June 14, 2007
PEBBLE PLAN MISSES THE CUT
California Coastal Commission: 8-4 vote defeats voter-approved local coastal program
SANTA ROSA — Faced with an all-or-nothing choice to approve or deny the 2000 Measure A local coastal program for Pebble Beach, the state Coastal Commission voted: nothing.
The commission unanimously denied certifying Measure A, the local coastal program change approved by 62.5 percent of Monterey County voters in 2000 that called for a reduction in single-family housing development in Pebble Beach in favor of a new golf course, a relocated equestrian center, additional visitor accommodations and work-force housing.
"It's disappointing," said Alan Williams of Carmel Development Co., who drew up the measure with attorney Anthony Lombardo for Pebble Beach Co. "They disregarded the people of Monterey County."
Opponents, however, saw the plan as just the kind of project the Coastal Commission was designed to prevent.
"This is the most egregious example of developers seeking to circumvent the Coastal Act I can remember," said Commissioner Sara Wan. "It bulldozes the environment. It's wholesale destruction of the environment."
The Coastal Commission went into Wednesday's 11-hour hearing with a staff report recommending denial. A motion by Commissioner David Potter, a member of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, to approve Measure A, failed on an 8-4 vote. The commission then voted unanimously to deny certifying the ballot measure as Pebble Beach's new local coastal program.
Asked if Measure A could be sent back to the Board of Supervisors for revision, Alana Knaster, deputy director of the Monterey County Resource Agency, represented the county in the hearing and said that Measure A couldn't be amended without another vote of the people.
"Measure A has put you (the commission), the county and the public in a box," Douglas said. "It can't be amended in a substantive way without going back to the voters."
According to commission counsel Janet Patterson, denial of Measure A's certification means that the county could offer a new local coastal program for Pebble Beach for submission to the Coastal Commission at a later time, rather than submit a redrafted Measure A to another countywide vote.
In the face of a long day of testimony about what Pebble Beach Co. hopes to do if the measure was certified, Potter argued that "this is a local coastal program, not a development plan."
Opponents had cited the destruction of upwards of 18,000 trees, 15,000 of them Monterey pines, and the loss of endangered Yadon's piperia orchids and other rare plants that grow on the forest floor.
There would be, Potter said, "some sort of housing" if the plan were denied, since Pebble Beach Co. could pursue development under the old local coastal program of 1984, that potentially allows development of upwards of 800 new houses within the forest.
"Estate houses scattered through the forest," he said, "causes a tremendous amount of damage and don't do well with the forest itself." With them, Potter added, would come roads, utilities, landscaping, traffic, buildings, pets and human activities that would also degrade the environment.
He described the Coastal Zone as "a political boundary" rather than anything based on the environment, and argued that Pebble Beach Co.'s proposals to preserve forest lands outside the zone were worth considering.
Commissioner Steve Blank said the Coastal Commission is mandated to regularly review local coastal programs and has the authority to change its findings on endangered species and environmental issues contained in old programs if conditions have changed over the years.
Lombardo and Williams produced expert witnesses from the state Department of Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as a scientific expert on forestry, to bolster their position that Measure A does not threaten the forest or significantly harm endangered species.
But commission Executive Director Peter Douglas said the commission doesn't have the flexibility and discretion that the Department of Fish and Game or Fish and Wildlife Service have, and if approved, Measure A "locks in potential development that does not meet the standards of the law."
Coastal planner Dan Carl said the Coastal Act has more stringent protection requirements for environmentally sensitive habitat areas than state or federal game regulations call for under the Endangered Species Act.
Andrew Storer, associate professor of forest insect ecology at Michigan Technological University, took issue with the Coastal Commission staff's arguments that cutting trees to clear the way for a golf course threatens the genetic diversity of the Monterey pine forest.
Studies indicate, he said, that there is no great genetic divergence among pine populations. He also noted that the pine pitch canker fungus that foresters once feared might wipe out the Monterey pine seems to have abated. Infected trees are "in remission," he said, and others appear to be resistant to the fungus. "It's simply not true that they are rare or threatened."
One bone of contention during testimony was the proposal that 42-acre Sawmill Gulch, set aside in 1984 as a conservation easement as part of the coastal permit for developing Spanish Bay, be the site of a relocated Pebble Beach Equestrian Center.
Changing a conservation easement "strikes a blow at the underpinnings of our land conservation effort," said Commissioner Karen Scarborough. "Private developers and investors rely on entitlements granted by governments, and nonprofits rely on the enduring value of conservation easements."
"I see a lot of benefit to what they're trying to do," Commission Chairman Patrick Kruer said. "I'd rather see it rejected as submitted and resubmitted with modifications."
Historically, he said, the commission "is always trying to get more visitor-serving, less residential development" in the coastal zone.
If that's a problem, Lombardo said, it could be stricken from the plan. "There doesn't have to be an equestrian center at Sawmill Gulch."
Kevin Howe can be reached at 646-4416 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
How they voted Voting in favor of Measure A: Commissioner and Monterey County Supervisor David Potter, Commission Vice Chairwoman Bonnie Neely, Commissioner Katchik Achadian, Commissioner William Burke. Voting against Measure A: Commission Chairman Patrick Kruer, Commissioner Steve Blank, Commissioner Larry Clark, Commissioner Ben Hueso, Commissioner Steven Kram, Commissioner Mike Reilly, Commissioner Mary Shallengerger, Commissioner Sara Wan.