S.F. public golf under fire as Sharp Park loses vote

Supporters of public golf in the Bay Area saw one of their favorite local courses take a hit this week. Time will tell whether Sharp Park Golf Course in Pacifica, Calif., endured a serious body blow or just a glancing punch when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors sustained by a 6-5 vote Tuesday a measure that empowers the city to explore handing over the golf course to the National Park Service.

The vote was a mandated second reading of a measure passed the week before by an identical 6-5 vote. The initiative, introduced and defended by Supervisor John Avalos, raises the ante on a long-brewing political controversy that has seen the popular golf course attacked as being a waste of city money and as an environmental blight. Supporters, organized through the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance, defend it as a public treasure.

The matter is now in the hands of Mayor Ed Lee, himself a public golfer. But Lee also is a responsible leader who knows his decisions are being watched closely. If he vetoes the measure, the Board of Supervisors would have to muster an 8-3 vote to override it and reinstate the measure – an unlikely event, given the current balance of political forces in San Francisco.

Sharp Park, designed in 1931 by Alister MacKenzie, occupies a 417-acre site along the Pacific Ocean in San Mateo County, 10 miles south of the San Francisco city line. The property long ago was deeded to the city, which runs it as a golf course. The site also is habitat for two creatures protected under the Endangered Species Act: the San Francisco garter snake and the California red-legged frog. A suit filed by environmentalists and the Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity is slated for trial in July. A federal court judge already has denied plaintiffs a preliminary injunction to shut the course on the basis of scientific evidence that keeping the course open would pose no irreparable harm to the two species.

But this is about more than habitat. It’s also about civic budgets and civic recreation. City management of the golf course is handicapped by a sclerotic labor contract that has some employees earning six-figure salaries for work that pays less than half of that on most golf courses. And in an era of serious budget shortfalls, nothing is sacrosanct – not golf, not schools, not libraries.

Supporters of the golf course know that the Board of Supervisors’ measure would be tantamount to a death sentence, because the National Park Service has no interest in operating a daily-fee golf course. That leaves two options open: continued city management under revised terms; or allow San Mateo to step in and operate the golf course. There’s good reason to believe the county is interested in doing so. That would enable Sharp Park supporters to keep their golf course while pursuing funds for a proposed renovation that would upgrade the course and expand habitat for the species in question. But as the Board of Supervisors’ vote makes clear, the garter snake and frog aren’t the only things that need protection.

Out in the Bay Area and throughout the U.S., municipal golf also is an endangered species.

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