Two Chances for Expansion at Mori Point

April 23, 2009

Mori Point, a 110-acre park in Pacifica, has been part of the Golden Gate National Recreation area for nearly a decade (check out our April 2009 article on the park). Now, developments to the north and south could mean a huge jump in size for a coastal property that contains critical habitat for threatened red-legged frogs and endangered San Francisco garter snakes.

On the north side of the point, Sharp Park Golf Course is owned and operated by the city of San Francisco. A proposed city ordinance, up for a vote at an April 30 public meeting, would designate Sharp Park a protected wetland and eventually transfer the land to the National Park Service. What’s more, the housing developer who owns the southern section of Mori Point is now looking to sell.

These two parcels would form a continuous wildlife refuge when combined with the current preserved space at Mori Point. However, public opposition to closing the links at Sharp Park and a steep price for Rockaway Quarry are both formidable obstacles for environmentalists out to create a haven for imperiled snakes and frogs.

The sale of Rockaway Quarry has gotten less attention than the contentious plan to rezone Sharp Park. This is partly due to a lack of public debate about the issue: Development plans there have lost two public votes over the years. Developer Don Peebles — who spent years embroiled in public debate over his plans to develop Rockaway Quarry — may hope to make a direct sale to another developer and has assessed the property at a cool $90 million.

“There will be an effort to acquire this land (or part of it) for conservation but it is quite complicated,” says Michael Vasey of the Pacifica Land Trust, adding that the city of Pacifica has a “long-term commitment to develop” the land. However, the obstacles that Peebles faced won’t go away.

Brent Plater, the lawyer and activist spearheading the campaign to manage Sharp Park for habitat, surmises that the hefty price on the quarry might indicate more than just high expectations from Peebles. It might serve “to leverage the [National] Park Service,” Plater says, if Peebles can’t attract a new developer.

Whether or not environmentalists strike a deal to preserve some of the quarry, public debate is alive and kicking regarding Sharp Park. Because San Francisco operates the golf course, the Board of Supervisors will vote on the ordinance at San Francisco City Hall on April 30 at 1 pm. There will be time for public comment before the vote, and Plater predicts that golfers will show up en masse. “The only way we lose this campaign is if, when the hearing comes, there are 500 golfers and five environmentalists, and that is a distinct possibility,” Plater says.

While golfers will argue that Sharp Park represents one of the last affordable golf courses in the area, environmentalists point out that the course operates in violation of environmental restrictions on draining winter marshes where threatened red-legged frogs lay their eggs. The endangered San Francisco garter snake primarily subsists on the frogs, a situation that represents the larger vulnerability of an ecosystem that has struggled to coexist with golfers for 77 years.

Voice your opinion at the San Francisco city supervisor’s vote:
Thursday, April 30th, 1pm
San Francisco City Hall
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA

For more details on the San Francisco vote on Sharp Park, visit

UPDATE: On Tuesday, May 5, the San Francisco board of supervisors unanimously approved legislation for turning Sharp Park into a native wildlife habitat for frogs and snakes. The vote was supposed to occur on May 12 but was fast-tracked by city officials. The board will start by completing a study on the property’s conversion by June 1, as well as beginning discussions with the GGNRA about transferring the property.

A sub-committee approved the legislation last Thursday, April 30, which will either incorporate habitat restoration into the golf course’s operations or close the course entirely. The city will either transfer the land to GGNRA or develop a joint management plan.

Brent Plater is cautiously optimistic about these recent victories. “We need to make sure that the study is as good as it possibly can be, and that they select an alternative that is the best possible to ensure recovery of the snake and work with the GGNRA,” says Brent Plater. “So we won round 1, but there are many more rounds to go!”


About the Author

Laura Hautala is a freelance reporter based in Oakland.

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