Threat To Pines Debate Topic

Published March 2004 in the The Monterey Herald - written by Kimberly White

A biologist representing the development-minded Pebble Beach Co. told the California Coastal Commission on Thursday that the perceived threat to Monterey pines in the Del Monte Forest is "overstated."

Michael Zander of Zander and Associates said the commission's proposal to designate undeveloped Del Monte Forest areas as "environmentally sensitive habitats" was based on flawed science from the early to mid-1990s.

The Pebble Beach Co. has applied for permits for a major development in the forest to include a driving range, an equestrian center and a 244-acre golf course in the middle of an expansive stand of trees that would be protected under the commission's proposed Local Coastal Plan review.

Zander was one of dozens of people who spoke to commissioners about those draft recommendations at their only 2004 meeting in Monterey County. Developed in conjunction with the county's general plan review, the plan would guide development in the county's coastal zone for the next 20 years.

While the draft plan encompasses a multitude of regulations, testimony before the commission Thursday morning was dominated by a debate over private property rights in Big Sur as well as the controversy over proposed protections to Monterey pines in the Del Monte Forest.

With more than 200 people present, commissioner and Monterey County Supervisor Dave Potter said it was unfortunate that five of the 12 commissioners did not attend the meeting to hear the community's opinions. No action was taken on either issue and commission staff will take additional public comment at meetings in Carmel on March 29 and Big Sur on March 30.

If approved, the pine forest protections would virtually halt the Pebble Beach Co.'s development plans. The company and its development partner have been silent on the recommendations. While stopping short of protesting the recommendations, they broke their silence Thursday.

Pebble Beach Co. partner Peter Ueberroth began the presentation, reminiscing about his stealthy ventures onto the famous Pebble Beach Golf Links as a child and recalling his excitement when presented with the possibility of creating a partnership to own it later in life. The only requirement for partners -- other than money, of course -- was that members "had to care about this community."

"Pebble Beach needs to be preserved in a very special way to allow people to enjoy it," he said.

Mark Stillwell, the company's executive vice president, detailed for commissioners how the development plan had changed from 500 acres zoned for 890 homes to the plan approved by voters as Measure A in November 2000, which rezones several hundred acres to protected open space and recreational uses, and relocates 38 existing home lots to "less critical habitats."

And Zander challenged the science the commission's staff used to reach its conclusion that undeveloped areas of the forest should be declared "environmentally sensitive habitat areas," or ESHAs, to protect the trees from extinction due to development and pine pitch canker.

In reality, Zander said Thursday afternoon, development in the forest has been relatively limited since the late 1980s. Recent studies, particularly by researchers at the University of California at Davis, have found that pitch canker is less a threat than originally thought, he said.

While there was a rapid die-off of the trees at the beginning of the canker crisis, he said, researchers are now finding that many once-infected trees are now disease-free.

"We believe the need to designate the forest as ESHA is unsubstantiated and contrary to the public mandate (expressed) in Measure A," Zander said.

The company's development partner, Alan Williams, said Thursday afternoon that the commission is advancing an anti-development political agenda.

"We feel very strongly that the Coastal Commission is trying to apply some kind of political position versus proper science for the protection of the pine forest," he said.

For every person who spoke against the commission's recommendations, another spoke in support, including representatives of Monterey Pine Forest Watch, the Native Plant Society, the League of Women Voters and numerous Pebble Beach residents. All of them supported designating the entire remaining forest as protected habitat.

David Dilworth of Helping Our Peninsula's Environment challenged Zander's assertions concerning recent science on Monterey pines and accused Monterey County and the Pebble Beach Co. of "colluding" to keep Measure A from coming before the Coastal Commission for consideration.

"In 1986, 10 years before we knew what pitch canker was, the United Nations declared the Monterey pine an endangered species," he said. At that time it was designated a class 1-B species, one step below 1-A, the designation given to dinosaurs.

"He has absolutely no credentials to take any position on anything," Pebble Beach developer Williams retorted.

Commission Chairman Michael Reilly said he did not want to get into a situation of "dueling scientists," and directed staff to get the best and most recent research on the issue before the commission votes on the matter.


Also on Thursday:

 The commission heard heated testimony from Big Sur residents objecting to proposed regulations that would, among other things, limit construction visible from "critical view sheds." The regulations would cover areas that can be seen from public trails and boats sailing off the coast.

Alan Perlmutter, owner of the Big Sur River Inn, said the proposed regulations were "offensive" to the community's residents. Others called the recommendations "absurd" and "Draconian" and said the community previously worked with the commission to establish the Big Sur Coastal Plan. The plan, he said, was still working.

The residents bemoaned the fact that one-third of Big Sur property was now owned by public entities or land trusts and expressed concern that further regulation would choke the fiercely independent and historically funky community.

"We are literally being protected out of existence," said Mike Kaplan.

Commissioner Potter said he supported leaving the Big Sur Coastal Plan untouched.

"Why would we want to go back and open up the Bible and rewrite it? I'm not sure," he said.

 Steve Leonard, local general manager and vice president of California-American Water Co., spoke against the commission's recommendations that ownership of desalination plants be limited to public ownership. Cal-Am is teaming up with Monterey County to develop a new water supply, most likely a desalination plant in Moss Landing.

"We think each desalination project should stand on its own merit," he said.


Coast Property Owners Association, P.O. Box 59, Big Sur, CA 93920
© 2004 by Coast Property Owners Association