Six environmental groups that filed a lawsuit seeking to protect two imperiled species at the Pacifica, Calif., golf course are receiving $386,000 for attorneys’ fees and costs, even though the suit was dismissed. U.S. District Judge Susan Illston said she granted the partial award because the plaintiffs achieved “some success” by speeding up the city’s process of obtaining permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for incidental harm of the species.
A federal judge in San Francisco has awarded $386,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs to six environmental groups that filed a lawsuit seeking to protect two imperiled species at the Sharp Park Golf Course in Pacifica, Calif., the San Francisco-based KPIX TV reported.
The 18-hole public golf course is owned and operated by the city of San Francisco, KPIX TV reported.
The 2011 lawsuit contended that pumping and mowing at the course hurt the California red-legged frog, which is federally listed as a threatened species, and the San Francisco garter snake, an endangered species, KPIX TV reported.
C&RB reported that the city considered closing the golf course back in 2011 (“Plan to Close Sharp Park Golf Course Proposed by San Francisco Supervisor”).
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston said in a ruling on July 1 that even though she eventually dismissed the lawsuit, it did speed up the city’s process of obtaining permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for incidental harm, legally known as “taking,” of the two species, KPIX TV reported.
“Plaintiffs’ lawsuit spurred defendants into obtaining the necessary authorization for their take of frogs and snakes,” Illston wrote.
The wildlife service issued the authorization in a 2012 biological opinion, which also set 31 conditions that the city of San Francisco must follow in operating the golf course, KPIX TV reported.
The agency estimated that maintenance activities at the site would destroy 130 frog egg masses, kill or injure two snakes and one frog and harass all frogs and snakes in the area each year. But it concluded the operations “were not likely to jeopardize the continued existence” of the two species, KPIX TV reported.
After the biological opinion was issued, Illston dismissed the lawsuit as moot in December 2012, KPIX TV reported.
The attorneys’ fee award levied against the city was one-fourth of the amount of what the environmental groups, which included the Wild Equity Institute and the Center for Biological Diversity, had sought. The award included $327,000 in fees—or 25% of the slightly more than $1.3 million requested—and $59,000 in compensation for costs, KPIX TV reported.
The U.S. Endangered Species Act provides that attorney fees can be ordered in citizen lawsuits when a judge determines an award is appropriate, KPIX TV reported.
Illston said the partial award was appropriate because the plaintiffs achieved “some success,” in that the requirements are now mandatory rather than voluntary and were imposed more quickly than might have been the case without the lawsuit, KPIX TV reported.
But “little else has substantively changed in the management of Sharp Park,” the judge noted.
San Francisco city attorney’s office spokesman Gabriel Zitrin said no decision has been made on whether to appeal the fee award, KPIX TV reported.
“Sharp Park Golf Course illegally kills endangered species, and San Francisco taxpayers continue to foot the bill for this environmental crime,” said Wild Equity Institute attorney Brent Plater.
Plater’s group hopes the city will reconsider the use of the site and either remove the golf course or keep only one nine-hole course, to “create a public park everybody could enjoy, including the wildlife.”
In addition to the institute and the Center for Biological Diversity, the plaintiff groups included the National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club, the Surfrider Foundation and the San Mateo County-based Sequoia Audubon Society, KPIX TV reported.
NPCA Pacific Region Associate Director Neal Desai said, “We’re moving the conservation ball forward. We’re continuing the campaign to advocate that more changes are needed.”
The environmental groups are appealing the dismissal of the lawsuit to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but the appeal was put on hold until Illston issued the attorneys’ fee decision, so that any appeal from that ruling could be handled at the same time, KPIX TV reported.
The lawsuit claimed that pumping water out of the park kills frog egg masses by exposing them to air and causing them to dry up, and that grass mowers and motorized golf carts run over snakes and frogs, KPIX TV reported.
The San Francisco Public Golf Alliance, a citizens’ group, joined the case to help the city defend against the lawsuit, KPIX TV reported.
“The judge’s ruling gave a very substantial haircut to their (fee) request,” Alliance co-founder Richard Harris said. “The golf course is being enjoyed and admired and is maintained in an appropriate fashion for both the golf and the species.”
Tell Us What You Think!
You must be logged in to post a comment.