For Immediate Release, November 16, 2009
Contact: Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
San Francisco Park Department Ignores Science, Promotes All-golf Alternative for Sharp Park
Although No-golf Option Shown to Be Best for Environment, Budget, and Outdoor Recreation
Surreal Report Actually Suggests Picnicking, Not Golf Course,
Greatest Threat to Endangered Species at Sharp Park
SAN FRANCISCO— The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department this month released a deeply flawed and incomplete alternatives report for restoring Sharp Park in Pacifica, after a directive from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to explore a range of alternatives for the future of the park to protect and restore endangered species habitat at the site. Despite deliberate attempts to constrain the scope of the report, omission of any credible discussion of the impacts on habitat due to sea level rise with climate change, an apparent lack of any expertise on coastal lagoon ecosystems, and the unprofessional mixing of the Park Department’s personal preferences with supposed “science” on the restoration options, the report still confirms that management activities at the controversial Sharp Park golf course are harming endangered species and will continue to drain city coffers.
“This report, while disappointing, is not surprising, since the Park Department seems incapable of any objective analysis of the true costs of the golf course, the benefits of restoration, or uses other than golf,” said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The report is extremely unprofessional and frankly, should be embarrassing to the city. The Park Department falsely inflated and fabricated the costs of wetlands restoration and with no factual basis tried to make impacts from the golf course appear benign.”
“The ecological illiteracy in portions of this report is appalling,” said Miller. “It shows a complete and willful misunderstanding of how the coastal lagoon ecosystem will respond to changes with sea level rise and misstates their own consultant’s conclusions on salinity intrusion. Not surprising, since the department refused input from anyone with coastal geomorphology or hydrology expertise. It also shows an inexcusable misunderstanding of and unfamiliarity with coastal wetland restoration. It is an unprofessional mix of the Park Department’s personal biases with cherry-picked and misconstrued fragments of the consultants’ reports. Send it back with an ‘F’.”
In the report, the City’s so-called “expert” on endangered species actually claims that picnicking is one of the most significant threats to the red-legged frog and San Francisco garter snake at the site while downplaying the extensive golf course impacts. There are no reports of crazed picnickers ever killing an endangered species at the site. In contrast, it has been documented that golf-course activities have serious impacts to endangered species and illegally kill them. An endangered snake was run over recently by a lawn mower, hundreds of frogs have been killed due to pumping the pond, gophers and their burrows that both endangered species depend on are routinely destroyed, and the golf course pollutes the wetlands with harmful fertilizers and pesticides.
“The best economic, environmental and recreational option for the future of Sharp Park is clearly to add it to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area,” said Miller. “Then the park can provide free recreational opportunities for everyone to enjoy, save San Francisco tens of millions of dollars, and allow restoration of the Laguna Salada wetlands and surrounding habitat for the long-term survival of the San Francisco garter snake and red-legged frog.
“The Park Department claims that experts on the species endorse the 18-hole alternative but they have done no such thing,” said Miller. “The Park Department also promised peer review of this report. Now they are refusing to allow hydrology and coastal lagoon experts to peer review a report that was clearly constrained and doctored by the Park Department – what are they trying to hide?”
The report states the obvious: the less restoration work put into Sharp Park, the cheaper it will be to get done. But the minimal habitat enhancement proposed by the Park Department in the 18-hole alternative is inadequate to allow the recovery of the garter snake and frog at the site, and is set up to fail with climate change and sea level rise. It will cost tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure to protect the golf course - and armoring the coast to do so will destroy the beach in the process. Continued pumping of the wetlands will ensure that the small areas left behind for endangered species will become more saline and uninhabitable. For far less money, a restoration project can allow the coastal habitat to adapt to climate change, while focusing engineering solutions closer to houses and infrastructure rather than fighting the ocean.
The report deliberately inflates the costs associated with habitat restoration and fails to include major infrastructure costs that will be required to keep and maintain the golf course. The Park Department added the absurd and unjustified cost of expensive off-site spoils disposal to the no-golf alternative and outrageously proposes draining the lagoon, and expensive and unnecessary damaging impact, to make restoration seem infeasible. The report does not mention the $32 million armoring of the sea wall needed to protect the golf course, the $7 million dollar project to provide recycled water for the thirsty and wasteful golf-course greens, nor the millions of dollars of fines and damages the City is liable for illegally killing endangered species.
Sharp Park Golf Course is owned by the city and county of San Francisco but is located to the south of the city on the coast, in Pacifica. Maintenance and management of the golf course has killed and harmed endangered San Francisco garter snakes and threatened California red-legged frogs. In 2008 the Center for Biological Diversity filed notice of intent to sue San Francisco for harming endangered species at Sharp Park, in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.
In May the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a Sharp Park restoration planning ordinance directing the Park Department to develop a plan, schedule, and budget for restoring endangered species habitat at the park and to consider whether to transfer the property to, or develop a joint management agreement with, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Pacifica, or San Mateo County.
Nine prominent scientists sent a letter in August to the Park Department noting that many of the golf-course management activities are incompatible with restoring healthy populations of the garter snake and red-legged frog and that restoring wetlands and uplands habitats and connecting them with protected adjacent open space is the best option to ensure the long term survival of the species in the area. The signatories to the letter were biologists, herpetologists, ecologists, and hydrologists with collective expertise regarding wetlands habitats, the endangered species at the site, and amphibians and reptiles.
Nine different assessments of Sharp Park’s financial state since 2005 have concluded that the golf course loses from $30,000 to $300,000 each year from the golf fund alone, and millions more are expected to be lost on capital-improvement projects to maintain the course. Potential fines for violations of the Endangered Species Act, or seeking environmental compliance through a permit associated with a federal Habitat Conservation Plan could cost many millions more.
The ongoing environmental problems at the golf course are largely due to its poor design and unfortunate placement. To create the course in the early 1930s, areas around the Laguna Salada were dredged and filled for 14 months. Not surprisingly, Sharp Park has had problems with flooding and drainage ever since.
Restoring the wetlands at the park will complement habitat-restoration work within the nearby Golden Gate National Recreation Area for the garter snake and the frog at adjacent Mori Point and Sweeny Ridge, and could reduce flooding risk for nearby neighborhoods. A broad coalition of community and conservation groups support the restoration of the native ecology of Sharp Park, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Nature in the City, Neighborhood Parks Council, San Francisco Tomorrow, Golden Gate Audubon Society, Sequoia Audubon Society, Pacifica Shorebird Alliance, San Francisco League of Conservation Voters, Yerba Buena Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, Action for Animals, and Transportation for a Livable City.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with more than 240,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.