Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Plater's Moving Goalposts

One of the more interesting aspects of the Sharp Park controversy has been the shifting objectives of the anti-golf camp. Originally, the Center for Biological Diversity threatened to sue the City of San Francisco for harming the endangered garter snake and the threatened red-legged frog. San Francisco countered with a comprehensive plan to protect the critters and their habitat, which nullified, to a large degree, potential penalties and forced the CBD to change not only their tactics, but their identity as well. Morphing into “Restore Sharp Park”, under the charismatic leadership of Brent Plater, they attacked the entire golf course, its layout, its condition, its finances, its workforce, even its fence. The sports analogy for this is “moving the goalposts”. They disparaged the history of the course and its legendary designer, Alister McKenzie. This ill-conceived smear campaign only angered golfers and non-golfers alike, and aroused local sentiment to save the venerable old course.

Another tactic that failed was mitigation banking. A favorite ploy of CBD was to entrap local governments between the carrot of mitigation bank funds and the stick of ruinous lawsuits. San Francisco decided, however, that the terms of their ownership of Sharp Park would not allow for a mitigation bank, and the market probably wouldn’t support one anyway. More disappointment for Mr. Plater’s cohorts. They had to move the goalposts again, but where?

I can just picture the dejected eco-warriors sitting around their clubhouse, wondering what to do next, when Ken Burns’s national parks special comes on the TV. Suddenly, Brent jumps up and yells, “I got an idea!”

The idea was to transform Sharp Park into Yosemite-by-the-sea, attracting eco-tourists from around the world and leaving Pacifica awash in Euros, Pesos and Yen.  The entire area would be required, of course, including that seedy old golf course, but what’s that compared to the magnificent vision of a wetlands preserve open to all-comers! With, wait a minute, a sustainable-food restaurant! That’s where the goalposts now stand.

But it seems the enlightened visionaries are again doomed to disappointment. The City of San Francisco remembers where the goalposts were at the beginning of the game. Their responsibility is to protect the frogs and snakes, and only that. They have determined, after careful study by highly regarded experts in the field, they can do just that while allowing the golf course to continue operating. (In all fairness, I should state that any study that does not agree 100% with Mr. Plater is “deeply flawed”.) It’s ironic that San Francisco’s insistence on its obligation to the endangered species, and only the endangered species, is a direct consequence of the original legal threats by CBD.

From what I’ve seen, “Restore Sharp Park” represents only a small, out-of-touch, radical segment of the wider environmental movement, motivated more by personal ambition and self-aggrandizement than any sincere concern to improve conditions for endangered species. Serious environmentalists I’ve talked to would not waste the time, resources or good will in trying to destroy a popular public golf course when so many other challenges await. As one Sierra Club member said, referring to Plater’s group, “Sometimes people get into advocacy and then the advocacy gets more important than the original idea. I get that feeling here.” So do a lot of people.

Paul Slavin
Fairway Park


Jeffrey W Simons said...

Thanks for the comments, Paul. I hope more people take note of Plater's deceptive tactics, and hold him and everyone who supported him accountable for this. I have every confidence at this point that the golf course will remain. Sadly, so will Brent Plater and his supporters.

Rocky Golub said...

Great post, Paul! As someone who has many years of experience with Brent Plater on recreation related issues in San Francisco, your conclusion that he uses unsubstantiated environmental assertions to promote himself is absolutely correct. I question why the true environmental community does not shun Mr. Plater as he recklessly discredits what used to be considered a most laudable movement. Many in San Francisco have already learned to question the veracity of statements made by environmental advocates when in the past we would have accepted them without question.

Anonymous said...

Very nice post, Paul. Speaking for myself, it didn't take me very long to figure out Plater's M.O.. One needs merely to look at his website to determine his self promoting nature. Plater is all about Plater. He will do anything and everything to achieve his agenda, which is a victorious Plater. The content of his advocacy, mostly half truths, and out of context twisted verbage, matters little. With him its all about winning at the end. As Paul said, he will keep moving the goal posts, and as Rocky said, he will never give up. I just can't fathom any reasonable person or organization waisting their energy and resources on his ever changing game plan. Therefore, I arrived at the conclusion that his ardent followers are blind misguided fools. Obviousely, some of them must have enough financial resources to keep Plater's tank fueled.

Sharon S said...

Hey Paul got a big laugh from the clubhouse line. You've done a fine job these past several weeks presenting the picture. Keep up the great writing.