S.F.’s Sharp Park suffers political setback

A measure designed to expedite the closure of San Francisco’s Sharp Park Golf Course narrowly passed Dec. 6. The city’s Board of Supervisors voted 6-5 to undertake negotiations with the U.S. National Park Service to create a recreation area that would include land currently occupied by the municipally owned and operated golf course.

The measure was introduced by Supervisor John Avalos, widely regarded to be among the leaders of a faction that espouses a pro-populist, pro-environmentalist position. They argue that the golf course is a threat to endangered species and an unnecessary drain on city funds that would be better directed toward social services.

As per city rules, the measure will be subject to a second vote by the Board of Supervisors next Tuesday. Even if the measure were to pass, it could be subject to a veto by Mayor Ed Lee. It would take an 8-3 vote to override that veto, meaning that two supervisors who voted against the resolution would have to be persuaded to change their votes.

Sharp Park, designed by Alister MacKenzie in 1931, occupies a 417-acre site along the Pacific Ocean, 10 miles south of the San Francisco City limits, in San Mateo County. The golf course has been embroiled in long-running political and ecological controversies. Opponents claim that the course has accumulated losses of $1.2 million over the past five years. Supporters of the golf course, many of them acting under the umbrella of the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance, dispute those figures, arguing the deficit is a function of misleading accounting that unfairly saddles the course with a share of city-wide administrative costs.

Environmentalists claim that the course encompasses habitat for two endangered species, the San Francisco garter snake and the California red-legged frog. Acting under a legal principle called private attorney general theory, the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity has filed suit to shut down the golf course. A trial is set for July 2012. Last week, federal judge Susan Illston denied a temporary injunction against closing the course, claiming that population data for the two endangered species showed no irreparable harm in keeping Sharp Park open until the matter could be decided in trial.

While not exactly a death sentence, the Board of Supervisors’ resolution would empower the city to enter into negotiations with federal officials that likely would lead to closure of the popular municipal golf course. The land on which Sharp Park sits could be folded into a proposed Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The National Park Service, which would run such a facility, says it has no interest in operating a golf course.

One alternative to closure of the park was publicized Monday during a 5 1/2-hour public hearing at which supporters of the golf course testified on behalf of keeping the layout open. The idea would be for the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors to assume golf-course operations.

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