When the Pebble Beach Co. first proposed to pay $5 million in lieu of building workforce housing within the Del Monte Forest, the Weekly read the it the riot act. It was guilt money. They were offering to pay those millions in order to keep working-class people – aka their employees – out of their ultra-tony enclave. While the system governing development projects in Monterey County allows a developer to pay an “in lieu of” fee, or build its required low-income housing away from its main project, the take-home message was this: Keep the people who help make the company profitable out of sight and out mind.

At the insistence of the Board of Supervisors, the Pebble Beach Company is instead building 24 units of inclusionary housing within the Del Monte Forest. But rather than being praised for doing the right thing, there is a shitstorm brewing in the Del Monte Park neighborhood. The neighbors in this section of P.G., tucked below the Safeway but outside the gates of Pebble Beach, are up in arms because the housing will be on a piece of undeveloped open space some have long treated as their communal backyard.

The employee housing project will sit on an undeveloped residential parcel that PBC owns, and will consist of four freestanding six-unit townhouses, including 16 two-bedroom and eight three-bedroom, two-story units.

These townhomes will be owned by the Pebble Beach Co. and available for rent by their employees. There will be 150-foot forested setbacks around the development to allow it to blend in as best as possible to its surroundings. And yes, oak and pine trees will be cut down and a lot of dirt moved to create the houses.

But this project shouldn’t be confused with big-city public housing projects. As anyone who travels through Pebble Beach knows, this company of hard-charging capitalists runs an environmentally aware operation. This is the same company that donated acreage to the Park District that has since become Rip Van Winkle Dog Park. It was the first to use graywater to irrigate its golf courses, and it’s in the process of earning environmental certification for its golf tournaments. It has a unionized workforce and provides an employee health clinic.

From social justice, economic development and environmental points of view, this is a project worth endorsing. But in the neighborhood it’s being viewed as a local version of the Keystone XL pipeline.

This project in any other location would likely earn near-unanimous support from the neighbors. It will put workforce housing next to work. It will take car trips off the roads, as workers now commuting from Marina or Soledad will be commuting from down the street.

The project also will be one block from the Monterey-Salinas Transit line, five blocks from a retail center with a grocery store, a chain drugstore, B’s Coffee House, The Wine Market and Michael’s Taqueria (voted Monterey County’s Best Takeout in 2013). It is within walking distance of the elementary, middle and high schools. While the neighborhood directly adjacent to the project is comprised entirely of single-family dwellings, it is also just five blocks from a dozen apartment complexes with about 600 units in them.

For years, the 9-acre strip has been open space dissected by footpaths and deer trails. It is also the gateway to a trail system that will not only remain undeveloped, but that as part of Pebble Beach’s plan will be turned over to the Del Monte Forest Conservancy to be held in perpetuity. This specific spot has been home to a succession of tire swings, a bootleg mountain bike obstacle course and various and sundry hangouts for generations of neighborhood teenagers and dogs.

I know the area very well, and I love it – my family lives a block away. I’ve walked my dogs on that plot for a dozen years. My kids have spent time on the tire swing and together we’ve started thousands of walks from this access point. Like most of the neighbors, we have performed unsolicited trash clean up. In 2009 we even conducted a clandestine planting of a live Christmas tree. Access there enhances the neighborhood and my quality of life. In spite of the fact that for years my neighbors and I have treated this spot like our backyard, it belongs to Pebble Beach Company, and while my family will be affected by it, I still support it.

I get why some in the neighborhood are wound up. The change in that property will be profound. But according to the plans the Board of Supervisors approved, the total build out will cover less than 16 percent of the site.

I am confident some enterprising dad or aunt will find a new branch for a tire swing, that teenagers will still find some reclusive spots and that my dogs and I will still have plenty of solitude as we walk. I have a slew of neighbors who work in Pebble Beach. If the new folks moving in at the end of my block are anything like the ones I know, I predict that the community, the PTAs and the neighborhood will be enhanced, rather than diminished, by this project.

ERIK CUSHMAN is the Weekly’s publisher. A Land Use Advisory Committee meeting takes place 3pm Thursday at the Pebble Beach Community Services District offices. www.co.monterey.ca.us/planning

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