The California Coastal Commission has approved a plan to fill a stretch of disappearing Southern California wetlands with a golf course.
The 6-5 decision delighted Seal Beach boosters and disgusted conservationists. It appeared to be the first time that the commission has allowed coastal wetlands to be filled for a golf course. State officials said the decision could have implications for development elsewhere on the coast.
The politically appointed commissioners approved the Orange County housing development and 18-hole course at a meeting Wednesday in Eureka, 700 miles north of the long-disputed Hellman Ranch project, south of Long Beach. The site is 196 acres.
Conservationists, already alarmed that development has claimed as much as 90% of Southern California's salt marshes and other coastal wetlands, said the decision violated coastal protection laws that the commission is supposed to uphold.
The commission's staff recommended approval of the gated community, with conditions, but rejection of the golf course.
"It is illegal to put a golf course there--to say nothing of ill-advised," said Ellen Stern Harris, a former coastal commissioner who is executive director of the environmental group Fund for the Environment.
"For a commission that wants to be known as having an environmental legacy, they're on the verge of falling apart," said Mark Massara, director of coastal programs for the Sierra Club.
"How can you not be happy?" said Seal Beach Mayor George Brown. "It's a win-win situation."
The Hellman Ranch project calls for 70 luxury homes, a golf course open to the public, nine acres of restored wetlands and 30 acres of created wetlands. It also would earmark some oil fields for future restoration and provide public trails.
Criticism mounted over the spring and summer. The commission twice delayed votes at the last moment, in April and in June.