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Sharp Park: When a Golf Course Counts as a Natural Area 

Wednesday, Sep 19 2012
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A golf course is about as natural as a fake tan and a face full of Botox. Links-dwelling flora and fauna inhabit picturesque environments that appear to be lands of ecological enchantment. But closer scrutiny reveals uglier truths: Such wildlife is routinely hacked up by lawnmowers, poisoned with pesticides and drenched by thoughtless water practices.

So it is at Sharp Park Golf Course, where, in an ongoing federal court case, six environmentalist groups accuse city employees of killing endangered San Francisco garter snakes and California red-legged frogs.

Yet, in what would appear to be a cynical effort to move forward with controversial plans to rebuild and preserve the money-losing links, Mayor Ed Lee's Recreation and Park Department has decreed that the golf course, once renovated, would be a "natural" area under a sweeping citywide environmental restoration plan.

"Sharp Park is no different from the other 31 natural areas where the department plans to restore the wild habitat and improve the natural environment," department spokeswoman Connie Chan tells SF Weekly.

In environmental review documents associated with the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan, the city reiterated its vision for its 417-acre waterfront facility in San Mateo County: It wants to retain all 18 fairways and greens, but to rebuild the course to reduce flooding and protect wildlife. Environmentalists who want the site handed over to the National Park Service for environmental restoration, meanwhile, say the city should stick to an earlier plan to conduct a separate environmental review just dealing with the future of Sharp Park.

Those critics say the proposal to preserve the 18-hole course would neither restore wild habitat nor improve the natural environment. "We agree that Sharp Park is part of the natural areas program," says Brent Plater, executive director of the nonprofit Wild Equity Institute, which has been fighting for years in City Hall and in the courts to turn the course into a national park. "What we disagree on is whether Sharp Park Golf Course is part of the natural areas program. We say it is not."

Administratively, the Park Department's recent maneuver involved combining two separate environmental reviews into one. Politically, it means linking lawmaker approval of the citywide environmental restoration plan with approval of the proposal to rehab the golf course. Practically, the move will be vulnerable to legal challenges.

And rhetorically, it's the equivalent of putting green lipstick on a pig.

About The Author

John Upton

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