Sharp Park Progress In The News (It's not about golfers vs. environmentalists)

- by: San Francisco Public Golf Alliance

Sharp Park Green

The struggle to preserve and protect the historic Sharp Park Golf Course has made notable progress in the last few weeks.  After overcoming opposition from a small but noisy coterie of eco-litigants, work on a long-delayed, much-studied, much-litigated project to upgrade aging course infrastructure and improve habitat for the threatened frog and snake is finally underway. Local media outlets are taking note.

Amber Lee covered the story for KTVU News: Legal Battle Over 2 Endangered Species at Pacifica Golf Course

PACIFICA, Calif. (KTVU) - Preservation and renovation work is getting started at Sharp Park Golf Course in Pacifica. Golf enthusiasts tell KTVU recent developments including court decisions are major steps in rehabilitating the historic golf course. Its cypress lined fairways attract many people. “I love it out here," says Clayton Fandel of Pacifica, "I grew up playing on this course. This is where I learned to play."  Supporters say the 83-year-old course offers nostalgia and beauty. Designed by Alister MacKenzie, a renowned golf course architect, it is a public course. But for years, legal challenges by environmentalists have prevented the course from being maintained properly and kept its future in limbo. "When you have a historic resource like this you don't cast it aside, you preserve it," says Bo Links, co-founder of San Francisco Public Golf Alliance.

Your San Francisco Public Golf Alliance is grateful for the media interest but would like to correct a recurring theme in how this story is covered. KTVU, like most media, frame the story as Golfers vs. Environmentalists. The narrative is simple to understand and easy to present. However, this narrative is simply not accurate.

For openers, what every responsible public official recognizes, and what scientific analysis confirms, is that restoration of the golf course and restoration of habitat are not mutually exclusive concepts.  They can both occur in harmony.  And that is our main thrust:  to restore the historic MacKenzie course at Sharp Park, while at the same time promoting the enhancement of habitat for endangered species. 

Another misconception is that golf is a game for the elite.  Nothing could be further from the truth, and Sharp Park has proved the point for over 80 years, as it has long been home to a delightful mix of local golfers who are hardly the “country club” set.

Sharp Park Golfers

The diverse, blue collar golf community that enjoys the public Sharp Park Golf Course are allied with the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, the gardeners of Laborers Union Local 261, as well as Pacifica, San Mateo and San Francisco government, business and community organizations. Everyone in that alliance are committed to enhancing and improving the frog and snake habitat at Sharp Park while also preserving this special golf course, which is affectionately known as “the Poor Man’s Pebble Beach.” Indeed, local officials have proven to be responsible stewards of the park environment and ensure the wildlife will continue to thrive in harmony with the golfers - as they have for decades.

These organizations are staffed with committed, practical environmentalists, conservationists, gardeners, engineers and scientists who are doing the hard work of studying and planning in detail how to improve and protect the frog and snake habitat at Sharp Park. This is the crux of the conflict. The good work of these practical, problem-solving, hard-working environmentalists are being obstructed by a few fringe eco-litigators whose motivations are unclear but who have nevertheless made it crystal clear they will only be satisfied by destroying the legacy Alister MacKenzie course and forcing the City to turn over control of the park to the federal government.

San Francisco Chronicle Metro Columnist C.W. Nevius is digging deeper than most. He devoted two columns to the mystery of why the Wild Equity Institute persists in pursuing losing lawsuits in an attempt to derail needed improvements at the Sharp Park course and wildlife habitat:

Sharp Park Golf Course Fight An Endless Bogey
By C.W. Nevius
June 22, 2015

"The opponents of Sharp Park Golf Course don’t know when to quit. As always, advocacy is a wonderful thing — until it turns into simple bullheadedness. For almost five years, environmental advocates have been battling changes to the 83-year-old course in Pacifica. Although golfers say the renovations, including a new lagoon for wildlife, will actually enhance the natural habitat, members of groups like the nonprofit Wild Equity Institute insist that the changes will harm the endangered California red-legged frog and the San Francisco garter snake...

This has been studied and litigated — extensively — over and over. In ruling after ruling, the plans created by the city of San Francisco and the Recreation and Park Department have been found to be in compliance. Yet a small group (which is getting smaller) battles on...

An example of how support is evaporating is that when the latest appeal was turned down on May 28, most members of the coalition pulled out. After starting with six plaintiffs, ranging from the Sierra Club to a group called “Save the Frogs,” they are now down to one — Wild Equity."

Losing a Lawsuit Can Mean Financial Gain
By C.W. Nevius
July 10, 2015

"Only the truest of true believers think the Wild Equity Institute is going to prevail in its quixotic quest to turn Sharp Park Golf Course into a nature park. It’s a pipe dream... Despite a flurry of lawsuits, the courts have shown no enthusiasm to support the institute’s claims of dire peril to endangered red-legged frogs and San Francisco garter snakes.And yet, the institute and its executive director and prime attorney, Brent Plater, persist. No sooner had a suit for more environmental review been slapped down on May 28 than Plater filed another, the latest in what has turned into a five-year legal guerrilla action...

Judge Susan Illston said in her ruling, “plaintiffs did not prevail on a single substantive motion before the Court.” The institute not only shrugged off criticism, it doubled down. Under provisions in the Endangered Species Act, Plater and his group submitted requests for legal fees. Illston was not impressed. In her ruling, she said the plaintiffs’ lack of success led “the Court to believe that a large majority of the time spent was ‘excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary... What’s more"  she wrote, “plaintiffs failed to satisfactorily explain why Glitzenstein and Crystal, at $700 an hour or greater, spent so much time on this case. Most of the issues in this case were not complex. Yet the Washington, D.C., attorneys account for half of the attorney hours spent on the case.”

So, you assume, that was the end of that. The institute didn’t win and the judge thinks the fees are excessive. Not so fast. Illston cut the amount, but still awarded $385,809, paid by San Francisco. A tidy sum for a losing effort... let’s step back and look at this on a national level, where litigation under the Endangered Species Act has become a hot topic for reform. While the act is meant to protect animals and environment - and hooray for that - there is a concern that environmental groups are using the act, and serial lawsuits, to fund their activities by suing local governments."

Our own Bo Links may have said it best - “It’s a head-scratcher. ... This is environmental litigation in Wonderland ... they lose every motion they file.”

Or - as Alice in Wonderland said herself - "Curiouser and Curiouser." 

Sharp Park Sunset

If you haven’t already, join us in the effort to preserve this priceless public recreational asset that brings the essence of golf, and more than just a touch of Scotland, to the Pacific Coast.  And stay with us until the job is done.

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