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Pebble Beach Expansion Withdrawn

Facing a contentious Coastal Commission hearing, developers say they will revise plans that would have removed 17,000 trees.

June 14, 2006|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

Developers of a controversial luxury-resort complex at Pebble Beach abruptly withdrew their plan Tuesday, just one day before a crucial vote by the California Coastal Commission.

The plan by the Pebble Beach Co. would have created an 18-hole golf course and expanded two upscale resorts along the rugged coastline in the Del Monte Forest near Carmel. But the company, owned partly by actor Clint Eastwood and former Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, would have destroyed more than 17,000 trees and disrupted some wetlands during construction, according to a Coastal Commission study.

"The major part of what they were proposing clearly was inconsistent with the Coastal Act," said Peter Douglas, the commission's executive director. "My hope is they revise the plan to delete the golf course and some of the other inconsistent features."

Douglas said the project as proposed would decimate one of the world's last remaining expanses of Monterey pine, but may be redrawn to avoid damaging sensitive habitat.

Developer Alan Williams said the plan was withdrawn because the company feared it wouldn't receive a fair hearing before the commission, whose 168-page environmental study was "predisposed to denial."

Over the next few months, some aspects of the plan will be revised before it is again submitted to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, said Williams, president of Carmel Development, which is managing the project for the Pebble Beach Co.

In a surprising move Tuesday, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors asked the state panel to remove the contentious plan from its agenda. It did so at the request of the Pebble Beach Co., Supervisor Dave Potter said.

"There's just too much confusion and too many questions to get clarified," said Potter, who also sits on the 12-member Coastal Commission. "We're not in the business of denying people the ability to pull back their projects when they want to."

As the company revises its plans, the county will delve into the Coastal Commission's lengthy critique of the project. The study concluded that the company's preservation efforts were inadequate.

Potter said some of the "confusion" swirling around the project stemmed from the eleventh-hour appointment of three alternates to the coastal panel by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez ( D-Los Angeles), a move disclosed Friday. Critics called the appointments politically motivated, noting that the speaker can only ratify alternates selected by commissioners.

Nunez, who received a $1,000 campaign contribution from Pebble Beach Co. last year, denied through a spokesman any political intent.

Debated for years, the company's plan was overwhelmingly approved by Monterey County voters in 2000, in part because it would have permanently preserved more than 400 acres of forest and would have developed the area less intensively than previous plans.

The initiative, Measure A, revised the county's coastal zoning plan to allow the development, contingent on the Coastal Commission's action.

On Tuesday, it wasn't clear whether voters would have to take another look at the project if it is significantly revised. In their letter to the commission, the Monterey County supervisors suggested that Measure A may allow greater latitude than the "all-or-nothing" approach of the commission's staff.

In an interview, Ueberroth said the project has been consistently misunderstood.

"It never gets described very well," he said. "It's been our wish to dedicate a lot of land to open space so it's a place in California people can come to for a long time."

Spanning 600 acres in at least two dozen distinct developments, the plan would add 160 suites to the Pebble Beach Lodge and the Inn at Spanish Bay. It also calls for an equestrian center, worker housing and 33 lots for luxury homes -- far fewer, said project manager Williams, than others have proposed.

Williams said the company planned to relocate and plant more trees than it intended to take down. However, he contended, the commission's staff downplayed such mitigating measures in its report, focusing not on the entire project but primarily on the rezoning approved by Monterey County voters six years ago.

But some environmentalists maintained that no matter how it's packaged, the project is too much development in rare coastal forestland.

Mark Massara, director of coastal programs for the Sierra Club, said the withdrawal was simply an acknowledgment by the Pebble Beach Co. that it didn't have the necessary votes for passage of the "illegal" plan.

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Times staff writer Gary Polakovic contributed to this report.

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