The twists and turns that have marked the curious case of San Francisco's Sharp Park Golf Course show no signs of slowing up any time soon.
In the latest development, the nonprofit San Francisco Public Golf Alliance filed a motion to intervene in an ongoing lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Wild Equity Institute against the city and county of San Francisco. The suit seeks to close the 79-year-old Alister MacKenzie design under the guise of protecting the endangered California red-legged frog and the San Francisco garter snake that have long called the property home.
The story is a long-running one in the Bay Area and holds the potential to be a significant one nationally in the sometimes contentious relationship between golf and environmental interests. In one corner of the Sharp Park debate are environmentalists who loudly claim the only way to save those two federally protected species is to shutter the golf course and convert the land into a natural preserve. In the other corner are golf advocates, who claim that these species have coexisted with golf for many years and will continue to do so under an existing plan that renovates Sharp Park and enhances its natural areas while still retaining it as an important recreational asset.
If you're interested in more background on the story, we've written about this case extensively in the pages of GCM, first in this story in February 2010, then again in the current issue of the magazine. Below the jump is the entire news release from the SFPGA about the latest development.
San Francisco Public Golf Alliance Moves to Intervene in Lawsuit Against Sharp Park Golf Course, Joining City and Mayor as Defendants
SAN FRANCISCO (May 19, 2011) – The nonprofit San Francisco Public Golf Alliance (SFPGA) today filed a motion to intervene in an ongoing lawsuit against Sharp Park Golf Course, seeking to join the City and County of San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee, and Recreation and Park Department Director Phil Ginsburg in defending the historic golf course from threatened closure.
Morrison & Foerster filed the motion in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, in San Francisco. The SFPGA represents a highly diverse group of Bay Area golfers, who “have legally protectable interests in their use and enjoyment of Sharp Park” that “cannot be adequately represented by any existing party” to the lawsuit.
Environmental advocacy groups led by the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity and the Wild Equity Institute, filed suit on March 2, seeking to shut down the historic, 79-year-old seaside course in the name of protecting a frog and snake listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Sierra Club joined the suit for the limited purpose of protecting the animals, without specifically calling for closure of the golf course.
The SFPGA’s petition is based on supporting declarations from a diverse cast, including: Carole Groom, President of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors; Kari Lee, Executive Director of the San Francisco Chinatown YMCA; Riley Jameison, a 90-year-old African-American golf pioneer and retired California Highway Patrol employee who for 20 years has hosted an annual tournament at Sharp Park benefitting San Francisco’s Western Addition Seniors Services Center; Julius Yap, coach of the men’s and women’s high school golf teams at San Francisco’s St. Ignatius Prep; Julie Lancelle, the recent-past Mayor of Pacifica; Herb Lee, a 78-year-old retired San Francisco police officer; and San Francisco favorite son and United States Open Champion Ken Venturi.
Created in 2007, the 4,500-member SFPGA contends that extensive studies undertaken by the City and County of San Francisco and others demonstrate that continued golf at Sharp Park “is compatible with protection of the San Francisco garter snake and California red-legged frog,” the species at the center of the lawsuit. The SFPGA points to recent studies undertaken by City and County officials demonstrating that “it is not only possible, but very feasible” to accommodate golfers and the two species in an improved Sharp Park environment.
Sharp Park’s modest greens’ fees, classic design, and spectacular scenery attract a diverse range of golfers from throughout the Bay Area, including public high school boys’ and girls’ golf teams, and fundraising golf tournaments for a wide variety of civic, business, and political organizations.
“Other public 18-hole courses in San Francisco and northern San Mateo County are either too expensive, too busy, or too hilly for the profile of low-income, racially diverse, juniors and seniors at Sharp Park,” said SFPGA spokeswoman and Sharp Park Women’s Club member Lauren Barr. “It is imperative that we preserve this historic public jewel. For nearly 80 years Sharp Park has served as an important recreational outlet and gathering-place for people of all economic means in our region.”
Legendary British golf course architect Alister MacKenzie designed Sharp Park, which remains one of the few public courses he created. U.S. Open Champion Ken Venturi, the Honorary Chairman of the SFPGA, calls Sharp Park “Alister MacKenzie’s great gift to the American public golfer.” The Course opened in 1932, 15 years after the land was turned over to the City on the condition that it be used “only for a public park, or public playground.”
Chris Carr, an environmental and land use partner at Morrison & Foerster, said, “This is an historically important course that upholds the best tradition of public access. Most golf courses with the heritage and location of Sharp Park would be exclusive private clubs and available to only a narrow sliver of the population. The Alliance is committed to theconservation of protected species while adhering to the original vision of Sharp Park as a course for everyone.”
Mr. Carr, chair of Morrison & Foerster’s Environment and Energy practice group and co-chair of its Cleantech group, regularly handles matters involving the federal Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and their California counterparts. Morrison & Foerster has a long history of supporting environmental causes in the Bay Area.
A hearing on the SFPGA’s Motion to Intervene will be held on June 24, before Federal Judge Susan Illston of the San Francisco Division of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.