BY JOHN BOWIE, WILD EQUITY
The March 26, 2011, letter to Pacifica City Council from the Chamber of Commerce makes several weak claims in support of the Sharp Park Golf Course. It claims Sharp Park as “the southern anchor of Palmetto” and “the gateway to Mori Point.” Most off-base is the call to “support San Francisco in maintaining a regulation sized course.” The most recent statements from San Francisco make no claim to a regulation-size course; they only mention that habitat enhancements and golf could be compatible. These claims illustrate a disconnect between the Chamber of Commerce, the issues at Sharp Park, and an informed perspective on the future of Pacifica.
The claim that the golf course is the “southern anchor of Palmetto” is fantasy. If you follow Palmetto to its southern end, you will walk directly into a fence. The golf course stands between Mori Point and Palmetto Avenue. On any sunny day there is a steady flow of hundreds of people at a given time on the trail to Mori Point. Meanwhile, by design, golf directs patrons back to the clubhouse to get in their cars, conveniently get back on the highway, and drive home. Few patrons even need to drive on Palmetto from Sharp Park’s clubhouse. Sharp Park Golf Course has had nearly 80 years to prove its mettle in our economy, and Pacifica is still in dire financial straits. Golf is obviously not the economic driving force the chamber dreams it will be; it’s more of the same.
The chamber claims reduction of the golf course would cause undeniable economic hardship in Pacifica. Let’s look at the numbers. In the SFRPD Golf report, 37,905 rounds were played at Sharp Park in 2009-2010. That’s a maximum of 37,905 visits over the course of the year, provided no one played more than one round in a day. Compare this to the National Parks Conservation Association study looking at the economic impact of visitor spending in California’s national parks. Two parks comparable to Mori Point—Pinnacles and Point Reyes—generated 178,000 and 2.2 million visitors, respectively, in a year. At the smallest national park, traffic was almost five times greater than Sharp Park Golf Course patronage. Point Reyes visitor traffic outnumbers Sharp Park golf rounds almost 60 to 1! Total visitor spending at Pinnacles was $3.2 million in a year compared to Sharp Park losing $117,173 last year. Point Reyes visitors spent more than $83 million, supporting 2,000 local jobs. Even the smallest park visitation numbers would vastly increase the tourism engine in Pacifica compared to golf.
Pacifica has an element neither Point Reyes nor Pinnacles has: easy access to San Francisco. In Leon Younger’s 2004 SFRPD report, “Walking and Hiking Trails” were rated as SF’s most desired recreation, compared with golf (ranked 16 of 19). That said, would it not be better to invest in an in-demand market and redirect the hundreds of people on foot to the Palmetto shops and restaurants to truly anchor Palmetto as the gateway to Mori Point? How much would those businesses stand to make if hundreds more people walked in front of them instead of driving by?
The demands of the chamber show how out of touch it is with the issues at Sharp Park. On February 23, San Francisco called to end further armoring of the seawall, without ruling out that golf could be maintained. This leads to the troubling realization that the ocean side of Sharp Park Golf Course needs a significant infusion of cash to maintain a regulation-size course that will likely not come from San Francisco, as it has abandoned armoring the levee. This leaves major questions as to whether Pacifica will front the high costs, cutting the budget elsewhere, or court an investor thus privatizing the “gateway to Mori Point” and leaving our beloved Salada Beach as private property. That is, if there is any beach left, as armoring the seawall would lead to erosion and eventual loss of a community asset. These outcomes are not in the greater interest of Pacifica and would leave a legacy of folly.
The businesses represented by the Chamber of Commerce should seriously consider the costly implications and legacy of maintaining a regulation-size course at Sharp Park. Is it time to investigate new options for Pacifica’s future or stick to 80 years of financial struggle? An enhanced public park at Sharp Park might be the economic engine Pacifica needs.