June 14, 2007

Coastal Commission rejects Pebble Beach plan

SANTA ROSA “” The California Coastal Commission on Wednesday voted against a high-profile Pebble Beach golf development proposed by a company backed by Clint Eastwood.

The commission voted 8-4 against approving zoning changes that would have allowed the Pebble Beach Co. to build an 18-hole golf course, driving range and rental cottages next to some of the world’s most famous golf courses on California’s Central Coast.

“This is the most egregious example of development attempting to circumvent the Coastal Act that I can remember,” said Commissioner Sarah Wan, who voted against it.

The plan faced opposition from environmentalists who claim the project will threaten sensitive coastal habitats and endangered species .

The plan would affect more than 100 acres of undeveloped land in the Del Monte Forest, and environmentalists say it would jeopardize one of five remaining stands of old-growth Monterey pines in the world.

In addition to the old-growth forest, the development would threaten California red-legged frog and the endangered Yadon’s piperia, an orchid, opponents say.

The company, whose co-owners include Eastwood, golf legend Arnold Palmer and former Major League Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, already owns four golf courses at Pebble Beach.

The issue of whether to uphold a voter-approved measure that changes zoning in the Pebble Beach area drew more than two dozen speakers, who were deeply divided on the plan.

The changes would have allowed the Pebble Beach Co. to cut down 18,000 native Monterey pines in the Del Monte forest to build an 18-hole golf course, as well as 34 luxury homes, about 160 hotel rooms and other golf resort improvements. Much of the debate focused on the trees.

The daylong hearing in Santa Rosa included lengthy presentations by the commission staff “” which recommended denial of the measure “” and the lawyer for the Pebble Beach Co., as well as comments from members of the public and state agencies.

Much of the debate revolved around whether the Del Monte Forest should be considered an environmentally sensitive area.

The Coastal Commission staff argued that because the golf project would require cutting down about 18,000 native Monterey pines, the measure would violate 1972’s Coastal Act, which is mandated to protect any areas deemed environmentally sensitive.

Andrew Storer, a forestry expert for the company, testified that Monterey pines “do not meet reasonable definitions of rare or especially valuable,” and in fact regenerate prolifically.

The commission staff presented their own experts to say the trees are healthy in the area, but that because the Monterey peninsula is one of only a few areas where they grow, cutting any of them down would violate the Coastal Act.

“This project simply cannot be reconciled with the Coastal Act,” said Charles Lester, deputy director of the commission staff.