Clint Eastwood Bolsters His Legacy as a California Land Donor

The Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood has a complicated record in politics and conservation, but the longtime California landowner just completed a 20-year-plus effort to protect a chunk of Big Sur.

Eastwood’s personal and political beliefs are something of a mystery. You may remember that odd speech at the 2012 RNC, for example. 

He usually aligns with Republicans and identifies as a libertarian, but also as a social liberal, and was a defender of ousted Democratic Governor Gray Davis. He was non-partisan mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea for a term, and served on the California State Park and Recreation Commission under both Davis and his replacement Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the latter position, many said Eastwood was even booted by Schwarzenegger after he opposed the governor’s plan for a six-lane road through San Onofre beach.

Now 86, Eastwood has developed a decent track record as an environmentalist fighting for conservation in the state. Although in that realm, too, he’s fallen on different sides of the issue, drawing fire from the Sierra Club over past development deals—including a plan to build a golf course in the coastal forests on Monterey Peninsula.

But at the end of the day, one thing you can say about Eastwood is that he likes open spaces, especially on California’s central coast. 

He and his former wife Maggie Eastwood backed up that reputation with the recent donation of a 79-acre property to the Big Sur Land Trust, as part of a $25 million project with Monterey County to restore and protect the Carmel River floodplain. The plan will protect the area from destructive flooding, restore wildlife habitats, and create a new trail for public access. 

The donation has been in the works for many years. The Eastwoods first handed over part of the property worth $6 million to the trust back in 1997, part of a byzantine series of land deals that raised some red flags at the time. It took almost 20 years to complete the donation of the second parcel, in part to work out the water rights, which Eastwood kept a portion of. 

It’s not the only land Eastwood has protected from development, either through sale, purchase or donation. The 1997 deal also involved the sale of about 300 other acres to Monterey County for preservation, and in the 1980s, he and actor James Garner donated another 300-acre property in Carmel Valley to the county. 

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Like some other high-profile land owners, Eastwood is a complicated character, and he’s clearly a shrewd businessman and developer. But whatever his motivation at any given time, the director is responsible for protecting a whole lot of the Big Sur region for the future. Perhaps his environmental philanthropy can be best summed up by a quote in the local news following the recent donation. 

"If I came along and saw a development there, that would break my heart, you know.”