A federal judge ordered San Francisco today to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees to an environmental nonprofit for killing two protected species at the city-owned Sharp Park Golf Course in Pacifica.
The judgment is a victory for the Wildlife Equity Institute and other environmental organizations, which sued the city in 2011 for violations of the federal Endangered Species Act. The nonprofit claimed that the city was killing two protected species, the San Francisco Garter Snake and the California Red-Legged Frog, by draining the 18-hole Sharp Park Golf Course throughout the years.
U.S. District judge Susan Illston denied the city's defense that it wasn't killing the animals, noting that "as a result of construction activities and golf course maintenance operations, all Frogs, all Snakes, and 130 egg masses will be subject to incidental take." As a result, Illston ordered San Francisco to pay $386,000 that will go toward paying the institute's attorney fees.
"We've been telling the city since 2008 that they got to clean up their act and they largely ignored us and now the heavy hand of this fine has come to roost," said Brent Plater, the executive director of the Wild Equity Institute.
Environmental activists want the city to hand over the land to the National Park Service to turn in into a national park. The National Park Service previously agreed to maintain a new national park in the area if the city approves it. The Board of Supervisors voted in 2011 in favor of creating a national park, but Mayor Ed Lee vetoed the legislation in favor of developing the golf course.
The city can still file an appeal, however, the City Attorney's Office has not yet returned our calls seeking comment.
"Depending on what the city does next, it's possible that they could be involved in litigation for 10 years," Plater said. "We think that's crazy, we think the city should do what's in accordance to the law instead of blindly spending on a golf course."