Monday, June 28, 2010

Dispatches from the SF Golf War - The Sharp Park Budget Debate
A Fair and Balanced Report

Early last week your San Francisco Foreign Correspondent joined the SF Public Golf Alliance and a strong Pacifica contingent to participate in the public comment portion of the San Francisco Budget and Finance Committee Meeting. Lines formed down the hall and around the corner in City Hall. We were asked to assemble by interest group, given alphabetical "tickets" and guidance on when we might expect to gain entrance to the committee room.

They started with the letter "A", we were in group "M", and we were told to expect to wait at least four hours. It turned out to be pretty accurate. It still took another hour after we entered the chambers to get our allocated two minutes in front of the budget committee and, believe it or not, some of us waited around to hear the opposition (who were even further back in the line).

Most everyone in line was there to defend their financial turf, demanding that their particular slice of the shrinking San Francisco pie not be touched. As near as I can tell, the golfers were the only ones at the meeting not asking for money, ready and willing to pay higher fees in order to help with the budget crisis and help Sharp Park.

It was heartbreaking to listen to the some of the disadvantaged who will be affected by the cuts coming in the San Francisco budget. The reality is the money is simply not there. The years of reckless spending by a fiscally irresponsible Board of Supervisors voted into office by politically irresponsible San Francisco voters are coming home to roost.

Hanging around City Hall for five hours, one has the opportunity to reflect on just WTF one is doing there. The simple answer is that we were there because the opposition was there to demand the closure of Sharp Park golf. It's not like there is any rational financial case to be made for closing the course, but having lost the scientific argument for the endangered frog and snake, I guess they have nowhere else to go. After they lose this one, I expect the lawsuit threats will start again.


Excerpt from Rec & Park Department, Sharp Park Financials
presented to PROSAC public meeting, November 4, 2009

In round numbers, Sharp Park golf operating revenues exceed expenses by $100,000 -$400,000 every year depending on weather conditions and numbers of rounds played. The City of San Francisco charges Sharp Park $200,000 - $250,000 in overhead charges that are used to fund non-golf related SF government salaries and services. Therefore, Sharp Park may look on an accounting basis like it is making a $100,000 profit or suffering a $100,000 loss after subsidizing the City of San Francisco to the tune of $250,000. If Sharp Park Golf was to disappear, the $250,000 in overhead expenses would still exist in San Francisco and the shortfall from Sharp Park would have to be made up by higher taxes or cutting salaries and services. It is pretty simple really.

This should be obvious to everyone, but some people (see Restore Sharp Park Destroy Sharp Park Golf Advocates) do not believe in arithmetic and continue to lobby for the destruction of this historic landmark course. They are attending budget meetings and spreading misinformation about course finances, so those who support the course must also attend the meeting to correct the misinformation. That is why we were there. Democracy in Action - San Francisco style.

Since we waited five hours to get in our two minutes, I decided to post some excerpts from the meeting to justify this colossal waste of time. Embedded below are two YouTube videos excerpting comments of both Sharp Park golf course supporters and detractors (as well as a fair and balanced explanation why the detractor's claims about Sharp losing money is insane). To demonstrate my fair and balanced approach to blogging, each video is the same length - about 10 minutes long.



Look, I know these videos are lame. You get what you pay for. If you want production values - you'll have to look elsewhere. Or you can watch the unedited source on the website. The complete 6/21/10 Budget and Finance Committee meeting with public comment is available on-line. It is 12 hours and 23 minutes long. Linked HERE. Enjoy.

One more video. This was presented by Elaine Harris to the Supervisors at the meeting, and helps keep this all in perspective.

The next budget meeting is with the full Board of Supervisors, today - Monday June 28. I guess we'll find out then whether or not all of this has been worthwhile.

Mike Wallach
Fix Pacifica Foreign Correspondent
San Francisco Bureau

x-posted from
MW Mobile Blog.


Kathy Meeh said...

Really fine report Mike, and your technology skills are quite amazing. To serve the larger community, this "truth" model should be picked-up by the national media.

Sharp Park "Haters' look weak, even using their own "evidence". And the cost increase solutions per round totally trashes the "Haters" argument. That might amount to $10 suggested by Barbara Arietta, or $5 or $10 cost suggested by you (I think). So, we'll see what happens today. The article post by Richard Harris gave a link to the Supervisor Special Budget and Finance committee meeting which should be happening right now (10am-3pm), although I don't seem to be able to pick it up from here, maybe some of you can.

Anonymous said...

The first 2 minutes of the "Haters of Sharp Park Golf" spells it out very plainly:

1) the yearly operating costs of the course are fully paid for by green fees and concessions from golfers

2) the yearly operating costs includes approximately $300K in overhead that goes into SF coffers -- the city GAINS $300,000 each year from the operation of the course

You can't argue closure upon the basis of a monetary argument.

Excellent write-up!

mw said...

Yeah, that's me. I was going to suggest a 5% - 10% increase, but when Barb started throwing around $10 increases - I had to step up my game. Realistically I think a $10 hike would be a bit heavy and a burden on some of the retiree regulars. OTOH a $5 per round increase would still leave Sharp as the best golf bargain around. I don't understand why we don't hear more about increasing Sharp green fees out of ParkRec. Sharp is priced like Lincoln, and that is ridiculous. Harding is gourmet, Lincoln is the low-priced spread, and Sharp should be somewhere in between (closer to Lincoln than Harding).

@Anon 10:44
Thanks. Another thing occurred to me as I watched the clip of your City Manager Steve Rhodes in the "lovers" video. You'd think it would occur to our supes that perhaps - just perhaps - they should question why San Mateo County would be so willing to take over operations. Cripes, any municipality with budget problems would kill to have an operational cash flow machine like Sharp. To Barb's point - just think what could be done if it was managed properly with some moderate maintenance improvements. The WEI/CBD liability scare tactic is a bluff. They got nothing. One dead snake that may or may not have been killed by a lawn mower years ago. Many more snakes are killed at Mori Point due to the feds failure to control feral cats on the property.

Anonymous said...

"Many more snakes are killed at Mori Point due to the feds failure to control feral cats on the property." Any data to support that statement, or is that like the assertion that a SFGS was killed by a lawn mower?

There are lots of snakes on Mori Point. Very few are SFGS. Before I would accept that a SFGS was killed by a lawn mower or by feral cat, I would want to see a pic or have it confirmed by someone with expertise in identifying the snake.

mw said...

Anon 1:38,
You make a fair point that I may have been as guilty as WEI/CBD in tossing out that comment. OTOH - I am not threatening to sue GGNRA about dead snakes in Mori Point.

That said - I've got this:

A quote from Biologist Karen Swaim

“... we’re in a situation where we’re in a very fragmented habitat that has no carnivores that keep these animals [cats and other small predators] in check... there is a lot of scientific credible evidence that in the lack of coyotes, bobcats and these types of things, feral cat and domestic cat populations can be an enormous problem for these [frog and snake] species. The garter snakes are diurnal and active during the day. Cats are hunters. Even cats that are well-fed, they have the hunting instinct. They’re out there, they’re having fun. The one [dead snake] that we found, if it had been a hungry feral cat we wouldn’t have found it; that snake would probably have been eaten.”

This is in reference to an SFGS kill in the Fairway Glenn subdivision adjoining Mori Point last November. It was well documented (including pics) by the SF Public Golf Alliance in a 12/1/09 letter to PROSAC [PDF LINKED HERE]

Anonymous said...

There are coyotes and fox and bobcats in the quarry/Mori Pt. area, so the "lot of scientific credible evidence that in the lack of coyotes, bobcats and these types of things" does not apply. And the logic that "if it had been a hungry feral cat we wouldn’t have found it; that snake would probably have been eaten" is hardly scientific evidence that feral cats are killing snakes. It's like saying my dog's barking keeps elephants away -- the proof is in the fact that you don't see any elephants around.

mw said...

You asked what I've got - I gave it to you. A recently documented dead SFGS killed by a cat in proximity to Mori Point. Now you show me what you've got to document your claim that bobcats and coyotes are controlling the cats at Mori Point.

And I am still not suing GGNRA about dead snakes.

Butch Larroche said...

Did Brent Plater move? He kept saying "we can save money blah blah blah"!!! He lives in Oakland. He is not even an SF Resident and therefore should not been allowed to speak.

Anonymous said...

The report says "in Ms. Swaim’s opinion, it appeared that the snake had been killed by a domestic cat," not a feral cat. That is not support for the statement that "Many more snakes are killed at Mori Point due to the feds failure to control feral cats on the property." That is support for the statement that 1 snake has been killed at Mori Point by a domestic cat.

I did not "claim that bobcats and coyotes are controlling the cats at Mori Point." I only said that the argument about the lack of these animals did not apply. I've seen coyotes frequently and bobcats less so. Many other people have seen them. If you want to doubt that they're there, go ahead.

mw said...

anon 4:51
Well, if we are going to rewind the tape, lets go back to point I was actually making before you took us down this snake hole. If you read my original comment, the point was that -

"The WEI/CBD liability scare tactic is a bluff. They got nothing."

They are the ones that are threatening to sue based on one dead snake from many years ago. The burden is on them to prove the golf course is killing snakes. Well we've got a more recent dead snake killed by a cat in proximity to Mori Point with the local acknowledged scientific authority on this animal and this habitat saying cats present a much greater risk to the SFGS than the golf course. What is the basis for the lawsuit now? A possessed runaway golf course lawnmower chasing snakes in a neighboring development to Mori Point? Good luck with that.

These guys are used to cash strapped municipalities bending over at the smell of a lawsuit. The emperor has no clothes. They have no case. They won't sue because they can't win.

If they are stupid enough to waste their contributors money on a lawsuit like this - Dennis Herrera needs to just take it to court and beat the living snot out of them. It'll be a good lesson for them and for the next municipality they try to intimidate with these tactics.

Poet Laurie Ette said...

Plater, Plater doggie hater.
Had a bitch but couldn't mate her.
Can't account for 300 thou.
I wonder where he's living now?

Joe Castagna said...

So we are to believe that you, "Anonymous", and your singular statement, with no verified written or recorded proof, just your statement that "many, not a few, but many other anonymous people" have seen coyotes frequently and bobcats less frequently also at Mori Point, instead of the words from an accredited named scientist who has testified on governmental record that this is a "very fragmented habitat that has no carnivores that keep these animals (cats and other small predators) in check"?

The accredited and identifiable by name scientist also goes on to state that there is a "lot of scientific credible evidence that in the lack of coyotes, bobcats and these types of things, feral cat and domestic cat populations can be an enormous problem for these (frog and snake) species..."

I believe that what would seem to be a most salient operative term here is the term "fragmented habitat"...a habitat that is broken up...a habitat that has population here and population there...a habitat that hosts snakes on Mori Point and also in the Quarry...And let us not forget that this same accredited scientist was charged with the assignment of assessing the fragmented portions of the habitat that was located at Mori's Point...and scientific exploration is not done in a minute, nor an hour nor even a week or a month, it is done over the course of an extended amount of time, and it done day in and day out,all day, not just a casual stroll through, if you will.

So, if in the course of this scientific project that accredited scientist states that she has found in her studies "a lot of scientific credible evidence that in the lack of coyotes, bobcats and these types of things, feral cat and domestic cat populations can be an enormous problem for these frog and snake species, then I for one am much more prone and accepting of believing that scientist, as opposed to the "anonymous" naysayer, who appears to argue for the sake of arguing...

Anonymous said...

I think that Brent Plater should focus his efforts on suing BP, after all, they are asking for $19 Billion in damages and are promising to give all that money to charity. Which charity? I'd bet a buck its their own pockets.

Anonymous said...

I agree that this is a snake hole and that the burden of proof is on those who say the golf course is killing snakes. But I did not take us there. My concern is that in our zeal to make the golf course opponents be wrong, we misuse scientific arguments and misstate the facts. Now we have one Joe Castagna challenging my assertion that coyotes have frequently been sighted in the area. This is exactly what I'm concerned about. If you say you don't believe there are coyotes there, then all the people who have seen and heard them immediately discount everything else you have to say on the subject. The same thing happens when you assert that "Many more snakes are killed at Mori Point due to the feds failure to control feral cats on the property." Because there are no facts to support that statement and it's arguably false, you lose the support of some people who agree with your overall goal.

Anonymous said...

"Who are you going believe, a scientist or your lying eyes?"

Joe Castagna-

I personally have seen a fox in the general vicinity of the quarry area on four separate occassions.

If a scientist claims there are no carnivores in the area, I'm calling those claims absolute BS.

Anonymous said...

We have evidence of one SF Garter killed by a house cat and one killed by a mower. No one knows for sure which kills more. This begs the question, should cats be banned from the area?

mw said...

Well, with the new comment policy, I guess I should really take advantage of this unique opportunity to get in the last word.

@anon 9:31
You still don't get it. In that one linked PDF there is more scientific evidence for the thesis that "Many more snakes are killed at Mori Point due to the feds failure to control feral cats on the property." than there is evidence in the sum total of everything produced by the WEI/CBD to date that "Sharp Park golf is killing SFGS." That is the point. That no one from WEI/CBD is suing GGNRA about dead snakes at or near Mori point, but there is a threatened lawsuit against San Francisco over less evidence of dead snakes at Sharp park. That is the point.

There is no realistic possibility of WEI/CBD prevailing in a court of law with what they have offered so far - so it is just an intimidation tactic. That is the point I was making. Just that.

@ Anon 10:02
Whether or not anyone has seen coyote or fox is completely irrelevant. I see coyote at Lincoln all the time. They control the gophers. Good for them. Glad to see them there. I see fox at Sharp Park all the time. There is one in particular that is practically tame and hangs out at the 12th hole. I think it expects to be fed by golfers or steals sandwiches out of their carts. The fact that we are even talking about fox just points to how far off track this thread got. Fox don't control cats, and nobody says they do. But there are feral and domestic cats at and around Mori Point and they do kill snakes. This is a known problem at Mori Point and other nature preserves in proximity to neighborhoods. Read the PDF.

@Anon 10:50
I really don't care whether cats are banned. I am pointing to the hypocrisy of the WEI/CBD factions. If this was really about the SFGS and Red-legged frog, they would be focused on a threat that is much greater than the golf course - cats. They are not - so this is really about something else altogether.