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Lee Sides with Golfers

Mayor vetoes bill that would have closed golf course at Sharp Park

Expressing his support for birdies over snakes and frogs, Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco vetoed a bill Monday that sought to transform the Sharp Park Golf Course into national parkland.

The 417-acre park owned by San Francisco in Pacifica has long been a battleground between golfers — who value the historic links for its affordability and oceanfront vistas — and environmentalists, who want the land used for open space and habitat for threatened Californian red-legged frogs and endangered San Francisco garter snakes.

With golf’s popularity falling and the cash-strapped city subsidizing the sport at its six courses with more than $1 million a year, environmentalists clinched a legislative victory this month when the Board of Supervisors voted 6-5 to begin talks to turn the 417-acre Sharp Park site over to the National Park Service.

But Lee overturned that vote Monday.

“I think the mayor made the right decision — a Solomonic decision, especially in a year when the city’s going to be hosting the U.S. Open Championship,” said Bo Links, a golfer and co-founder of the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance, which has rallied in support of the 79-year old greens and fairways. “This is what the community wants.”

The National Park Service has said it is interested in acquiring the land but that it would end golfing at the park, which outraged influential golfers who say the links could simultaneously be used for habitat restoration and golf, perhaps by reducing the number of holes from 18 to nine.

The city is currently in talks to hand Sharp Park over to San Mateo County, which plans to keep the golf course there if it can find the money needed to manage the property.

“The implicit aim of this legislation — cutting off talks with San Mateo County and envisioning the end of golf operations at Sharp Park — is not a balanced approach,” Lee said in his veto message Monday. “I am returning this legislation with a veto and encouraging the Board of Supervisors to find a balanced approach to Sharp Park.”

Supervisor John Avalos, the bill’s author, said the legislation would have allowed talks with San Mateo County to continue. However, the bill would have given the federal government first dibs on the land if it struck an agreement with the city.

“This legislation is innocuous and only requires the city to look at closure of the golf course among other options,” Avalos said in a text message Monday. “Sharp Park Golf Course has been a financial and environmental liability for San Francisco. The status quo is untenable and the city should be looking at all options for how to manage the land and protect the endangered species.”

The Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, the National Parks Conservation Association and other environmental nonprofit groups are fighting the city in federal court over alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act at Sharp Park. They say lawnmowers and pumps that prevent winter flooding are illegally killing and disturbing the frogs and snakes there.

National Parks Conservation Association Associate Director Neal Desai on Monday expressed disappointment with Lee’s veto, which he said commits San Francisco to a “path of risk and liability” and a plan that “contributes to an oversupply” of facilities for golfers.

Desai said the environmental groups would "absolutely not" give up in their battle to transform the picturesque site in Pacifica into national parkland. "Our goal is to see that we are providing recreation that San Francisco residents demand."

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