SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — After decades of environmental fights, California's chief coastal regulator approved a scaled-back development plan Wednesday by a Clint Eastwood-backed group on a breathtaking swath of real estate covered by rare Monterey pines.
The California Coastal Commission voted unanimously to allow Pebble Beach Co. to build 90 homes in Monterey County's Del Monte Forest. The company can also build a new, 100-unit hotel on the former site of Spyglass Quarry and expand its current Lodge at Pebble Beach.
The plan also will preserve 635 acres of native forest and improve public access to the site for generations to come.
The compromise ended a decades-long battle over the pristine land, which is visible by motorists on the famed 17-mile drive near the famous Pebble Beach Golf Links.
"It shows that development and environmental interests can be successfully balanced when there is an up-front commitment to resource protection and working collaboratively with (the) commission," Charles Lester, the commission's executive director, said Wednesday.
The fight became pitched when Eastwood, Arnold Palmer and former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth's group bought the site in 1999 and proposed to develop a play land for the wealthy — a new golf course, revamped polo fields and 100 new mansions on a much bigger swath of forestland.
The commission, with jurisdiction over the entire 1,100 miles of California coastline, rejected the plan in 2007 after county voters had approved it. The commission said it violated the law.
The rejection came after Eastwood himself made pleas in television commercials on behalf the larger plan, which the company had marketed as the Pebble Beach Co. Preservation and Development Plan, a name derided by critics as misleading. That original plan would have set aside about 425 acres of the forest, but an environmental review later determined it would have also destroyed about 17,160 native Monterey pines.
The new plan would clear about 6,673 trees on about 56 acres for the homes.
Del Monte Forest is one of only five places in the world where the Monterey pine trees are found, and is also host to a rare orchid species and the endangered California red-legged frog.
After the commission rebuffed the initial plan, Ueberroth — who organized the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and went on to head Major League Baseball — decided it was time for a new approach.
Ueberroth contacted Peter Douglas, a pioneering environmentalist and then-executive director of the commission whose tough coastal protection work earned him enmity among some developers.
"He said, 'we'll get together and work together and see if there's a plan that works for everybody,'" Ueberroth said in comments to the commission Wednesday.
Dinners and meetings between the two resulted in a friendship, and the men took visits to the site to discuss what was at stake. Ueberroth said the time he spent with Douglas was enlightening, and changed his thinking about the project.
"He had a better understanding of how to preserve the land, and what you can do to not impact people for generations to come," he said. "It became painfully obvious that to build another golf course — while it was what we thought we would do when we bought it — was not the right thing to do.
"Maybe we'd win eventually, but then we started talking about what's the right thing."
Douglas died April 1 from cancer, and his colleagues said he took pride in the Pebble Beach compromise he and Ueberroth negotiated.
Environmental groups have mostly supported the project's new, smaller approach. The Sierra Club said only a small part of the new plan is of concern. A small number of the new homes would be located in the endangered red-legged frog's habitat. Yet overall they say it's a big improvement from the original 2007 proposal.
"We are appreciative of the collaborative work that Peter Ueberroth and Peter Douglas did," Rita Dalessio of the Sierra Club's Ventana chapter said. "They walked the land at Pebble Beach and talked about the values there; this is an extremely rare ecosystem."