June 13, 2006

As We See It: Coastal panel considers Pebble Beach golf course project

We don’t often comment in this space about development proposals in Monterey County.

Still, many Santa Cruz County residents are up in arms about a proposal to cut some 17,000 pine trees to build a new Pebble Beach golf course. We’ve been getting a steady stream of similarly worded letters against the proposal, which comes before the state Coastal Commission on Wednesday in Santa Rosa.

The $100 million project, put together by an investment group including Clint Eastwood, was given the go-ahead by voters five years ago. It entails building a golf course, driving range and equestrian center along with homes and expanding a resort in Del Monte Forest near Carmel.

The Coastal Commission staff is recommending the project be rejected because of the impacts on the forest, which is known for its groves of Monterey pines, along with the access through the 17 Mile Drive to the incomparable shoreline and sand dunes.

The developer is the Pebble Beach Co., which owns almost all the undeveloped land in the forest. Pebble Beach Co. also owns two resorts and four of the eight golf courses in the area.

The developer says the 600-acre project will help the environment because it sets aside 400 acres for permanent preservation. The Pebble Beach Co. notes that it owns the land and has a right to develop it, and that the project is scaled back from what it could have been “” reducing the number of homes from 900 to 32, for instance.

The Coastal Commission, which regulates coastal use and development, faces a tough decision. In 2000, Pebble Beach Co. put together Measure A, an initiative that asked voters in Monterey County to amend the county’s coastal plan to allow the project. The initiative, backed by TV ads featuring Eastwood strolling through a pine forest seeking votes, won big.


Last year, Monterey County’s Board of Supervisors approved an environmental plan for the project.

Opponents, however, have filed numerous appeals to the Coastal Commission challenging the Coastal Plan changes that voters approved. Environmentalists say the project will have too much of an impact on an already diminished Del Monte Forest, which, they note, is one of only five such coastal pine forests in the world.

Commission staff says the preservation efforts are not enough and that the entire project “cannot be reconciled” with the Coastal Act.

But that’s what the staff says. Commissioners, however, are politically appointed, and therein lies a new controversy. Friday, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, D-Los Angeles, who with the governor and the state Senate Rules Committee controls four appointments on the commission, announced he is naming three new alternates to the commission. But the commission staff said Monday that one of these alternates should not show up as requested to substitute for a commissioner who has expressed misgivings about the Pebble Beach project.

Longtime Coastal Commission Executive Director Peter Douglas says Nuñez has no authority to name alternates to fill in for absent commissioners. Nuñez’s move also angered environmentalists who suspected the speaker was trying to stack the deck for approval of the project.

This is a classic coastal battle, with the people of Monterey County saying they want this project, and environmentalists vowing it will never happen. Commissioners have gone against staff in the past, but can do so only if they find legal grounds.

Would this ever happen in Santa Cruz County? Probably not, but Pebble Beach is hardly Santa Cruz.

We can only hope the Coastal Commission puts political pressure aside and makes its decisions on the legal merits.