aware of what is happening to the natural world, it's hard not to be angry. That being said, sometimes that anger can be counterproductive. The same is true of the golf course supporters. If both sides took the time to actually understand the other side's perspective, and avoided personal attacks, we might actually find some common ground.
Markus May 03, 2011 at 01:10 AM
@ Ian 12:18pm on 5/1/11 “it doesn't include security, that need is purely speculative” & Bhatman 6:11pm on 5/1/11 “don't believe .. myth that homeless would move into a wetlands area…” I beg your pardon! Please review these 2 links that took all of 2 seconds to find: GG Park issues: http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/golden-gate-park-homeless-ignore-outreach-efforts Bolinas Beach issues: http://www.manchesterjournal.com/ci_15016422?source=most_viewed Neighbors of Mori's Point & the course are concerned about this issue. Since the opening & promotion of the Mori's Point access by the Moose Lodge we have experienced an increase in smash and dash auto burglaries and trash which we go out and pick-up. CBD/WEI proposes a plan to destroy an existing ecosystem that co-exists with the golfers & guarantees a clean, regulated and secure large open space in the middle of a well populated area. They envision another Rodeo Lagoon which is quite beautiful but located at the end of a long winding road in a remote area, not really subject to the issues we neighbors would and are experiencing. Their plan would utterly destroy the course as we know it for the sake of an experiment in species restoration with uncertain funding and minimal oversight.
Rebecca Lorenz May 25, 2011 at 06:09 AM
So. Snakes and frogs live at the golf course. Golfers golf at the golf course. Apparently the golfers are not annihilating the frogs or snakes with clubs, balls or spiked shoes. What is the problem? Most likely some SF politician can't find any other "cause" so he goes after a golf course in Pacifica. That way no one in SF will get upset with him. He might want to check on how SF ended up with the golf course and the possibility that leaving the land open to human recreation is mandatory. Last but not least: would he abandon his home and/or place of work because a frog showed up?

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