Historical issues

Congdon’s Tarplant (Centromadia parryi subsp. congdonii)

Here is a brief selection of the most significant issues which are believed (and hoped) to be of historical significance only.

Fort Ord - Whispering Oaks & Monterey Downs

Whispering Oaks was a proposed 58-acre development to create a business park, including over 24 acres for a Monterey Salinas Transit (MST) Facility/ It would have involved the removal of over 4400 oak trees, including 2400 for the MST project. The draft EIR did not address the fact that the project would result in a taking of the Federally Listed Monterey Gilia (Gilia tenuiflora subsp. arenaria) as well as other sensitive plants including Seaside bird’s-beak (Cordylanthus rigidus subsp. littoralis) and animals such as the California Tiger Salamander. In February 2012, after intense public opposition, the Board of Supervisors rescinded its previous approval of the project.

Monterey Downs. This development proposal involved a proposed horse racing track, commercial space and 1,280 dwelling units surrounding a remnant 70 acre parcel of oak woodland in open space. Another 312 acres of oak woodland would have been destroyed along with habitat for numerous sensitive plant species such as Monterey Spineflower, Sandmat Manzanita, Monterey Ceanothus and Eastwood’s Golden Fleece. After intense opposition and litigation the developer withdrew his proposal in November 2016.

Pebble Beach Development Projects

The chapter has been involved in a number of development proposals by the Pebble Beach Corporation over the years, many of which had been widely opposed as being environmentally destructive.

In early 2010, The Pebble Beach Corporation and the California Coastal Commission reached a tentative agreement on the controversial plans for additional development in Pebble Beach. The main bone of contention, a new golf course that would eliminate an estimated 17,000 native Monterey pines, has apparently been dropped from the plan. Expansion of the Lodge and Spanish Bay resort facilities into already developed areas would proceed, as would some 60-90 homesites. In the past the chapter has urged protection for several sensitive areas specifically intended for housing; so that and other issues will await the release of a detailed version of the revised plan.

In early 2012, our Chapter commented on the build-out proposed by Pebble Beach Company and urged modification of the housing proposed immediately above the Indian Village plant reserve for protection of Hickman’s Potentilla (Potentilla hickmanii). The chapter also emphasized strict enforcement of conditions to protect and restore Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHA) which receive strong protection under the Coastal Act. In addition, the letter urged that the loss of some 7000 Monterey pines to development be further mitigated by dedication to Jacks Peak Park of property owned by pebble Beach Company adjoining the park.

In early 2015, Monterey Regional Park District has purchased the Aquajito Woods property from Pebble Beach Company. The new 851 acre pine forest preserve is contiguous to north side of Jacks Peak County Park and greatly expands the preservation of the largest intact Monterey pine forest in the world. Long time chapter member Joyce Stevens had the dedicated vision of preserving this forest and the preserve will be named in her honor.

Jacks Peak Zipline Project

In late 2011, the county was about to release a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) on the proposal for up to five ziplines at Jacks Peak Park, despite requests for an Environmental Impact Report on the effects of a commercial development in a park designed for habitat preservation, walking, and nature study. The same Canadian firm, Ziptrek, also was involved in inserting up to 10 “aerial trails” into the state park budget for the land across from Pt. Lobos State Reserve. Park officials were considering letting the project go ahead before the parkland even has a general plan, but public outcry halted that effort. Happily the project was abandoned the following year….

Historical summaries of selected conservation efforts:

CNPS has a long history of plant habitat protection at Fort Ord

(from The Wallflower January 2012)

Even before CNPS existed, local botanists had been studying the unique plants and plant communities of the historic Army base. Shortly after the Monterey Bay Chapter was approved by the state board in 1966, an informal agreement was reached by chapter co-founder Bee Howitt and Gen. R.G. Fergusson, then commanding officer of Fort Ord, to set aside nine small plant reserves to protect certain rare plants that had managed to survive and even thrive on the busy base.

Earlier, in 1964, retired virologist Howitt from UC’s Hastings Reservation and John Thomas Howell of the California Academy of Sciences had co-authored The Vascular Plants of Monterey County, pointing out that Monterey is “one of the richest and most important research areas for field studies in systematic botany in Western America.” Soon the chapter was having regular field trips to Fort Ord and preparing plant lists that have now grown to over 900 species. With the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, the reserves developed increasing significance, bringing the Army an award for its stewardship of the reserves.

Why are there so many rare plants at Fort Ord? the answer seems to be a combination of geology, geography, and climate. The sandy soil brought down by the Salinas River in glacial times weathered into the Aromas red sands, a sandstone-like formation. Later changing ocean levels created a thick layer of paler sand dunes on top of the older consolidated sands. The combination of sterile soil and moist, foggy conditions during the growing period provided a habitat where certain unusual plants could thrive without heavy competition from more common or invasive species.

This habitat became noted for the maritime chaparral that had developed throughout Fort Ord’s sandy areas. Dominant in many areas are the shaggy-barked manzanitas, Arctostaphylos tomentosa and A. crustacea, and their various forms. Less common is the Monterey (aka “Toro”) manzanita, A. montereyensis, which at first was known only from one plant near the Monterey airport. Also in the sandy areas are Hooker’s manzanita, A. hookeri, Pajaro manzanita, A. pajaroensis, and sandmat manzanita, A. pumila. Frequently found with them are three blue-flowered ceanothus species, Monterey ceanothus, Ceanothus cuneatus var. rigidus; cropleaf ceanothus, C. dentatus; and blue blossom, C. thyrsiflorus. A real rarity is the southernmost stand of coast whitethorn, C. incanus. Other rarities found in the reserves include Monterey spineflower, Chorizanthe pungens; Eastwood’s goldenfleece, Ericameria fasciculata; Coast wallflower, Erysimum ammophilum; sand gilia, Gilia tenuiflora subsp. arenaria; and Seaside bird’s beak, Cordylanthus rigidus subsp. littoralis.

A tenth plant reserve had been established in the western dunes to protect the habitat of Smith’s Blue Butterfly, but all of the reserves existed in a sort of limbo because they had no legal standing. However, in 1989 the Army decided to close down the Ammunition Supply Points (ASPs) in the dunes and move the contents to one large, secure location inland. Unfortunately this involved removing a large acreage of maritime chaparral. As mitigation for this loss, the Army signed an agreement with CNPS to establish the reserves permanently. Consequently, when the base closed in 1991, most of the land encompassing the reserves went to the BLM along with the impact areas to the south and the highlands and grasslands on the east. The dunes, including two reserves, went to the State Parks Department.

However, there have been constant efforts by development interests to insert major projects into areas that have great value for low impact recreation and habitat preservation, particularly areas serving as wildlife corridors between the dunes and the BLM lands.

The Monterey Bay Dunes: a history of efforts to protect rare plants and dune habitat

(from The Wallflower November/December 2012)

As you drive north around Monterey Bay, most of its remarkable dune system, one of the largest in the state, appears nearly pristine; yet in early 1985, prospects looked bleak for the Monterey Bay Dunes. The cities of Monterey, Seaside, Sand City, and Marina were working on Coastal Plans that envisioned a series of resorts and housing developments stretching along most of the 12-mile expanse of dunes between the Monterey harbor and the Salinas River (except for Fort Ord’s 4-mile frontage). Even supposedly protected habitat areas like Marina State Beach and the Salinas River Wildlife Refuge were losing habitat to trampling and invasive exotic plants.

Many members of the public, especially those active in conservation groups, were concerned by developments like Ocean Harbor House and the Monterey Beach Hotel, both built in the foredunes before passage of the Coastal Act of 1976, which required preparation of Coastal Plans that would recognize the need to protect unique coastal resources. Because of coastal erosion, both have now built seawalls that interfere with the public’s historic right to use the beach; yet they and other coastal developments remain vulnerable to global warming, an issue that had not made the headlines at that time.

Then in May of 1985 a small group of dune enthusiasts from the Monterey Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, the Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the Monterey Peninsula Audubon Society came together to form the Monterey Bay Dunes Coalition (MBDC). Its mission would be to educate its members and the general public about the priceless biological treasures of the dunes, to monitor development proposals between Wharf #2 and the Salinas River, and to work with local governments, the county, and state and federal agencies, including the Coastal Commission, with the goal of providing permanent protection of the dunes west of Highway 1 to the maximum extent possible. During this time the Big Sur Land Trust and the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District joined the campaign to save the dunes through the purchase of several key parcels.

Spurred by the MBDC, a number of studies documented the current status of the three types of dunes (based on their geologic age: recent, Flandrian, and pre-Flandrian) which supported an unusual assemblage of dune plants, including three rare, threatened, and/or endangered (RTE) species: Monterey spineflower (Chorizanthe pungens), Monterey gilia (Gilia tenuiflora subsp. arenaria), and Menzies wallflower (Erysimum menziesii). RTE animals included the Western Snowy Plover, Smith’s blue butterfly and the black legless lizard.

By the late 80s huge development plans had surfaced in Sand City and Marina. In addition to the 136-unit Sterling Center hotel and restaurant on seven acres, which had been denied by the Coastal Commission earlier, Sand City alone had two six-story hotel and condo projects in the works by Monterey Sand Co. and Fargo Industries. Marina’s dune plans included a 120-room hotel on Monterey Sand Co. property, a 500 to 600 room hotel on Granite Rock land, and 1,400 rooms in two resorts on Lone Star land (still a sand mining operation), as well as other projects.

Through the years MBDC members and their allies responded to environmental documents, created educational materials, scheduled site visits, trooped to city planning commissions and city councils, and filed appeals to the Coastal Commission, pointing out inconsistencies with the laws protecting sensitive coastal habitats. The results so far—just three constructed projects: one relatively small hotel on Monterey Sand property and two motels on the rear dunes north of Reservation Road (all in Marina), where a mitigation fee has raised over $300,000 for dune restoration. Sand City’s projects have been denied at the Coastal Commission leading to developer lawsuits, notably the Monterey Bay Shores hotel, where a reduced project was approved but not yet built.

MBDC was fortunate early in obtaining a generous grant of $10,000 from the Packard Foundation that covered preparation of brochures and graphic displays that were critical to involving the public and educating decision-makers. The funds also helped expand the Beach Garden Project, directed by Joey Dorrell-Canepa, to involve school children and other volunteers in the restoration of degraded dune areas. Generations of elementary school kids have learned to value the dunes by collecting seeds, growing flats of seedlings, and then planting them out. The results can be seen at the Seaside Beach Park just north of the Monterey Beach Hotel (originally planned for another hotel), Monterey Beach, Marina State Beach, Fort Ord State Beach, and other sites.

MBDC efforts climaxed with the creation of the Monterey Bay State Seashore in 1994 extending the entire distance around the Bay and including 14 state beaches in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. Senators Mello and McPherson supported the bill and Congressman Sam Farr was instrumental in bringing State Parks officials on board. The Big Sur Land Trust and the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District were extremely active and helpful through this period in supporting preservation options and buying coastal properties from willing sellers.

Many local conservationists were involved in MBDC over the years, including Alan Church, Joey Dorrell-Canepa, the late Janie Figen, Natasha Fraley, Don Gruber, Jane Holte, Mark Ferguson, Peter Kaiser, Gloria Kauhanen, Judi Lehman, Corky Matthews, Tom Moss, David Shonman, Joyce Stevens, Ed Thornton, and the late Jack Wickham. Ed Thornton, then an oceanographer at the NPGS, now retired and on the Executive Committee of the Ventana Chapter, Sierra Club, is actively working on preservation of the former Lone Star Dunes now owned and mined by CEMEX; and our chapter has supported his efforts to convince the Corps of Engineers to limit sand mining to prevent beach erosion. The dunes still need defenders!

For many years The Wallflower has contained detailed reports of the chapter’s conservation-related activities. A document containing all of these reports from 2007 to 2018 can be found here: