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Court system on Sharp Park's side... for now

November 30, 2011

A preliminary injunction sought by opponents of Sharp Park golf course in Pacifica, Calif., to stop pumping and mowing on half of the 1932 Alister Mackenzie layout -- measures that would have effectively shut it down -- has been denied by a California court.

In a 15-page ruling issued Tuesday in San Francisco, U.S. District Court judge Susan Illston wrote that the the plaintiffs had "failed to meet their burden of showing irreparable harm to the California Red-Legged Frog or the San Francisco Garter Snake" caused by the operation of the municipal course.


Photo by Bill Fields

A group of non-profit conservation groups has sued the City of San Francisco, arguing that the operation of the course has caused "taking" of the frog, a threatened species, and the snake, an endangered species. The city and advocates of Sharp Park, including the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance, argued that the course has been taking actions to protect the two species, including egg masses of the frog.

In denying the injunctive relief, Illston noted that "experts for both sides agree that the overall Sharp Park frog population has increased during the last 20 years" and cited the testimony of Dr. Mark Jennings, a herpetologist and fisheries biologist, one of the scientists to originally petition that the California Red-Legged Frog be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Jennings testified of Sharp Park that "there are relatively few sites within the current geographic range of the species that have such large populations of adult frogs."

The ruling also cited a letter from city employee Jon Campo, who wrote to the Fish and Wildlife Service Jan. 21, 2011. "I have been documenting the frog egg masses at Sharp Park for over 8 years and this year I have recorded more than 3 times the egg masses than any other year," Campo said. Illston wrote: "The court finds persuasive the testimony that the frog population is increasing each year and is, in fact, 'thriving.' "

"A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy, never awarded as of right," Illston wrote. "Here the circumstances do not warrant the exceptional act of prohibiting activity that has gone for decades before the case can be decided on its merits. It is uncontroverted that the local frog population is increasing. The Court finds persuasive defendants' assertions that they will continue careful monitoring of water levels, and continue to seek authorization from FWS for the movement of any vulnerable egg masses."

The case is expected to go to trial next July.

-- Bill Fields

Follow on Twitter: @BillFields1