Morrison & Foerster Saves San Francisco’s Historic Sharp Park Golf Course From Closure

12/10/2012

Press Release

SAN FRANCISCO – December 10, 2012 – Citing a Biological Opinion (“BiOp”) issued on October 2, 2012 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Judge Susan Illston of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed a federal Endangered Species Act lawsuit brought by environmental groups attempting to close the historic seaside Sharp Park Golf Course, located in Pacifica, Calif. and owned by the City of San Francisco. In granting defendants’ motion to dismiss, the judge quoted the Fish and Wildlife Service’s conclusion that ongoing golf activities at Sharp Park are “not likely to jeopardize the continued existence” of the endangered snake and frog species at the center of the lawsuit.

“We always contended that normal use of Sharp Park by the area’s many public golfers does not harm the frog and the snake, but instead helps those species in what is essentially, a symbiotic relationship – the creation of the golf course made Sharp Park habitable by those species, and its management as a golf course has enabled the frog, upon which the snake depends, to flourish.  At the same time, the course’s beautiful, natural setting by the ocean is integral to its great attraction to golfers who otherwise could not use more expensive and exclusive courses,” Morrison & Foerster partner Chris Carr, chair of the firm’s Environment and Energy Practice Group, said. “We’re very pleased the judge’s decision will allow this historic public locale to continue to serve golfers of all means and levels in the Bay Area.”

Judge Illston’s ruling, which declares the case moot in the wake of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s BiOp and accompanying Incidental Take Statement, vacated a hearing on the matter that was scheduled for December 14, 2012, and ends the suit. In November 2011, she denied a motion by Plaintiffs for a preliminary injunction to shut down 10 of the course’s 18 holes, and in April 2012, she stayed the litigation pending issuance of the BiOp.

A coalition of nonprofit groups filed suit against the City and County of San Francisco in March 2011, alleging that golf course operations including water management, lawn mowing, and use of golf carts, harassed, injured, and killed the San Francisco garter snake and the California red-legged frog.

Working pro bono, Morrison & Foerster represented the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance (“SFPGA”), a citizens group committed to affordable eco-friendly golf and representing a large contingent of diverse public golfers who have long used Sharp Park. SFPGA petitioned the court to be allowed to join the case as a defendant-intervenor, which the court granted in June 2011, over the Plaintiffs’ strenuous opposition. The 4,500-member Alliance argued that its members’ interests could not be adequately represented by the City and County of San Francisco, and Judge Illston agreed.

Sharp Park Golf Course has an historic pedigree. Designed by legendary golf course architect Alister MacKenzie as one of the few public links he created, Sharp Park opened in 1932, 15 years after the land was turned over to the City on the condition that it be used only for public recreation. The course’s moderate fees attract diverse users, including high school teams, fundraising tournaments, civic organizations, and a wide variety of informal business and political groups.

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