Pebble Beach expansion

Pebble Beach expansion plan causes outcry
By John Ritter, USA TODAY

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Long before he took home his fourth Oscar last month, Clint Eastwood was an icon on this jut of killer scenery known as Monterey Peninsula. A businessman and onetime mayor of tony Carmel, the actor and director is also an owner of one of the world's most famous golf courses, Pebble Beach Golf Links.

By Eric Risberg, AP

It's that role that has landed Eastwood, 74, in the thick of a classic coastal development battle over the environmental wisdom of more resort expansion.

Eastwood and the other Pebble Beach Co. owners, including former Olympics organizer Peter Ueberroth and golf legend Arnold Palmer, want to build another golf course, more hotel rooms and employee housing.

Environmentalists such as the Sierra Club say the last thing Pebble Beach needs is an eighth golf course. They argue that the company's plans would be disastrous for the peninsula's Del Monte Forest and its signature Monterey pines.

As with the Rocky Mountains, Florida's coasts and other coveted, increasingly exclusive landscapes, the clash here epitomizes tension between public and private interests. Pebble Beach, unincorporated domain of the well-to-do, boasts stunning sea views, mild weather and $20 million homes. A round of golf at the links costs $425.

"We view this as the largest project with the most devastating coastal impacts proposed in decades," says Mark Massara, director of the Sierra Club's California coastal programs. "We're fully committed to ensuring that it doesn't go forward."

As early as Tuesday, Monterey County supervisors are expected to give Pebble Beach Co. the go-ahead and endorse voter-approved changes in local coastal rules that make the project possible.

But both a permit to proceed and the rules changes must go before the Coastal Commission, a powerful state agency with broad authority over development along California's 1,100-mile coastline. The commission's staff repeatedly has found serious shortcomings in the project.

'It's an invasion'

The company has pressed ahead after spending an estimated $1 million in 2000 to win overwhelming voter approval of Measure A, the proposed new coastal rules. TV ads featured Eastwood strolling through Del Monte Forest urging voters to "save the forest."

Opponents can't fathom how fragmenting the world's largest natural stand of Monterey pines by cutting down 17,000 trees would save the forest. The Coastal Commission staff says the project doesn't adequately protect wetlands and dunes, nor a rare frog and wild orchid on the federal endangered species list.

"It's an invasion of our residential community," says Ted Hunter, co-chairman of Concerned Residents of Pebble Beach, a group that raised $30,000 to try to defeat Measure A. Hunter's house sits a good 3-iron away from where the luxury golf cottages would be built.

"We don't object to growth," he says. "But there should be a balance between commercial operations and the residential community. This plan is excessive."

The 200-acre development would add 11 luxury cottages, 149 hotel rooms at the Pebble Beach and Spanish Bay resorts, 33 homes and a driving range. A popular equestrian center would be moved.

Alan Williams, the developer managing the project, says nearly 1,000 forested acres will be set aside elsewhere, saving far more trees than would be lost to the golf course. The company voluntarily rezoned its land to reduce the number of homes from as many as 900 in an early plan to the current 32.

Williams called charges that wetlands and habitat would be ruined "fraudulently untrue. ... Sure, there's disruptions, but can you imagine how many trees 900 houses would disrupt?"

Having 900 homes was never a realistic goal because of constraints related to environmentally fragile areas, the commission staff concluded. Moreover, the county's environmental report failed to identify every wetland and dune. Staff warned that the company's bid to undo a 1985 conservation agreement that protects part of the forest forever would be rejected.

A controversial commission

On Feb. 28, the staff told county supervisors the project couldn't proceed until the commission approved Measure A. Staff also pointed out that Measure A appeared to violate California's Coastal Act.

"We've been telling them all this for several years, and they just ignore it," says Peter Douglas, Coastal Commission executive director.

The 12 coastal commissioners have defied staff before, though they need legal grounds to do so. The commission has been sued when it approved flawed projects because of pressure from developers or politicians.

In 1999, a California appeals court threw out commission approval, after heavy lobbying, of a 3,400-home subdivision on 1,600 acres of undeveloped wetlands and coastal mesas in Orange County. The court said homes should have been prohibited in a eucalyptus grove important to raptors, and developers couldn't destroy habitat in one area and recreate it elsewhere.

Douglas spoke out last week about Pebble Beach Co.'s "unethical, improper and certainly unseemly" efforts to influence commissioners when it has business before them.

At the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament last month, commissioners Mike Reilly and David Potter accepted invitations to exclusive luncheons hosted by the company. Two other commissioners declined. Reilly says he saw nothing inappropriate in attending.

Williams says the company routinely invites commissioners and other public officials to social events. But, he says, "Frankly, we're looking past the commission, to a lawsuit if we have to."

Eastwood has kept a low profile since the Measure A campaign. He declines interviews. "He bought this to preserve the forest," Williams says. "He's a lot more of a conservationist than a lot of the people who attack him.