Nearly 24 years in the making, Monterey Bay Shores, a proposed “eco-resort” on the coast in Sand City, is inching closer to a reality. If that means any western snowy plovers – a threatened species protected under the Endangered Species Act – perish as a result, Bay Area-based developer Ed Ghandour appears to be willing to shoulder that risk.
The resort, which would feature several sustainable design elements that include a living roof, was approved by Sand City in 1998 but then twice denied by the California Coastal Commission, first in 2000 and again in 2009.
Ensuing litigation, in which Ghandour ultimately prevailed, put his project back in front of the Coastal Commission in 2014, which finally approved it with a series of conditions that must be met prior to construction.
Those conditions have been a sticking point, and again led Ghandour back to the courts with separate cases against the Coastal Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Specifically, the biggest issue is the condition that requires the project’s habitat protection plan to address concerns USFWS voiced in a 2014 letter to the Coastal Commission.
Differences of opinion about whether Ghandour has addressed those concerns led him to sue USFWS in federal court in September. That case was dismissed Dec. 12, after USFWS agreed that Ghandour is not required by law to get an incidental take permit, which would protect him from liability connected to the “taking” of threatened species.
Without such a permit, such a taking would violate the U.S. Endangered Species Act, potentially exposing Ghandour to liability.
But the matter is still in contention. On Dec. 14, Coastal Commission planner Mike Watson sent Ghandour a letter outlining 10 USFWS concerns that the commission feels that Ghandour’s habitat protection plan has failed to address.
Also on Dec. 14, Ghandour’s company Security National Guaranty sued the Coastal Commission again, arguing the agency has “unlawfully failed and refused” its duty to “expeditiously” sign off on prior-to-construction conditions.
Ghandour sent a feisty letter to the Coastal Commission Dec. 23, claiming they’re obstructing his project: “Mike’s letter sent was a clear signal that, unless reason prevails, staff intends to continue to put [Security National Guaranty], me and my wife through the ‘hamster wheel routine’ and another torturous process of extended delay,” Ghandour writes.
But it doesn’t appear the agency intends to budge.
“From our perspective, he’s not clear to proceed,” says Dan Carl, the commission’s district director of the Central Coast and North Central Coast districts.
Nonetheless, Carl says an agreement between Ghandour and the commission “could happen quickly.”
Ghandour did not respond for comment, but Todd Bodem, city administrator for Sand City, says Ghandour’s goal is to start grading the 39-acre project site by February.
“That’s his goal, but of course [the Coastal Commission] has to sign off on it,” Bodem says. “He feels the Coastal Commission is very tough on him.”