Restore Sharp Park?

The Sharp Park Golf Course Clubhouse. (Kyle Chidester)

The Sharp Park Golf Course Clubhouse. (Kyle Chidester)

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The land from just behind the west side of Skyline College all the way down to the beach is known as Sharp Park, including a golf course by the same name. Owned by the city of San Francisco, this golf course in Pacifica has been a hot topic of debate between San Francisco’s Parks and Recreation Department, Golden Gate National Recreational Area (GGNRA) and environmentalists over how the land should be properly used.

According to a survey taken in 2004, the top current recreational preferences in the Bay Area are hiking and biking. From the 19 possible activities on the survey’s list, golf ranked near the bottom of the list in 16th place. This decline of interest in the sport of golf has lead to the closing of many well-known local courses. Sharp Park may be next in line but the real source of controversy is what will become of the land after its closure.

An organization called Restore Sharp Park, is fighting to turn the land into a biological preserve. They are asking that the land be restored to its natural wetlands environment. Brent Plater, head of Restore Sharp Park, was part of a task force that conducted a study analyzing the land for its prospective usage but the study gave no clear conclusions. Restore Sharp Park thinks that the current usage of the land as a golf course is impractical. They claim that the golf course is violating a number of environmental laws while also draining money and cutting jobs from the City of Pacifica. They also assert that the conversion to a reserve would stimulate Pacifica’s economy. This proposal to restore the natural wetlands was brought to San Francisco by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi as legislative item 090329.

The land is currently managed by the City of San Francisco but Restore Sharp Park suggests that the city turn over the managerial responsibilities to the National Parks Service and enter into an operating agreement with GGNRA. They hope to build a visitor center for the National Parks Service, something that is lacking from the San Mateo County where the majority of land is open space. However, the actual use of this open space is still under debate with 55 in agreement and 45 in opposition against the proposal.

Pacifica resident Dyer Crouch began attending council meetings and spoke to the Board of Supervisors after local environmentalist Clark Natwick informed him of the threat to the San Francisco garter snake. Crouch said he felt “compelled” to get involved when he heard about the danger to the snake, which some argue to be the most beautiful serpent in North America. He also noted that among the animals that are native to the area are Caspian terns and other shorebirds. He said that 90 percent of the wetlands in California are gone and he feels that the habitat should be restored for the benefit of more wildlife.

There is a claim that the original deed to the land stated that it must be used for a “public park/public playground” and that the golf course is actually a misuse of the land. There are three main options which have been presented, with hopes that one will be chosen by the end of the year. The options are: keep the golf course with very little restoration, cut the course down to nine holes with more restoration, or major and complete restoration. This last option would mean closure of the golf course, something Sharp Park Golf Club general manager Mark Duane hopes not to see happen despite his neutral official statement on the issue.

In an article for The San Francisco Examiner, journalist Bruce Balshone said that San Mateo County is not interested in keeping the golf course but ultimately the decision of how the land will be used is left up to the City of Pacifica. Though San Francisco owns the land in question, the County of San Mateo and the Pacifica must be consulted before any decisions are made or plans put into action. Balshone also noted that a biological preserve is not necessarily the only option the city has. He suggested that since Pacifica is in a low tax base, they could consider looking into more commercial interests. However, all plans are still subject to review. Other holdups he mentioned were related to questions of where the money to fund projects is coming from, the sense that the San Francisco legislature has less power to intimidate smaller communities’ decisions and that the Parks and Recreation Department currently has no chairperson.

Currently the debate has reached a standstill and though some believe the issue will be resolved by the end of 2009, the end seems hardly within sight. It is probably inevitable that the golf course will be closed down at some point but what will take its place is yet to be determined.