Sharp Park Golf Course Construction Project Hits Another Roadblock, As Environmental Groups File Suit

Three environmental groups filed a lawsuit today in San Francisco Superior Court against the city’s Recreation and Park Department and Mayor Ed Lee to prevent the city from moving forward on a construction project at the Sharp Park Golf Course in Pacifica.

The Wild Equity Institute, the Sequoia Audubon Society and Save the Frogs are seeking an injunction under the California Environmental Quality Act to stop the city of San Francisco from clearing vegetation and sediment from a lagoon and constructing a frog pond in the wetland area that surrounds the golf course.

The project would create an acidic environment hostile to wildlife and allow the city to dredge the wetland more quickly when the golf course floods during the rainy winter season, according to Brent Plater, executive director of the Wild Equity Institute.

“They want to use this not as the vibrant, very rare ecosystem that it is, but as a bathtub to keep water in,” Plater said.

But Deputy City Attorney Jim Emery said the project will have no environmental impact and will protect the endangered California red-legged frog and the threatened San Francisco garter snake, which have habitats in Sharp Park.

“The goal of managing the water level is to prevent harm to the frog eggs,” Emery said.

When the golf course floods, frogs are encouraged to lay eggs on unsustainable areas that will later be left dry and stranded, according to Emery. Keeping water in the lagoon will keep the eggs in a safe area, he said.

The action is in line with conditions established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the California red-legged frog and the San Francisco garter snake, according to Chris Carr, attorney for the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance.

“The purpose of the project is to improve the habitat and water regime that the golf course provides,” Carr said. “It’s going to avoid frog egg stranding.”

The golf course, located in Pacifica but owned by the city of San Francisco, has long been at the center of battles over environmental issues.

In 2011, six environmental organizations, including the Wild Equity Institute, filed a federal lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act seeking to end maintenance activities at the golf course that they claimed threatened the red-legged frog and the garter snake.

The environmental groups argued that pond pumping caused frog egg masses and tadpoles to be stranded and dried and that grass mowing and the use of golf carts killed garter snakes.

But a federal court judge dismissed the case at the end of 2012 due to an opinion issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stating that golf course operations were not likely to jeopardize the existence of the two animals.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston wrote in her opinion that the lawsuit was moot because the city was required to comply with the conditions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opinion.

Plater says the new construction would affect some of the most “biologically productive areas” for the California red-legged frog at Sharp Park.

He argues that the city could achieve its goal of clearing certain aquatic vegetation, which grows only in shallow water, by leaving the water level deeper in the spring and summer months so the vegetation would permanently die.

But Carr said the Wild Equity Institute has other motives, noting that it endorses turning Sharp Park into a national park and restoring its wetlands.

“We just view this as a continuation of Plater’s efforts to convert the golf course to a different kind of use,” Carr said.
“This has been studied to death over many years,” he said.

“There’s really nothing new here.”

Drew Himmelstein, Bay City News

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