Eastwood Pebble Beach golf resort plan is rejected
By Jeff Thomas
Mercury News
Article Launched: 06/14/2007 01:29:20 AM PDT

SANTA ROSA - The Clint Eastwood-backed plan to develop a swath of the Monterey Peninsula into a golf course and resort struck out late Wednesday, after a lengthy and emotional debate in front of the California Coastal Commission.

After an 11-hour public hearing in Santa Rosa that drew more than two dozen speakers, the commission voted 8-4 against the plan that would have required 18,000 Monterey pine trees to be removed. The vote apparently leaves the Pebble Beach Co.'s development dead in the water.

Anthony Lombardo, a land-use attorney hired by the company, said he was "saddened and disappointed that the commission didn't see the value of what we're giving the people of California," referring to the offer to develop a small area of forest and set aside a larger area. He said the group would "step back and look at our op tions."

Environmental activists at the meeting expressed relief - and joy - at the decision.

"This definitely qualifies as one of the most significant actions in the history of the commission," said Mark Massara, director of the Sierra Club's coastal programs. The company "is starting from scratch. I don't think a golf course will ever be accomplished."

The question before the commission was whether to uphold a voter-approved measure to change zoning in the Pebble Beach area.

The changes would have allowed the Pebble Beach Co. to cut down 18,000 of the 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 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.

After hearing testimony, the commissioners began explaining their positions.

Sara Wan, a commissioner from San Francisco, said she would vote to deny the measure.

"This is the most egregious example of development attempting to circumvent the Coastal Act that I can remember," she said. "It sets the Coastal Act on its head."

Several Pebble Beach residents, favoring the plan, reminded the commission that Monterey County voters approved Measure A in 2000 by more than 60 percent.

"We want our vote to count," said a 35-year resident.

It has been an eight-year battle for the Pebble Beach Co., whose most prominent members are Eastwood, Arnold Palmer and ex-baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth. None of the three attended Wednesday's meeting.

A year after their investment group bought the company in 1999, it presented Measure A to Monterey County voters, an initiative that would change land use rules to allow a future golf course and development.

Those zoning changes - from "resource conservation land" to "recreational" - are what was before the commission Wednesday. Eastwood appeared in a $1 million ad campaign selling the measure as a way for voters to help save the forest.

The measure passed easily, but critics contended it was sold to voters as an anti-devel opment, wilderness conservation measure when in fact it would pave the way for the golf course project.

Pebble Beach Co. officials argued that the measure does preserve forest because as part of the rezoning some 440 acres designated for development would be protected in perpetuity.

Massara said this week that he wondered why the issue was not already dead, considering the company at one point had withdrawn the plan.

He wondered if the company hoped that the political view of the long-debated plan had changed. The coastal commission has changed chairpersons during the past year, with Patrick Kruer replacing Meg Caldwell.

The coastal commission staff argued that because the golf project would require cutting down about 18,000 native Monterey pines, the measure would violate 1976's California Coastal Act, which is mandated to protect any areas deemed environmentally sensitive.

The pines grow natively in only five places in the world - three in California. But there was disagreement about the tree's fragility.

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