Phyllis M Faber
765 Miller Ave
Mill Valley, CA 94941
April 9, 2013
The Honorable Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown
Sacramento, CA 95
Dear Governor Brown,
Today ALSA (Alliance for Local Sustainable Agriculture) and I have filed a lawsuit against the California Coastal Commission on behalf of Drakes Bay Oyster Company for actions that do not conform to provisions of the Coastal Act of 1976 nor to its spirit. This is an extraordinarily painful step for me to take as I was co-chair of the Marin County effort to support Proposition 20 that created the California Coastal Commission in 1972 and served on the North Central Regional Commission for eight years, as chair for two years. I have been a strong supporter since the Commission was formed forty years ago. The Coast of California is clearly better off with the coastal management the Commission has provided.
I am an 85 years old, white haired biologist. Professionally, I am an editor for Natural History Books for UC Press. In Marin County, I was included in a small group on whom was bestowed the title of “Environmental Elder.” I wear it with pride. For more than 40 years – I remain an unabashed supporter of the California Coastal Act.
Today, however, in West Marin in their recent action against the Drakes Bay Oyster Company, the Commission has “lost its way.” It has engaged in an inexplicable campaign – exceeding its charter – to bureaucratically smother – to drive out of business — a working family farm, the Drakes Bay Oyster Company.
This is more than a case against an agency for failing to adhere to its CEQA rules and requirements. It’s more than usurping power from the Department of Fish and Game. It’s about the “abuse of power.”
When the Coastal Commission staff tells the Lunny family that it will not process its Coastal Development Permit (CDP) until the Park Service completes its environmental impact statement (a two-year, $ 2 million, 1,000 page document), and then accuses the Lunny’s of failing to have a CDP (delayed at CCC insistence), that’s abuse of power.
When the Coastal Commission staff presentation to the Commissioners includes a photo – dated 2013 — with the farm depicted as a physical mess with beach litter, but fails to disclose that the photo is more than seven years old taken of the beach under prior ownership and that under the Lunnys, it has been cleaned up, that’s abuse of power.
When the Coastal Commission staff found out about an administrative error by the Fish and Game Commission – twenty years ago, (a minor typographical error that was discovered by the Lunnys who asked that it be administratively corrected), they demanded actions and imposed a massive $60,000 fine while knowing that the Commission had docketed its correction – that’s abuse of power.
When the Coastal Commission becomes preoccupied with the Lunny purchase of replacement picnic tables for public enjoyment (and considers new ones development), that’s abuse of power.
When the Coastal Commission imposes a restoration order that is biologically impossible to achieve, and will clearly bankrupt a third generation ranching family, that’s abuse of power.
Above the Law – Beyond Accountability.
In enacting a Cease and Desist and a Restoration order against the Drakes Bay Oyster Company on February 7, 2013, we believe the California Coastal Commission made a mistake in judgment based on a flawed staff presentation and by ignoring their own policies, policies that support mariculture, that support agriculture, and that support visitor serving enterprises. And they ignored the Local Coastal Plan of Marin County (LCP) that strongly supports the oyster farm. This action will result in the Coastal Commission bankrupting one of the ranching families in the Point Reyes Seashore who have been on their farm for several generations and who operate the first organic beef operation in Marin County as well as the oyster farm. This is not what many of us deem to be good coastal zone management! It may also cause unknown and unconsidered harm to the productive Estero by the removal of millions of oysters, and all the clams and all the oyster racks. I firmly believe that the Cease and Desist Order and the Restoration order are in error and need to be rectified by the Coastal Commission.
The National Park Service determined that NEPA (environmental review) was required for the removal of the oyster farm. After more than 800 days, Secretary Salazar said, in effect, never mind – I don’t need NEPA to guide me and dismissed the report. The Coastal Commission didn’t even bother with CEQA either. Environmental reviews apparently are not necessary. The Coastal Commission, usually required by its own rules, simply unilaterally waived them. Excluding a public process that discloses, analyzes and explains means only one thing: the Commission’s actions cannot be reviewed. The Commission will not be accountable – to anyone. At the outset of the Commission hearing, the Commission staff instructed the Commissioners – to omit from the record the information submitted by the Lunny lawyers. This is wrong. This is not how Commission business was or should be conducted.
The recently re-adopted Commission Cease and Desist order covers three items: the emergency repair of a broken electric line for which the Lunny family had a county permit; for purchasing six picnic tables that needed replacement and six new ones to benefit the increased number of visitors every weekend (considered development by the Commission); and for the removal of an unsafe porch from a mobile home that had become a hazard (also considered development). Is this appropriate coastal management or is it perhaps a vindictive action on the part of Commission staff?
Because the oyster farm is so important as a source of high quality food (they grow about 30% of California’s oysters) and to supplying other oyster growers, the decision to remove the oyster farm is both controversial and ecologically significant for the region to consider. Oysters provide an important source of high quality food and a significant benefit to the ocean ecosystem.
The Commission’s Restoration order requires the oyster farm, if closed, to remove all the oyster racks that belong to the Park, to remove all the clams from the Estero floor, and to remove a non-native tunicate, a slimy marine organism that grows on the oyster shells and is today found all along the California coast. Removing the racks is a huge but a doable operation that will take two or three years and will include the removal of two or three million oysters that currently are filtering the waters of the Estero; removing all the clams on the Estero floor and will require raking the bottom of the Estero with unknown harm to all the flora and fauna in the Estero; and removing all the tunicates will certainly be impossible and attempting it will only spread this organism more widely.
Governor, something is terribly wrong in California when the Staff of a State Agency – the Coastal Commission – expend precious tax dollars waging a bureaucratic war against an ecologically beneficial food producer. Please give us your support.
Phyllis M Faber
765 Miller Avenue
Mill Valley, CA 94941