On June 13th, the California Coastal Commission voted 8-to-4 to deny the Pebble Beach Company's plans to cut down 18,000 trees in the Del Monte Forest.
This ended an eight-year battle in which the Pebble Beach Company had tried to circumvent the Coastal Act by taking the vote to the public. In a slick $1 million ad campaign, co-owner Clint Eastwood asked voters to "help save the forest." Failing to mention the fact that so many trees would fall victim to the development scheme, the voters approved the measure. The company also bought local officials and leaned on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to replace two pro-environment commissioners.
The development was extensive, and included putting an equestrian center on a conservation easement. In the end, the company couldn't negotiate - any changes would have to be put before the (now educated) public in another vote. This lock box killed the deal, and after 11 hours of deliberation in which Commission Sara Wan called it "wholesale destruction of the environment," the plan was denied.
Heroes abound in this story - Mark Massara, a surfer and attorney for the Sierra Club, spearheaded the effort to save the forest. Attorney Tom Lippe likewise rocked the vote, while the staff at the Coastal Commission, including Charles Lester and Dan Carl, was forthright and unwavering in their judgment.
On a personal note, as someone born who was born in that forest and is especially sensitive to the aesthetic beauty, I was moved to act on behalf of this fragile ecosystem. Whether developing a simple informational website, organizing a commercial shoot, writing letters to the editor a la Ansel Adams, attending meetings, or speaking at hearings (rather badly at first), I was confident that whatever the outcome, I had done what I could do in my little corner of the world. That in itself is a priceless experience.
Now where's the champagne?