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From the Los Angeles Times


Pebble Beach Development Plan Debated

Special to The Times

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. - The Pebble Beach Co., run by high-profile investors Clint Eastwood and Peter Ueberroth, is seeking permission for one of the most ambitious Monterey Peninsula development projects in decades: a plan to add an 18- hole golf course, 160 hotel suites and 60 employee housing units.

But though the project envisions setting aside nearly 500 acres of forest preserve, it also would use scarce Monterey Peninsula water while eliminating more than 17,000 trees on about 100 acres. Its potential impact on the environment and existing residential neighborhoods has raised a chorus of objections.

Officials from the company, which owns high-end hotels and golf courses, say the project offers a delicate balance between profit and preservation, and that it represents a bid by Eastwood to create a lasting legacy of corporate environmental stewardship of the Monterey Peninsula's Del Monte Forest.

"He understands this is Oscar material if it is done right," said Alan Williams, president of the Carmel Development Co., which is managing the project.

But critics say the project is nothing more than a cheap horror flick complete with chain saws. "If the Pebble Beach Co. is a steward, why aren't they fighting to protect the Monterey pines?" asked David Dillworth, executive director of Helping Our Peninsula's Environment. "They probably consider bulldozers and chain saws conservation equipment."

The Monterey County Subdivision Committee, which was to hold the first county hearing on the project earlier this month, decided to reschedule for Thursday because it needed more time to review 90 letters from the public and local agencies offering comments and raising concerns.

A central point of contention is the new golf course. The company already operates four courses in the area. but says it needs another to accommodate brisk demand. At its signature Pebble Beach Golf Links, where a single round costs $395, players often must book months in advance to reserve a tee time.

By adding another course and more hotel rooms, the company could accommodate more players and also generate more cash to help pay the cost of managing and preserving the remaining Del Monte Forest tracts under its control. But residents question the need for another golf course in the area.

"I realize golf courses generate an awful lot of money," said Pebble Beach resident Carl Nielsen. "The question is, should the entire area be golf courses or should it have some open space like presently exists?" Nielsen is co-chairman of Concerned Residents of Pebble Beach and Monterey County, which wants to scale back the project.

And then there is the question of the Monterey pine, the primary tree in Del Monte Forest. Dillworth's group points out that the tree is a variety of pine only rarely found naturally, and that the Monterey Peninsula has the largest natural forest of those trees in the world. Rather than chopping down 17,000, the company should strive to protect those that remain, he said.

If the company needs another golf course, it simply should buy one of the existing courses in the area instead of clearing more of the forest, Dillworth said. Dropping the new golf course would answer "90% or 95% of our concerns," he said.

But the company says the golf course is the one element that it cannot do without. Although 17,000 trees would be sacrificed, it says millions would be saved.

"It's part of the give and take," Williams said. "Instead of developing housing on 300 some odd lots, which would remove more trees than the golf course, we are compromising a very small percentage of forest to create an economic engine that will support the whole thing. There are millions of trees versus 17,000. That is a very, very small percentage of the overall trees that the company is preserving and will continue to maintain."

The current debate over new development in the Pebble Beach resort area is the latest in a saga that stretches back more than a dozen years, beginning with the previous Japanese owners of the company, who proposed adding not only a new golf course but also more than 300 residential lots. When that project came up for county review, there were more than 350 letters of protest and concern.

Eastwood's investor group bought out the previous owners in 1999 for a reported $820 million and set about finding a way of getting the new golf course built along with some additional hotel rooms. The new owners also sought to respond to critics by eliminating nearly all the new residential lots and setting aside large chunks of Del Monte Forest in conservation easements.

The company sponsored ,a ballot question that set out the outline of the project and was approved by 70% of voters in 2000. Two years ago, the company launched its bid to win approval from with Monterey County.

The Pebble Beach Co.'s proposal faces several hurdles - not the least of which is the California Coastal Commission, which must rule on the land-use changes contemplated by Measure A. The company hopes to push the project through to approval by the end of the year and start construction next spring.

Opponents are working to derail the project before either the county or the Coastal Commission. But they are well aware that fighting Eastwood is never easy in Monterey County.

"He has a general public image of positive activity in the area," Nielsen said. "I am impressed with his generosity toward the community. But I still don't like what he is proposing to do in Pebble Beach."