Court Finds Plaintiffs Have Standing To Challenge ESA Violations At Sharp Park Golf Course

Last week the federal district court in San Francisco rejected the City of San Francisco’s arguments that plaintiffs lack Article III standing to challenge the City’s unlawful “take” of the imperiled California red-legged frog (CRLF) and San Francisco garter snake (SFGS) at Sharp Park golf course, a city-owned course that provides vital habitat for these ESA listed species.  The City had argued that there were so many CRLF at Sharp Park that plaintiffs interests in the species are not harmed when the City’s massive water pumping operations kill CRLF egg masses, and that there are so few SFGS that plaintiffs’ interests in that species are also not injured by activities, such as mowing operations, that risk killing SFGS. 

Finding that plaintiffs meet all the elements of Article III standing, the court explained that plaintiffs would have standing to challenge the take of CRLF irrespective of the species’ population, but that in addition “new evidence” suggests that the species may be declining at the golf course.  As regards the SFGS, the Court concluded that it “would be incongruous with the purposes of the ESA” to conclude that a plaintiff lacks standing where the species “is difficult to see, or worse, that because there are so few of the animals left, a person cannot be harmed by continued take.”

Because the City is seeking a Biological Opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its golf course operations, the court temporarily stayed proceedings in the suit.  The parties must update the court on the progress of that process over the next several months, after which the court will determine how to proceed.

A copy of the court’s ruling is here.