Conservation Groups Sue San Francisco Over Controversial Sharp Park Golf Course Wetland Destruction Project
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — The Wild Equity Institute, Sequoia Audubon Society, and Save The Frogs sued Mayor Edwin Lee and the San Francisco Recreation & Park Department in San Francisco Superior Court today over a project that will destroy and drain Sharp Park’s Laguna Salada wetland complex, arguably the most ecologically important portion of the Department’s most biologically rich land.
“This senseless project will destroy critical wetlands, harm endangered species, and cost taxpayers over $1,000,000 to implement,” said Brent Plater, executive director of the Wild Equity Institute. “Experts have demonstrated that a feasible alternative to this project exists that will not harm wetlands and will save taxpayers money. But San Francisco has refused to consider this alternative, so on Earth Day we ask the court to bring common sense back to the Recreation & Park Department.”
“The wetlands at Sharp Park are critical to the survival of the endangered California red-legged frogs that live on the property, so it is essential that the City of San Francisco conducts a thorough environmental review before continuing to pump the wetlands out to sea,” said Kerry Kriger, executive director of Save the Frogs!
“Sequoia Audubon’s mission is to protect native birds and other wildlife and their ecosystems,” said Edwin Geer, conservation committee chair for Sequoia Audubon Society. “We remain vigilant in guarding our coastline through effective conservation measures and legal protections.”
San Francisco’s Recreation & Park Department is proposing to destroy aquatic vegetation in Sharp Park’s Laguna Salada wetland complex—arguably the most ecologically important part of the Department’s most biologically important land—so it can drain the wetland more rapidly during winter rains.
To mitigate the environmental impacts of this project, the Department proposed a series of complex mitigation measures that required another agency—the federal Fish and Wildlife Service—to review, approve, and enforce a series of actions contemporaneous with the project’s construction.
But During a March 19 meeting with wetland experts from around the Bay Area, the Fish and Wildlife Service stated that it had not heard about these measures, and further explained that it would not be possible for the agency to implement them: all of its resources are consumed meeting its own mandates under federal endangered species law, and it could not spare resources to help local jurisdictions meet state law environmental requirements. The agency confirmed this sentiment in follow-up emails.
Nonetheless, the City approved the project a few days later, based on assurances from Recreation & Park Department staff that the proposed mitigation measure did not actually require Fish and Wildlife Service actions and approvals—a position that is flatly inconsistent with the mitigation measure itself.
Experts have explained that the aquatic vegetation it wishes to remove can only grow in shallow water. If it destroys the vegetation while draining the wetland to shallow levels, the vegetation will grow back, creating an ongoing, expensive, and harmful cycle of dredging and draining, if it wishes to maintain open waters in the wetland complex.
These same experts have explained that if the Department simply allowed enough water to remain in the complex during the spring and summer months, the vegetation would die off naturally, and would not grow back: because the water would be too deep for the vegetation to survive. Moreover, this proposal would not increase winter flooding events at Sharp Park Golf Course, because the higher water levels need only be maintained in the spring and summer—and the golf course does not flood during these seasons.
“Before we spend a million dollars of taxpayer funds destroying wetlands, we deserve an honest assessment of environmental impacts, as well as a consideration of alternatives,” said Plater. “To date the Recreation & Park Department has failed to honestly assess the environmental impacts of this project, and refused to consider any alternatives to it. We expect the court to rectify that mistake.”