San Francisco Natural Areas Overview
Welcome to SF Natural Areas!! This site is for, by, and about the volunteers who work to preserve and protect the remnant habitats within San Francisco.
Unlike most other major urban areas, San Francisco’s steep topography has prevented the sort of torched-earth development that completely obliterated all traces of original landscapes elsewhere. In fact, 1100 acres (that’s 27%) of the San Francisco parks system are officially designated Significant Natural Resource Areas because they still contain irreplaceable biological communities. Other mostly-pristine remnant areas are owned by other public entities including the Public Utilities Commission and the Presidio Trust.
These public lands are under constant threat, however, from invasive weeds and over-use — and this is where volunteers come in. Volunteers with the Natural Areas Program of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department (RPD) contribute tens of thousands of hours each year pulling weeds, maintaining trails, and propagating and planting native plants.
In fact, Natural Areas Program volunteers constitute over 25% of all RPD volunteer hours even though the Natural Areas Program has only 2% of RPD staff and receives only 1% of the RPD budget. The Natural Areas Program is underfunded and understaffed by a factor of ten. Volunteers are what prevent these priceless biological assets in San Francisco from collapsing into weedy ruin.
Anyway, other natural areas managers besides the SFRPD include the Presidio Trust which runs its own volunteer program; the National Park Service, which runs the Golden Gate National Recreation Area; the SF Public Utilities Commission which owns important remnant areas near Laguna Honda; and UCSF, which owns and manages Mt Sutro. Plus, there are other important groups which play crucial roles in San Francisco’s preservation of its biological heritage.
However, what has been missing is a site where volunteers can post their photos and tell their stories about working in these remarkable areas. That need is what this site attempts to fill. This site also, over time, may become an integrated botanical guide to San Francisco’s native plants, though this be an over-ambitious goal.
Browse the Events, Photos, and Blogs to see what’s happening at all the various Natural Areas. To track quickly and easily the most recent contributions, check the general blog section and the general photo section. These combine all content from all the natural areas we cover in reverse chronological order, so the newest stuff is always the first you’ll see.
General Blog Posts
These posts concern general SF Natural Areas themes. For posts regarding an individual site, go to that site's main page. For all blog posts from all sites in chronological order, go here.
The RPD Frog&Snake Extinction Plan Update
The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (RPD) is just about to wind up its “Golf Task Force” at the final meeting October 29. And what been the result of this nearly year-long comedy?
The RPD will forward up its chain-of-command the golf course plan as its official “conclusion”. Appended to this plan — no doubt in very small print — will be an RPD-edited version of the “public comments” it heard via the Task Force meetings. However, the meetings had no impact on the report’s content per se nor in the RPD’s decision to approve it wholesale. The meetings only served to provide a layer of lipstick to this pig.
Not that this was a particular surprise; this is how these types of “public comment” processes always work in San Francisco.
But in this case, it is quite clear that major forces — presumably the Mayor and some of the Supervisors along with their buddies in the corporate golf world — knew what they wanted, and the RPD had to deliver. San Francisco is to remain a golf-friendly place particularly hospitable to the private golf management firms that will take over the courses from the City. And the Sharp Park golf course is to be completely revamped as part of a huge development deal that will remake Pacifica into a conference/resort center.
There are many problems with the plan, but we’re concerned here primarily with Sharp Park. As we’ve previously pointed out, having a golf course at Sharp Park never made much sense and it certainly makes no sense now. It runs head-on into inherent obstacles: common sense and the law.
- The location is at or below sea level and flooding is a huge problem now — and this will only increase in the future with climate change induced sea level rises and worsening storm surges — since the “plan” doesn’t include a mechanism for suspending the law of gravity.
- The entire basin is habitat for the endangered San Francisco garter snake and the red-legged frog, and the continued operation of the course violates both the federal Endangered Species Act and the California Fully Protected Species Act.
The RPD and its consultants claim that there is no conflict between golf and endangered species. At the last Task Force meeting, the golf course architect actually asserted that “golf is good for endangered species”, incredibly enough. They make these assertions with no supporting evidence, whereas there is clear evidence that the RPD has committed illegal “take” of both snake and frog. This point will soon be the focus of the court cases during the next phase of this issue. Then the RPD will get to see how well its glib dismissal of these environmental concerns plays.
The Sharp Park golf course’s location and frequently drowned status directly refute the absurd claim by RPD and other supporters that this course must be preserved as historically significant because it was designed by Alister Mackenzie. Whatever the merits of other courses he created, Sharp Park is clear evidence of his failings. Four of the original holes have already washed out to sea, and six others have been substantively re-engineered because of problems with their layout. Mackenzie wouldn’t even recognize this course if he walked it today — nor would he be able to get the permits to build it now. Sharp Park is simply the wrong place for a golf course no matter who originally designed it.
Pacifica residents have been particularly vocal about their objections to losing their inexpensive access to golf at Sharp Park; now they pay only the “resident” rate charged San Franciscans. But there are no revenue transfers from Pacifica to San Francisco to offset this bargain, so San Francisco taxpayers are subsidizing every round of golf played by every Pacifica resident to the tune of $15-20 at a time when San Francisco city services are being cut due to a nearly half billion budget deficit.
The RPD has provided a number of other sources of irritation during this “process”:
- They capriciously and frequently canceled meetings of the Task Force, and scheduled what meetings it did conduct at times when it knew certain members could not attend.
- They supplied the Task Force with expurgated, incomplete, confused and confusing data — when it didn’t simply refuse to provide information at all — even in defiance of Sunshine Ordinance requests.
- They hid from their consultant the Management Audit of the RPD — specifically the Golf Fund section that provided key data about one of the contested issues — the current level of use of San Francisco’s golf courses.
So this entire process has been a complete shambles. Unfortunately, it appears that no City “jobs for life” employees will get fired over it. But here’s what is going to happen next.
- The RPD will forward the consultants plan (with public comment in tiny footnotes) to the Rec&Parks Commission where the commissioners will (maybe) wake up long enough to glance at the cover, check how the Mayor wants them to vote, and then approve it.
- The plan will then proceed to the Board of Supervisors next spring during Budget Season, when the question will be whether the Golf Fans on the BOS will prevail over the Supes who don’t care one way or another. All will become confused in a blizzard of mostly specious numbers, much arm-waving will occur, “public process” will be committed, and then…
- Mostly likely, the plan will be moved forward with at most a few minor modifications.
And at that point — when the City of San Francisco attempts to start remaking the Sharp Park golf course — things will heat up a great deal:
- The proceedings will move to new venues — to administrative hearings before the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Game, and the California Coastal Commission. And most importantly, the Sharp Park golf course will find itself in the courtroom — where the City of San Francisco will be sued for illegal take of endangered species, among other grounds.
- This phase will be protracted, prolonged, immensely expensive for the City — and ultimately the City will lose.
En route we’ll see several other developments:
- The RPD will get to defend its refusal to release information before the Sunshine Commission.
- The RPD will then get to see what it’s like to comply with other, larger jurisdictions’ process instead of devising its own rigged, bogus process.
- The Mayor and the Supervisors will get to learn how happy their taxpayer constituents are to lose street cleaning and other city services in order to pay $15-20 for EACH ROUND OF GOLF PLAYED BY EACH PACIFICA RESIDENT at Sharp Park.
- The Mayor will get to see how well pushing this “endangered snake and frog extinction plan” in his parks aids his race for the Governor’s mansion.
The ironic tragedy of all this is that there is a vastly superior alternative that would have avoided all this. Sharp Park could be restored as a world-class environmental center with a hiking/nature trail system, education program, and camping facilities. Such a plan would
- Respond to the number one public priory for public parks: hiking trails
- Allow diversion of golf operational dollars from a failed underwater golf course to other higher-altitude courses that can be made more affordable, accessible, and playable.
- Avoid the long and expensive legal ordeal that the City is headed for.
But instead, the RPD has steered the City of San Francisco into treacherous rapids. This long and dangerous ride is only beginning.
There are no comments so far.
The RPD Frog&Snake Extinction Plan for Sharp Park
We’ve previously expounded on why the Sharp Park golf course must close. Here’s what’s happened since.
The Rec&Park Department (RPD) has finally released the golf course plan that it commissioned from Leon Younger of PROS Consulting. Not surprisingly, this plan is deeply flawed. By failing to solve flood management and endangered species problems, the plan imposes huge financial and legal risks to the City and County of San Francisco and its taxpayers.
In a nutshell, the RPD plan calls for a) privatization of all public golf courses; and b) reconstruction of Sharp Park as an “elite” and expensive golf course with all 18 holes west of Highway 1 plus a new “Junior Golf” facility east of Highway 1.
Here are the most important of the many fatal flaws in this proposal:
The plan makes the golf course’s current flood management problems significantly worse. The entire basin west of Highway 1 is near or below sea level. Yet this is exactly where the plan places all 18 holes of this course. Currently 3-4 holes of the course are under water and unplayable for months at a time. This plan would place the entire course in such jeopardy. The established sea wall prevents salt water intrusion onto the golf course but dams freshwater drainage from Sanchez Creek resulting in regular flooding and hole closures. The plan’s inclusion of more holes in that flood zone means more hole closures and greater economic loss.
The plan’s failure to solve the flood management problems will create significant legal liability to San Francisco for flood damage to adjacent properties. During heavy rains, water backs up from Sharp Park into surrounding neighborhoods because the sea wall blocks appropriate drainage of Sanchez Creek. By not mitigating this problem, San Francisco will sooner or later be obligated to pay out huge damages from flooded-out neighbors.
The plan will subject San Francisco to large civil and criminal penalties for illegal “taking” of the endangered San Francisco garter snake and the threatened California red-legged frog. Biologists hired by RPD showed that the entire area of Sharp Park is habitat for the snake, not just the tiny areas cordoned off in the RPD/Younger report. It is a physical impossibility for golf operations to continue — particularly in intensified fashion proposed by the plan — without killing both frogs and snakes. Illegal take of both has indeed already been frequently documented, and this will only increase under this plan. At some $25,000s per incident, San Francisco’s taxpayers will be on the hook for serious costs — and San Francisco officials who are responsible for this illegal activity will be at significant risk for criminal penalties.
The plan will invoke prohibitively expensive permits and permit processes. Not only are these costs completely neglected in the plan, they also will be lost investments when the plan is rejected on solid scientific grounds. San Francisco is not free to do whatever it likes with this property even though it owns it. The California Coastal Commission, the California Department of Fish and Game, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service all have jurisdiction here. In particular, a Habitat Conservation Plan will be mandatory, and this step will cost some hundreds of thousands of dollars and will last as long as 8-10 years. Ultimately San Francisco will expend well over seven figures on environmental planning just to seek permission for this plan before it finds it rejected.
The plan’s market analysis for continuing golf in Sharp Park is bogus on its face. The plan conjectures mutually inconsistent expectations that the course can raise fees by over $100/round while simultaneously dramatically increasing the number of rounds played at the course— primarily from women, minority, and junior players, Bay Area residents that typically comprise the smallest components of the golf market. It is quite clear that the golf market will NOT support this vision: most public courses are currently running well below 50% capacity despite the deep discounts currently offered at the course. Raising prices while increasing demand doesn’t pass Economics 101.
The RPD process leading up to this plan has been improper and disingenuous. The Golf Task Force’s meetings have frequently been canceled at the last moment by RPD officials, apparently so that they could proceed with planning without input from the Task Force. The RPD has refused to provide materials to Task Force members and has redacted those materials it has reluctantly handed over with as heavy a hand as the CIA. There is no reason at this point to retain a shred of confidence in the RPD’s intentions or judgment.
The plan, if pursued further by the RPD, will be met with a costly lawsuit. Opposition to the continued destruction of endangered species habitat in Sharp Park is vigorous and uniform in the environmental community, and the City and County of San Francisco will have an immediate opportunity to learn the scale of this opposition if it proceeds with this plan in any fashion.
Clearly, there are powerful forces at the highest levels of San Francisco government that love golf and want to see it continue at Sharp Park. It appears most likely that the RPD General Manager is getting intense pressure from the Mayor to make this so, though it’s hard to see what benefit Newsom thinks he’s deriving for his gubernatorial campaign by exterminating endangered species for a golf course that few want. Then again, Newsom’s base is the country club set, and from their lofty vantage point, this all may seem like great policy.
San Francisco does have a clear and noble alternative, though: a restoration plan to protect and preserve the Sanchez Creek drainage through the creation of a world-class environmental center, hiking/nature trail system, and camping program. Sharp Park can meet the highest priority public park needs identified (ironically) by a prior Pros Consulting report in 2004. The current golf plan is, however, exactly the WRONG thing to do.
UPDATE: The RPD has inexplicably canceled yet ANOTHER Golf Task Force meeting. The Sept 17 meeting has been pushed back to Sept 29 — which is a date that many cannot attend, as it turns out. The RPD obviously views the Golf Task Force as a body to rubber stamp — not shape — its golf policy. This is actually no big surprise, and clearly points out that the public has one forum in which to be heard: Superior Court.
There are no comments so far.