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Along with the seawall and the needed renovations on the golf course itself, the third main cost-driver at Sharp Park is the city's share of a joint recycled-water project with Pacifica's North Coast County Water District. According to the terms of a 2004 agreement negotiated by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the city will pay a sum toward the project proportional to the share of water from the new system that Sharp Park will use. In 2004, the golf course was estimated to use about 74 percent of the water from the project.
How much does that work out to? According to federal records on projects receiving American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus funds, the recycled-water project will cost $8.8 million, with $2.2 million in stimulus money to offset local government's share of the price tag. According to PUC spokesman Tyrone Jue, San Francisco's share of the remaining cost is $5.1 million.
The siphoning of federal stimulus funds toward a golf course so steeped in controversy has provoked some outcry in itself. Last December, Sharp Park made its debut on the national political stage — as an example of government waste. In a "Stimulus Checkup" report devoted to ridiculing uses of the $787 billion secured by President Barack Obama for economic recovery projects, McCain and Coburn spotlighted the Sharp Park recycled-water project. "While the golf course was designed by Alister MacKenzie, best known for designing Augusta National, Sharp Park has not followed in Augusta's successful footsteps," the Republican senators opined.
In addition to the $5.1 million for recycled water and at least $6 million for seawall repairs at Sharp Park, an additional expense must be accounted for: legal and consulting fees associated with obtaining permits for any renovations from the gauntlet of state and federal regulatory agencies that have jurisdiction over the property. Sharp's seaside location and resident endangered species make it subject to environmental review under both the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). There's currently no way of estimating those costs, but coastal developers typically pay at least a few hundred thousand dollars for required studies and permits under the two laws.
Last fall, the city's Recreation and Park Commission adopted a plan it hoped would balance the needs of snakes, frogs, and golfers at Sharp Park: a renovation of the course, keeping all 18 holes intact but moving one and adjusting others to create more natural habitat. The price tag on this option was set at somewhere between $5.9 and $11.3 million, depending on how much excavated land could be reused at the property.
In the months since this approach became city policy, however, federal authorities say nothing has been brought to them for official approval. "I know they have a couple of ideas, but they haven't aired anything under CEQA or NEPA for us to review," says Chris Nagano, chief of the endangered-species division at the Sacramento field office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "The reality is there's nothing for us to look at." (Rec and Park spokesman Elton Pon says department officials are still exploring how to finance renovations at Sharp Park, and hope to have an environmental review of its natural-habitat areas completed during the summer of 2011.)
Environmental activists, angry Republican senators, mazes of federal and state bureaucracy: The obstacles arrayed against Sharp Park are diverse indeed. With so many factions drawing a bead on the golf course, what recourse does it have for a viable future? As it turns out, there is one approach that advocates say would cost the city next to nothing. But it would mean turning Sharp Park over to the federal government — and giving up on golf for good.
Coastal wilderness and wetlands restoration — from the dairy ranches of Marin County to San Francisco's Crissy Field — has been a principal goal of the Park Service in recent years, and Sharp Park seems like a promising candidate for such an overhaul, at least from the point of view of federal officials. The city could, in theory, try to hand over the entire property to the National Park Service, which already manages the adjacent Mori Point preserve as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). Would the feds be interested?
"We're open," GGNRA spokeswoman Chris Powell says. "We have said all along that if the city were to discontinue golf and were interested in having it restored to a natural area, then we would be interested in talking to the city." Powell also said the GGNRA would potentially be willing to undertake this restoration from start to finish on its own, removing virtually all financial responsibility from San Francisco. Under this scenario, Sharp Park could be united with Mori Point to form an unbroken wildlife area. "We do have endangered-species habitat next door, and we think it would be important to have contiguous habitat," she says.
Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, a golf enthusiast who led the charge to renovate Harding Park, doesn't like the idea of giving Sharp Park to the federal government. "We've been given a tremendous resource, and to just give it away, I think, would be a waste," he says. Instead, he thinks the golf course can and should stay — provided the city can find other government agencies to help pay the bills.