Will new ownership change the Pebble Beach Co. development plan?
Thursday, June 3, 1999
Speculation and rumor have been running as rampant as pine pitch canker through Del Monte Forest in the aftermath of last week''s stunning announcement that a group of high-flying investors--including golf legend Arnold Palmer and the Peninsula''s own Clint Eastwood--are negotiating to purchase the Pebble Beach Co. for a cool $1 billion, give or take a $100 million or so.
With the PBC''s 316-home and golf course development project set to go before the county''s subdivision committee June 10 for final consideration prior to public hearings before the full Planning Commission later this summer, the big question on everyone''s mind is what impact, if any, the proposed sale will have on the PBC proposal?
Some project opponents, such as local environmentalist David Dilworth, have heralded news of the proposed sale as an acknowledgment by the PBC''s current owners, Taiheiyo Club Inc. and Sumitomo Credit Services Ltd. of Japan, that the project is dead.
Other opponents have taken a less sanguine view, raising concerns that the new owners, who clearly have a financial stake in pursuing the project, could make a more convincing case and put a much friendlier face on the project.
"I''m hearing great concern over [Clint] Eastwood on the deal because of his nice way with politicians that gets things done," says a source, who discounted the notion that the proposed sale has anything to do with the viability of the PBC''s development project.
Prior to published reports in the Monterey County Herald this past weekend, the source told the Weekly that Taiheiyo Club Inc. and Sumitomo Credit Services Ltd. had been looking for a buyer for at least a year under pressure by the Japanese government in order to meet debt obligations.
For project opponent Linda Smith, who heads the group Monterey Pine Forest Watch, there is hope that the new owners might in fact be more amenable to reconsidering the current development proposal and scaling back the project.
In 1996, Smith was one of a handful of local environmentalists working in conjunction with the state Fish and Game Department and Coastal Commission staff, who put together a compromise proposal at the behest of then-supervisor Sam Karas. The proposal called for a scaled-back project with only 150 homes built in less sensitive areas of Del Monte Forest, and adding a 9-hole extension to the existing Spyglass Hill golf course. That proposal was rejected by PBC.
"We''re hopeful that new ownership [might] look more kindly on the compromise proposal and see that ''green planning'' is in everybody''s interest," says Smith, who, along with the California Native Plant Society, is submitting a petition this month to list the Monterey pine as a threatened species.
Notwithstanding the anticipated sale of the PBC, of greater potential impact to the future of the PBC project are the numerous environmental concerns raised in a May 19, nine-page letter from Coastal Commission Deputy Director Tami Grove to county Planning Director William Phillips. With Coastal Commission approval a prerequisite before the PBC project can be built, the concerns raised in the letter may be insurmountable.
Grove''s letter outlines a number of broad and at times highly technical concerns over the applicability and consistency of the project area''s Local Coastal Plan (LCP), and the project''s 1984 Land Use Plan (LUP) regarding wetlands impacts, the listing of threatened and endangered species, and in particular, the PBC''s plan to mitigate project impacts on the Monterey pine forest threatened by pine pitch canker.
"Given the severity of the threat [to the pine forest], the dawning realization of the importance of any disease resistant and/or tolerant trees, the significance of larger manageable forest tracts available for natural genetic recombination and regeneration, and our belief that there is no acceptable risk when the possibility of extinction exists, the county must demonstrate that the environmental sensitivity of the Monterey pine in the Del Monte Forest has been thoroughly analyzed in a manner befitting its importance to the species as a whole, as well as its current threatened status," the letter states in part.
"The company may move through the local process, but it will hit a wall when it hits the Coastal Commission," says District 5 Supervisor and Coastal Commission board member Dave Potter, who feels Coastal Commission concerns should be dealt with by the county as the PBC project goes through the county approval process.
"I don''t think the county does the developer any favor by not having a contemporary list and classification of species," adds Potter. "This is a very bright commission and it won''t take county approval seriously if it ignored the new [species] listing. Another huge issue [is a recent court decision] that says flat out ''no development in wetlands.'' It''s been a serious bone of contention for years to allow development in wetlands and used to be allowed if mitigated. The new decision says it can''t be mitigated. I''ve seen nothing in [the PBC''s] wetlands'' development area but controversy, and that''s one of the biggest hurdles the project faces."
As far as PBC executive VP Mark Stilwell is concerned, the Coastal Commission letter primarily raises technical questions regarding the interpretation of the LCP and LUP, as opposed to the integrity of the project Environmental Impact Report itself.
"It''s a difference of interpretation in the county''s local coastal program, and I''m not sure there''s a difference of interpretation of the environmental impacts of the project," says Stilwell. "The EIR and subsequent work studied the impacts of the project ''on the ground'' based on current consideration of all changes since 1984. I''m not sure the commission reviewed the entire document."