Clint Eastwood Presents
The Big Bad Wolf

For several years, environmentalists have been fighting against the plan for an eighth golf course on the Pebble Beach peninsula in California, the actor-director's preserve. But Clint Eastwood has proven to be a property developer as stubborn as he is powerful.

By Pascal Riche

Monday, June 20, 2005 (Liberation - 06:00)

Special correspondent, Carmel


"What a beauty! What luck!" David Dilworth is happy. Hidden away in the undergrowth, among pine needles, the orchid Piperia yadonii peeks out. It resembles a sort of very small green asparagus, with tiny white flowers, that needs to be appreciated through a magnifying glass. "It is extremely rare and an endangered species," explains the director of HOPE (Helping Our Peninsula's Environment). There are only a few tens of thousands of them left in the world, mainly here, on the Pebble Beach peninsula, a two and a half hour drive south of San Francisco. According to him, as well as other environmental organizations, a fearsome predator is looming nearby. His name: Clint Eastwood.

Yadon's piperia is not alone in this predicament. The red-legged frog (Rana draytonii), made famous by Mark Twain (1) and believed, for a long time, to have disappeared, is another potential victim of Dirty Harry. But let's not forget the Monterey pines themselves, another threatened species.

The actor, who reigns over the peninsula, wants to create a new golf course, and for that, he needs to uproot 17,000 of these rare pines. For several years, environmentalists have been fighting against this project, with the support of the California administration in charge of preserving the coast. But Clint Eastwood is both a powerful and stubborn man. He considers their concerns unfounded. According to him, he only wants to protect the "jewel" that is Pebble Beach, where he has a house.

California Dreamin'

Seventy-five year old Eastwood is an odd duck. Everyone is familiar with his main profession: he makes great films that are both raw and delicate, clear and obscure, simple and complex. His second profession, however, is less well known: property development in this little corner of California. He fell in love with this peninsula back in 1950 when he was in the army based at the local military base, Ford Ord.About twenty years ago, right after filming Pale Rider, he was elected mayor of Carmel, the neat little town next door. Why? Because he was ranting and raving about the municipal administration blocking his project to build a commercial building in the chic, pastel downtown. Once elected, he cleaned house in the city-planning department. He got his building, agreeing, however, to swap concrete for wood. He remained mayor for two years, before tiring and returning to his movies. But the town, christened "Clintville" by the media, continues to bear his mark...

In 1999, the year of True Crime, Clint, along with a group of associates, bought the Pebble Beach Company consortium, the association in charge of managing half of the Monterey peninsula. The area concerned is a huge gated community, situated along a magnificent rocky coast lined with beaches. Tourists who follow Route 1 down the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles often drive through it. After paying an $8.50 toll at the entrance, they wind around huge often empty and rather ugly houses, no less than seven golf courses, hotels, etc. It is a sort of park where the animals have been replaced with rich retirees. Here, a house costs $6 to 8 million. Playing a round of golf is about $300. And you have to fork over $150,000 or become a member of one of the country clubs, which allows you to play even less crowded golf courses. If by misfortune you were to step one foot on to these courses, a make-up wearing golfer would snap at you, "You can't come here in jeans!" However, Pebble Beach also hosts the remains of a beautiful forest, a few rare orchids, and endangered frogs.

With his partners (including golf legend Arnold Palmer and former Los Angeles Olympic Games organizer Peter Ueberroth), Clint proposed a development plan providing for, on the one hand, the "permanent" preservation of 200 hectares of forest, and, on the other hand, the construction of a new golf course, 33 new homes, 60 employee housing units, a few hotels, etc. Environmentalists have shouted themselves hoarse, calling it an "environmental disaster."

Taking the initiative, Clint Eastwood and his friends submitted their "plan for the preservation and promotion of the Del Monte Forest" to a local referendum. In November 2000, the year of Space Cowboys, they won with 66% of the votes. "During the campaign, Clint Eastwood broadcast a commercial in which he was walking through the woods and urged voters to 'save the forest.' It is the greatest property development con in history!," rails eighty-six year old Ted Hunter, co-chair of the "Concerned Residents" association. At one time, Hunter headed another association, that of property owners, which is very buddy-buddy with the Pebble Beach Company. But he had no luck, the golf course is going to be built right in front of his house and the woods that he looks out into every morning are going to disappear. If many of his neighbors voted for the plan, it is only because "the value of their property is going to skyrocket," he grumbles.

Tree Huggers

The local referendum did nothing to calm the controversy. Local activists have vowed to derail the project. David Dilworth, HOPE director, is the most vibrant of them. He has the face of Mark Twain and punctuates his remarks with bursts of laughter. At fifty-two years old, he is a child of the region, who has dabbled in numerous professions, from computer scientist to hang-gliding instructor to racecar driver. "As a teenager, I ran among these trees. I've watched them slowly disappear, like a sort of erosion. I'll fight to the end for them." He is a tree hugger and proud of it. When he goes for a walk in these disappearing woods, he can't help but get excited. "Oh, I love these baby pine. Listen to this woodpecker here.Tthe forest is pure, it is just as the Europeans discovered it."

Last month, Dilworth and Eastwood had a little altercation. The actor had invited Gale Norton, Interior Secretary for the Bush Administration, to come plant trees with the students of a local school. Dilworth is there, armed with a sign to protest against "the destruction of Pebble Beach." Eastwood catches sight of him and gets all worked up, "All you're doing is talking. Why don't you come plant a few trees?" To which Dilworth responds, "Up until now, we have at least been courteous, but today, we have reached a whole other level." To our surprise, Dilworth is not familiar with his mighty adversary's films, "I don't watch them, I know him well enough this way," he justifies. Or maybe he is afraid of liking them?

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly...

About a mile or so away, on a road along the hills, is the Eastwood team headquarters, the Carmel Development company. The offices are located in old, white houses made of wood surrounded by magnificent oak and chestnut trees. Today, Clint Eastwood is not in the area, he is in Los Angeles. Alan Williams, the star's right-hand man in his property deals, reigns over the premises. He is built like a tank, with a strong handshake and steady blue eyes. He takes out a big map and explains, "Our opponents are only talking about a small part of the project, the golf course. But you have to look at the larger picture. We are going to disturb a few thousand pines here, but the project plans to protect some very important forests: they are these green areas that you see there and there." According to him, Clint Eastwood has only one thing in mind, to protect this magnificent patch of coastline. But what about the golf course? "Protecting these forests costs money, so we have to find a way to finance it. That is why we are creating this golf course," he explains. As for the endangered frogs, he assures us, "they're happy in water traps too..."

Inside Pebble Beach, the wealthy residents are torn. There are those, the majority, who consider Clint "good" and those who consider him "bad" as well as "ugly." On a golf course, two female golfers disagree, "Golf courses are great, they protect us from fires," declares one. "They are destroying Pebble Beach! We don't need an eighth golf course," interrupts the other from her golf cart. Here, the actor's lifestyle ("all these young women, honestly!") isn't very popular. But the previous Pebble Beach Co. owners were worse. "My family has lived here for three generations. This new team is the best one thus far. Of course we don't need a new golf course, but we have to be realistic: Eastwood and his friends do business," declares Lucy Hook Willman while walking her two little dogs.

The Hitch

Clint Eastwood, Republican, has no lack of friends. The Monterey County supervisors are in his pocket. He knows California's governor well, his colleague Schwarzenegger. Nevertheless, there remains one hitch, the commission in charge of protecting the coast. Referendum or not, they do not want to hear about a new golf course on the peninsula. "We have been telling them for years that their project goes against California law, but they are not budging an inch. They believe that they are the good guys, so they refuse to amend it," states Peter Douglas, Coastal Commission director, when questioned over the phone. "Pebble Beach Co. is pushing very hard, from the political side. But they can push as much as they want; their project is against the law. And the law is the law."

Last March 15, despite the commission's warnings, the Monterey County board approved Eastwood's project. Dilworth immediately referred the case to the local court to contest the legality of this green light. The Coastal Commission, for its part, is waiting to be formally contacted and is prepared to use its veto. Alan Williams, Clint's right hand, claims to be ready to contest the commission's decision in court. Basically, the affair looks ready to enter the maze of the legal system, and therefore, the Yadon rein orchids and red-legged frogs have a few more years' rest.

(1) "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras Country," New York: C. H. Webb, 1867.