Not Out of the Woods
The Pebble Beach expansion plan is dead—for now.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
A decade of planning, years of controversy, a week of political machinations, and now this: the County Board of Supervisors suddenly withdraw the Pebble Beach Company’s expansion plan for the Del Monte Forest, 24 hours before the California Coastal Commission was set to vote on it.
By withdrawing the plan, the supes clearly hope to save it. It is likely that the plan to build a new golf course and 160 hotel rooms, and to raze and relocate the historic equestrian center, would have been killed on Wednesday. Withdrawn, it still lives.
The Coastal Commission staff had issued a report in March that was deeply critical of the Pebble Beach plan, which calls for cutting down more than 10,000 native Monterey pines, and would result in the loss of 36,000 Yadon piperia orchids—an endangered, federally-protected plant—as well as the destruction of habitat critical to the California red-legged frog.
This was political sausage-making at its most nauseatingly arcane—so hold your nose.
The Commission was bound to pay careful attention to its staff report because almost all of the project occurs in “environmentally sensitive habitat” for rare plant and animal species; the Coastal Act—which created the Coastal Commission in the first place—requires protection of such areas.
Over the past week, the plan, which was approved by voters in 2000 with the passage of Measure A, began to change. The site for the equestrian center was moved at the last minute. Other important elements of the plan were suddenly back on the table for negotiation. The company even began arguing that Wednesday’s vote was not about the plan as we know it.
In the letter withdrawing the plan, the county supervisors adopted the Pebble Beach Company’s position—stating “considerable confusion” over whether the Coastal Commission would be considering the specifics of the project itself, or merely the idea of amending the local coastal plan.
Peter Douglas, chair of the Coastal Commission, dismissed that argument out of hand. “There was no confusion,” he said, speaking like a man ready to vote on the plan, and ready to kill it.
The supes made their intentions clear in their letter: “The county believes it will be valuable to revisit the language in Measure A to determine if there is a course of action for commissioners to consider other than the ‘all or nothing’ recommendation proposed by the commission staff,” board chairman Jerry Smith wrote.
In other words: The Pebble Beach expansion plan as we know it is dead, and so a Pebble Beach expansion plan—in some form—still lives.
In the week before the Board of Supervisors’ dramatic move, we were forced to witness a stunning display of political maneuvering by Fabian Nuñez, the speaker of the California Assembly. This was political sausage-making at its most nauseatingly arcane—so hold your nose while you try and follow:
The Coastal Act gives the Assembly speaker authority to appoint four of the 12 members of the Coastal Commission (the governor appoints four and the leader of the state Senate four). One of Nuñez’s appointments, Commissioner Steve Padilla, had announced that he would be unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting. According to state law, Padilla’s alternate, David Allgood, Southern California director for the League of Conservation Voters, would vote in his place.
Nuñez took it upon himself last week to replace Allgood with Orange County attorney Elizabeth Brem—who, we can assume, was less likely to vote against the Pebble Beach Company’s plan. (That move was tainted by the fact that Pebble Beach, and its partners at AT&T, hosted a “Speaker’s Cup” event in April that raised $1.7 million in Nuñez’s name for the California Democratic Party.)
Commission chair Douglas rejected Nuñez’s appointment, claiming that he has no authority to pick alternates. Padilla declined to endorse Brem, insisting Allgood cast his vote.
As of Tuesday morning, it looked like Nuñez’s plan had failed, and the Pebble Beach Company plan was doomed.
Until the supes stepped in.
The Pebble Beach expansion plan would have permanently protected more than 500 acres of Monterey pine forest—it would be far less environmentally damaging than the plan for 330 homes that was in play before the group headed by Clint Eastwood, Arnold Palmer and Peter Ueberroth took over Pebble Beach in 1998. But there is no reason to believe that the Coastal Commission would have approved that plan either. The million-dollar campaign for Measure A described it as a plan to save the Del Monte Forest. Environmentalists never bought it.
And so, despite all the extensive studies, planning and campaigning, we are almost back to square one. The county supervisors have denied us the finality of a “no” vote by the Coastal Commission, which would have been a cleaner way for this long story to end.