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Coastal comm. expected to OK Pebble Beach plan

After decades of environmental conflict, Pebble Beach development expected to be approved By The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) ' For years, a company backed by Clint Eastwood, Arnold Palmer and former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth ran into an environmental buzz saw over their plans for developing a play land for the wealthy on a swath of prime California coastal real estate covered by rare Monterey pines.

After the Pebble Beach Co. in 1999 paid $820 million for 2,600 acres in Monterey County's Del Monte Forest, the company had unveiled plans for a new golf course, revamped polo fields and 100 new mansions near the famed Pebble Beach Golf Links.

But in a see-saw battle, the project won local approval at the ballot box but was rebuffed by California's chief coastal regulator. Finally, years of negotiations recently yielded a compromise between the celebrity developers and the California Coastal Commission's staff.

On Wednesday, the commission is scheduled to vote on a scaled back plan for 90 homes with no equestrian center' and no golf course despite the involvement of links legend Palmer. And the plan would conserve 635 acres of forest and improve public access to the breathtaking site for generations to come.

The deal was hammered out by Ueberroth and the agency's executive director Peter Douglas, who died recently after a long illness. If the plan is approved by the commission, it could mark a relatively harmonious ending for a decades-long environmental battle over pristine land visible by motorists on the famed 17-mile drive.

The commission, with jurisdiction over the entire 1,100 miles of California coastline, last rejected the plan in 2007, finding that the 18-hole golf course, driving range and new mansions 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 rare 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.

After the commission rebuffed the initial plan, Ueberroth ' who organized the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and went on to head up Major League Baseball ' decided it was time for a new approach.

Ueberroth contacted Douglas, a pioneering environmentalist whose tough coastal protection work earned him enmity among some developers.

"In the midst of early struggles, it became evident to us that we really should understand the other side, and after a little while I was able to reach out to Peter Douglas and realize it wouldn't hurt if we got together and had dinner, just the two of us," Ueberroth said.

The dinners resulted in a friendship, and the two 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 fraction of the new homes would be located in the endangered California 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."

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