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A RCO FILE

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Permit Extension Denied

June 8, 1999
By MORGAN GREEN
NEWS-PRESS SENIOR WRITER

Three rare frogs a trap for golf course project

After Dos Pueblos Golf Associates spent $11 million and five years preparing to build a seaside golf course just west of Goleta, three frogs managed to derail the controversial undertaking on Monday.

The discovery in March of the California red-legged frogs in Eagle Canyon next to the golf links site was all the California Coastal Commission needed to deny an extension of the project's permit.

The action effectively stops the developers in their tracks and forces them to resubmit their project for review from scratch.

The frogs, protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act, are a crucial "changed circumstance" on the 208-acre property since the golf project was reviewed and approved by the County Board of Supervisors in 1994 and by the Coastal Commission in 1995.

At that time, the frogs were not known to be on the site, and were not considered endangered in any case. They were found this year at the mouth of the creek in Eagle Canyon on the edge of the golf links site.

"These frogs migrate for water, and that's precisely what you have on a golf course. And they migrate for up to a mile, which is precisely the length" of the proposed golf course, said Mark Masara, spokesman for the Sierra Club. He was among numerous opponents who spoke at the hearing in Santa Barbara.

The commission's action means that if the golf course builders want to create their 18-hole seaside course, nine-hole adjacent par-three course, clubhouse, outbuildings and public beach access trails, they'll have to convince the environmentally-minded commission that the project is worthy overall -- and in particular -- that it won't harm the frogs.

The turn of events marks only the most recent contortion in the politically charged eight-year history of the links project.

Ever since ARCO decided in 1992 to replace the remains of an oil field with golf fairways, local environmental groups have fought to keep the land undeveloped.

The golf course site -- to accommodate up to 60,000 players yearly -- is scenic rolling land at an area called Naples, about a mile west of the massive Bacara resort project, now under construction. The ocean along the Dos Pueblos Golf Links land is beloved by local surfers for the way the waves break there. The property is home to wildlife, including a seal colony.

Protectionists see the project as environmentally damaging and evidence of creeping urbanization they fear will cover the entire Gaviota Coast.

Despite the Monday setback, "We will build the golf course," said Whitt Hollis, spokesman for the development partnership. "And we will protect the frogs," he added.

It is likely to take many months before the golf project can be resubmitted to the commission. Just devising proper protections for the frogs can take up to nine months, a Fish and Wildlife spokesman said.

Other environmental tangles might keep the golf project "in the rough" for even longer.

At the hearing, a videotape clearly showed clusters of thousands of monarch butterflies wintering in the trees along the creek where the frogs were found. They were not considered in the project's initial permits, and the Coastal Commission has been tough on developers who want to build near such congregations.

The circumstances leading to the Coastal Commission decision have an element of environmental irony.

The partnership's permit to start construction expired at the end of January. Work hadn't begun because the developer was asking for project changes so golf facilities would avoid newly discovered seasonal wetlands. They appeared only after the recent El Nio rains filled parts of a former oil tank farm.

By the time the Coastal Commission was to consider the amendments, however, the frogs were found.

"It's karmic," said Keith Zandona, a spokesman for the Santa Barbara Chapter of the Surfriders. "We're going to be fighting this all the way. Now, we can open up a lot of other issues."