Supes to decide on Sharp Park today; then to Mayor’s office

December 6, 2011

The federally-endangered San Francisco garter snake (SFGS) and its food of choice, the federally-threatened California red-legged frog (CRLF), may get new landlords at their beachside wetland home, the 417-acre San Francisco-owned and -managed Sharp Park in Pacifica, if the San Francisco board of supervisors passes legislation today that would clear the way for a transfer of its management to the National Park Service.

The ordinance, introduced by San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos this September, would compel the city to offer management of Sharp Park to the National Park Service’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which manages nearby Mori Point and Sweeney Ridge.

“This ordinance,” said supervisor Avalos as he opened a preliminary subcommittee meeting on Monday that passed the ordinance to the full board to discuss today, “is a way to move forward with possible changes in how we manage the park,” to thunderous applause from at least half of the 200 or so people packed in the chambers at San Francisco City Hall.

The meeting was the last chance for public comment on the contentious legislation before it enters the city’s hands. Dozens and dozens and dozens spoke for and against, in about equal measure, the legislation.

If passed, the ordinance would compel the city to offer the park’s management to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, curtailing other plans for the park like the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department’s current plan [see attached 18-hole option of the 2009 tetratech report], adopted by the city in 2010, to keep the 18-hole golf course with some measures to enhance SFGS and CRLF habitat.

The critters currently share the park, and the marshland of Horse Stable pond and the Laguna Salada, the animals’ most critical habitat at the site, with an 18-hole golf course built in 1932 and designed by Alistair MacKenzie, who also designed Augusta National.

The nearby restored SFGS and CRLF habitat at Mori Point leads to unavoidable conflict, said Peter Baye, lead author of a 211-page report, commissioned earlier this year by the Wild Equity Institute and the Center for Biological Diversity. “The species are not going away. So, be aware of that,” he told the subcommittee supervisors, “Mori Point has embedded suitable habitat next to problematic habitat.”

That problematic nature of the habitat has to deal with a pumping system that maintains an artificially low lagoon level to keep some fairways, which regularly flood, dry; golf maintenance, which includes mowing into marshland habitat, as the report explains, that cuts into natural marshland indicated by species like brass-buttons, bulrush, silverweed and creeping bentgrass; and the “coastal squeeze” by the course of the Laguna Salada toward the beach seawall that makes SFGS and CRLF habitat precariously in line of salt-water overwash.

The pumped, low-water lagoon also encourages tule-cattail stands that shade out swaths of marshland that the SFGS uses to forage for CRLF tadpoles, one of the species’ major food sources. The SFGS also needs upland, dry habitat to breed, which some bordering golf holes take the place of. Some of these concerns have been addressed by the current SFRP plan, which would keep the 18-hole golf course and leave the seawall to nature.

Today, the legislation faces the full 11 commissioners at the supervisors’ weekly full board meeting. The ordinance passes with six or more votes. If it does, there would be a pro forma reading of the ordinance at the next supervisors’ full board meeting on Tuesday, December 13. Then it would head to Mayor Lee, who can sign it into law or veto it.

About the Author

Paul Hagey is a freelance science reporter based in the East Bay.

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