SAN FRANCISCO – (April 26, 2012) – Federal district court judge Susan Illston, in a ruling issued earlier today, has stayed all proceedings in a suit brought by environmental activists seeking to close the historic Sharp Park Golf Course, owned and operated by the City and County of San Francisco but located in neighboring Pacifica. The order follows the court's decision late last year to deny a preliminary injunction that would have shut down 10 of the course's 18 holes. The case was scheduled for trial in October 2012.
Sharp Park Golf Course, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary next month, was designed by legendary architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie, the man who created Augusta National, Cypress Point and a number of other iconic courses. The course is a rarity – a seaside links, created by a master and open to the public at modest greens fees.
"The court did the prudent thing in staying the litigation," said Bo Links, co-founder of the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance, which intervened in the case in an effort to save the course. "With the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considering the City's Biological Assessment for the golf course, it made no sense for the plaintiffs to insist that the court continue to expend its limited resources on their suit. This winter the frogs once again laid a huge number of eggs at Sharp Park showing that the city's efforts to improve frog habitat, while at the same time providing affordable recreation to a diverse and vibrant group of local golfers, are working." The plaintiffs in Wild Equity Institute v. City & County of San Francisco had filed a motion asking the court to rule that golf course operations and maintenance "take" red legged frogs in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act. SFPGA and the City challenged plaintiffs' standing to sue, opposed their motion, and asked the court to stay the litigation while the Fish and Wildlife Service considers the City's measures to address any impacts to frogs and snakes and their habitat.
In its 19-page order, the court found that plaintiffs had standing, but granted SFPGA's request to stay the litigation. The court explained: "As the FWS may issue a Biological Opinion within months that can at least inform, if not entirely moot, this case, and because the breeding season for the Frog will not occur again until late Winter, the Court finds this to be an appropriate case in which to exercise its inherent authority for a stay. The stay will allow for the expert agency to review the City's plan and evaluate the golf course's activities on the Frog and Snake." SFPGA's attorney in the case, Chris Carr of Morrison & Foerster, said: "This is good news for supporters of public golf courses in the Bay Area. It's also good news for responsible supporters of the Endangered Species Act, rightly concerned that the Sharp Park case will head any parade of ESA abuse horribles. Because of the city's responsible stewardship of Sharp Park, golf fans everywhere, including the many thousands who will be attending the U.S. Open Golf Championship in June here in San Francisco, have reason to be optimistic that extremists will not succeed in shutting down one of golf's great historic courses."