Wednesday, November 17, 2010


While most of our civic attention has been focused on the recent elections (or the World Series) an old and mostly dormant debate has taken on a startling new dimension. The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), the litigious environmental group from Arizona, has upped the ante in its long battle to close Sharp Park Golf Course; they are now willing to gamble with the safety of the surrounding homes and property.
Frustrated by their inability to get San Francisco to close the course on the merits of their argument, the CBD came up with a circumventive attack they hope will disable or destroy the existing protective seawall, allow winter storm surge to invade the coastal area, and thus degrade the course to the point where it is unplayable. This tactic will necessarily include some “collateral damage” to the adjacent residential neighborhoods which also shelter behind the seawall. They may well degrade to the point where they are also unplayable, with flooded homes, washed-out streets, lawns and gardens inundated with salt water. Most vulnerable are the approximately 170 homes in the Fairway Park neighborhood, west of Highway 1, and many more homes in the Sharp Park district, north of the course.

The City of San Francisco, as the owner of Sharp Park, commissioned a preliminary study of the seawall in 2009, which found that the structure is not up to standard height, much of the wall is vulnerable, and in the event of extreme storm conditions, as occurred in 1983, there is a high risk of breach or over-topping. San Francisco, realizing that a broader, more detailed study of the structure was necessary to intelligently evaluate future plans, turned to Congresswoman Jackie Speier. She subsequently applied for federal funds under the Water Resources Development Act, which supports, among other things, flood and storm damage reduction and shoreline protection. The requested funds would allow the Army Corps of Engineers to “determine the best way to reduce erosion and protect real estate”, and “the best way to address wave over-topping and ongoing maintenance”. The application does not include any actual construction; it is strictly an engineering study. Congresswoman Speier’s entire grant application can be viewed at

It is this application that CBD is attempting to derail by urging its adherents across the country to denounce the project to their own congressional representatives. The CBD has characterized the Congresswoman’s request as “a pork-barrel project to bail out a money-losing golf course that harms endangered species”, false, pejorative accusations that have long been put to rest. They don’t mention the “collateral damage” at all.

But I have to wonder why the CBD picked this fight. It’s a very different situation from the usual birdwatchers vs. old duffers debate, Restore Sharp Park vs. Save Sharp Park. There’s no longer a question of golfers vs. frogs, that’s been settled. The golfers, frogs and snakes will all get along just fine when San Francisco’s renovation plan is implemented and the wetlands are recovered. So much for their “harms endangered species” accusation. The “money-losing” charge was also disproved and rejected by San Francisco authorities back in 2009. (Perhaps CBD hadn’t heard about that) Maybe they couldn’t find anything else to complain about, maybe they were just running out of targets. But CBD miscalculated when they set their sights on the seawall.

For one thing, the loss of the seawall would mean death to the frogs and snakes, which, as I have understood it, the environmentalists are trying to save. They are freshwater creatures, they cannot live in salt water. This was confirmed in compelling testimony by Karen Swaim, the leading authority on the Red-legged Frog and consulting biologist to the National Parks Service. Her recommendations for modifications at Laguna Salada, Horseshoe Pond and the adjacent golf course, which have all been incorporated into San Francisco’s renovation plan, will insure that the endangered species will thrive at Sharp Park.

But, more importantly, the seawall is not exclusively a concern of the golf course. It is, first and foremost, a question of public safety. How could it be anything else, when it protects residential neighborhoods? 170 homes in Fairway Park, more in the Sharp Park district. Homeowners who have depended on the security of the seawall for generations, raised their families in its shelter, walked their dogs along its top. Homeowners with some reasonable expectations for the future. Are they to be told that structural questions about the seawall should not even be studied? That’s nonsense. What’s more, it’s dangerously irresponsible. We don’t want to do that. Let Congresswoman Speier know you support her grant request. Let’s get the Corps of Engineers in here and see what they have to say. We owe our fellow citizens that much at least.

Paul Slavin
Fairway Park

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