The Missing Link
Coastal Commission and enviros get a look at Pebble Beach Company’s plan.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
We hadn’t even entered the forest and we were already seeing an area that would be affected by Measure A. From the front of the bus, the tiur guide and Coastal Commission deputy director, Dr. Charles Lester, told us that the Pebble Beach gate we were approaching at the top of the Holman Highway was a traffic bottleneck and up for modification as part of the Pebble Beach Company’s proposed project.
As coastal planner Dan Carl put it, today was about giving the Coastal Commissioners a “chance to get out and see the land.” More importantly, the commissioners were to get a look at the “resources” at the heart of controversy—the delineated wetlands, the endangered plants, the red-legged frog, and most importantly, the Yadon’s piperia orchid and the Monterey pine.
The latest effort to develop Del Monte Forest has captured the attention of enviros and golfers around the world. The approximately 400-acre development is easily the largest PBC project since Spanish Bay in 1985.
And as we discovered on the four-hour magic bus tour, the plan would have a profound effect on the unique ecosystem. Despite the fact that no one was allowed to talk, Coastal Commission biologist John Dixon more or less made it clear that his organization has serious concerns about the plan.
Trailing the bus was a caravan that included a shuttle full of PBC staff members, carloads of citizens wearing green stickers that read “Save Our Monterey Pines,” a van driven by Sierra Club’s director of California Coastal Programs Mark Massara and another vehicle loaded with Sierra Club protesters who would clamber out at nearly every stop and quietly hold signs counting how many trees would be cut down if the plan moved forward.
Monterey County voters overwhelmingly approved Measure A in 2000. It’s a massive project, or more accurately, a series of seven big development projects.
Mostly, Measure A is about golf. At its heart is a new 18-hole golf course and a driving range. To accommodate all the new golfers, employees and residents, PBC wants to build 160 hotel units, conference facilities and underground parking at the Pebble Beach Lodge and at Spanish Bay, plus 34 homes.
Finally, there’s the sticky issue surrounding the new equestrian center. The old center must be relocated to make room for the new course. PBC wants to move it to Sawmill Gulch, a 45-acre area it promised to rehabilitate and keep scenic in 1985 when Spanish Bay was built.
In exchange for reneging on this promise, they say they’ll preserve some land up by Jacks Peak that Lester has pointed out, “isn’t really anywhere near the coastal zone.”
Our trip’s first stop overlooked the Huckleberry Hill Natural Habitat Area, 372 acres of lush, intact Monterey pine that had burned in a forest fire back in 1987. It was a interesting place to begin because it gave us a good idea of what the Del Monte Forest would look like in its natural state. The trees are all the same species, the same size, and evenly spaced.
In contrast, much of what people refer to as the Del Monte Forest in Pebble Beach is made up of invasive non-native trees that people have planted in their yards. Plus, the Monterey pines have not been allowed to naturally burn for generations so the forest is more erratic looking because the trees’ seeds have germinated during random periods of hot, dry weather.
We continued into the area of undeveloped forest that protects the Pescadero Creek watershed. To our left was the top of a 74-acre area owned and protected by the Del Monte Forest Foundation. To our right was the bottom edge of an approximate 275-acre Monterey pine forest that includes Planning Units P, Q, and R.
The Planning Units, incidentally, are all alphabetically coded. The fact that they made it to “R” gives a good sense of the involved nature of the development.
One hundred fifty eight acres of PQR’s forest area are designated for residential development, yet the plan would put all but 13 acres at the top of the hill into open space forest zoning. Seven houses are planned for those 13 acres.
Next we rolled into the Pebble Beach Lodge area. Under the plan, PBC officials would remove the current 161-unit cap at the Lodge so they can build 58 more. In addition, the plan calls for new conference facilities and underground parking to accommodate 800 cars.
Our next destination was ground zero of Measure A. Controversial Planning Units M, N, O, U, and V are the proposed site for the new 216-acre golf course. To make room for the expansive links, the driving range would be relocated to 29 acres in nearby Planning Unit C and, as mentioned, the equestrian center would be moved to Sawmill Gulch.
By the time we had unloaded at area MN, a scenic field of fill dirt opposite Spyglass Golf Course, the sign-carrying Sierra Club protesters were already waiting. After a brief discussion of the dune ecosystem, our large, unwieldy, but well-behaved group hiked down a muddy trail into the delineated wetlands at the heart of the issue.
MNOUV is an area John Dixon said “could be the poster child for the existence of environmentally sensitive habitat in the coastal zone.” It’s a beautiful area dominated by wetland grasses and Monterey pine. Throughout the understory, survey flags mark Yadon’s piperia. There are roughly 160,000 of them throughout the Del Monte Forest. That sounds like a lot, Dixon told us, but this is the only area in the world where the orchid resides. In fact, one-fifth of the world’s piperia population is in
MNOUV and would be wiped out by
Ironically, as we paused to listen, Vern Yadon, the biologist for whom the piperia was named, said that a TV cameraman had just set his gear down on some of the endangered orchids.
As for the Monterey pine, the plan would eliminate less than 1 percent, but Dixon explained that 70 percent of the world’s population occurs in the Del Monte Forest. The only other places the tree occurs naturally is at Año Nuevo, near Cambria, and on some islands off Baja California. In addition, Dixon said, only half of the original Monterey pine forest remains in the Del Monte Forest, a number estimated to be roughly 1 million trees measuring four inches in diameter or more. Most importantly, Monterey pine provides habitat for 17 species of endangered animals and 19 species of endangered plants.
Standing amid the boggy forest, Dixon, looking a bit like Dr. Seuss’ Lorax, explained that there was some disagreement on the boundaries of the wetlands between biologists and planners.
When I asked if the wetlands hadn’t been designated properly because of human interference in their creation, he barked, “I don’t know that.” No questions, I recalled.
We returned to the bus and drove through Units K, L, and J, which are located in the area between Spyglass Hill Golf Course and Forest Lake, the big reservoir that waters all the golf courses. Measure A would designate four acres of Unit K as recreational and three acres for one home. Unit L and the nearby property would be designated for resource conservation, and J as a low-density residential zone for two homes.
As we left Unit J we passed the lower Seal Rock Creek watershed, which recent reports indicate is the apparent center of the Del Monte Forest’s red-legged frog population.
The next chunk of the tour was a flurry of proposed residence development. From J we passed Planning Units I-1 and I-2 where 11 residences would go. Then came Unit G, near the Corporation Yard where PBC would build 48 residences for employees. Finally, we saw Unit F, near the entrance to Poppy Hills, which would see the majority of the plan’s residential development, 16 homes near the SFB Morse Botanical Reserve.
At this point Peter Douglas pointed out the “funny” little divot in the coastal boundary we were driving through between Planning Units B and C, a roughly 53-acre area. Unit B would see up to 12 units of employee housing under the proposed plan and Unit C would be home to the transplanted driving range, parking and visitor services.
After lunch, we drove back through Unit C and up to Sawmill Gulch, the tour’s last stop. Once an old sandpit, the gulch is just now beginning to see the fruits of a “slow-occurring restoration.”
As we all stood at the edge of the lower gulch, a local resident couldn’t help chiming in and asking a few questions about the proposed equestrian center. Pebble Beach Executive Vice President Mark Stillwell, apparently irritated, gave Lester and Carl a “wrap it up” signal that concluded the discussion.
Instead of returning to the Hyatt, where the tour had begun, the bus continued down Highway 1 and went north on 68, a move which audibly surprised many on the bus. After the long drive inland, the bus turned up towards Jacks Peak and past the 200 acres that PBC is attempting to swap in exchange for developing Sawmill Gulch. Winding through the forest, miles from Pebble Beach, we were reminded one last time of the development’s sweeping scope.