Point Reyes National Seashore Oyster Farm Issued Cease-And-Desist Order From California Officials

The owners of an oyster farm fighting for their business at Point Reyes National Seashore have been issued a cease-and-desist order from the California Coastal Commission pertaining to unpermitted operations.

The order is just the latest setback for the Drakes Bay Oyster Co., which back in November was told by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that he would not extend the company's lease to farm oysters in the waters of Drakes Estero in the national seashore.

On February 4, a U.S. District Court judge declined to issue a temporary restraining order that would block the eviction notice while DBOC's owner, Kevin Lunny, pursued a lawsuit to reverse it. Three days later the coastal commission approved the cease-and-desist order.

The order specifically directs DBOC to "(1) cease and desist from conducting or maintaining unpermitted development; (2) remove onshore unpermitted development; (3) remove and/or cease unpermitted development, including discharge of invasive Didemnum sp., Manila clams, and marine debris from Drakes Estero and beyond; and (4) follow requirements to seek Coastal Act authorization for specified unpermitted development, and (5) limit any interim operations and conduct them pursuant to a set of guidelines designed to protect the environment, including by controlling the invasive Didemnum sp.

In supporting the order, the commission's staff pointed to unpermitted operations in the seashore's waters by the oyster company, land alterations, debris from the farming operations, violations of previous cease-and-desist orders, and company boats operating in waters that were supposed to be closed to traffic due to harbor seal pupping.

"Additionally, the Secretary of the Interior has declined to issue a new lease to DBOC, and as the state water bottom leases were made expressly contingent upon continued federal authorization to occupy the Property, the facility now exists without any governing resource protection operational controls, which will be the case during the pendency of current litigation filed over the lease renewal issues,' the staff noted in its recommendations to the commission.

"Commission staff has worked sedulously with DBOC over the past months in an effort to resolve these issues in the context of a consent settlement, but was ultimately unable to obtain agreement regarding the various resourceprotection measures to be implemented in the context of both interim operations and potential retirement of the facility."

Comments

Sedulously. A valuable and too-little-used adverb. It's a synonym for assiduously, meaning, in essence, diligently, methodically, and over a period of time.

The farm should file for b/k and let the NPS deal with the mess they created.

This is not just a business decision. The Lunnys are fighting this on principle, and because they are not the only ones being harmed here. There are 30 other families whose livelihoods are on the line. Many of these oyster workers have been there for decades (this is a historic oyster farm that has existed since long before the National Seashore was created). The Lunnys refuse to give up on them. These people are an integral part of the Point Reyes farming community.

If the oyster farm is destroyed, the local economy will be harmed, and the California shellfish market will be seriously damaged. In addition, it would set a terrible precedent if the false claims about environmental harm from oyster farming are allowed to stand--other shellfish farmers could get tarred with the same brush.

The Lunnys are fighting this outrage for all of these reasons.

And they are also fighting because they care about the truth. The CCC action is NOT based on the truth. I'll have a story about this in the Point Reyes Light this week. With quotes from the CCC vice chair, who calls the enforcement action "morally disturbing."

It's not over until it's over.

Sarah, I say,"Rock ON." Although there is much to be grateful for inside NPS the temptation to overreach by some of it's newer aged politico visionaries is evident here. Disconnecting the deep real cultural elements that Drakes and other sites in the system have has been relentless and diminishes the culture. It's an attitude that needs to be reined in, I believe.

Again, Rock On!

I fully support the NPS action, because the oyster operation was bought out by American taxpayers in 1972, and given a 40 year lease. So they not only were compensated for their property as this remarkable wilderness area was created, but they were allowed to continue operating for another four decades.

The current owners bought the operation several years back, fully knowing that its lease ended in 2012.

Everything else we've heard has just tried to muddy these very clear and fair facts. No one likes to see jobs go away, but that's no excuse for trying to renege on a 40-year-old contract. The American people own this wilderness and have every right to see it fully protected.

Sound like a hard ass, Greg. I can only imagine the choices Johnson (I believe) had on whether or not to sell. Bureocrats giving him a choice as to which poison he'd like is usually the option certain "American Taxpayers" have in cases like this. The war on the individual is more to the point, I believe. The working waterfronts of our coasts with hollistic connections is something visitors enjoy seeing and consuming their products is so much more real than at the malls and grocerie stores. Rock On, Drakes Bay.

The same situation applies to the ranchers, Greg. This is an agricultural area. When the area became a National Seashore, all the ranches and dairies along with the oyster farm sold their property to the government and received the equivalent of a lease (it's actually called a Reservation of Use and in the case of the oyster farm there is also a special-use permit). The lease-equivalents are for a specified period of time and then they get renewed. The oyster farm's agreement had a renewal clause just like all the other agreements. The Lunnys have not reneged on a contract. They simply wish for it to be renewed. The Park Service has the right not to renew it, but they do not have the right to lie about why.

There's nothing "fair" about the way this has gone down. The oyster farm was in trouble in 2005 when the Lunnys purchased it. They cleaned the place up. If the Park Service didn't want that to happen, they ought to have purchased those remaining 7 years of the ROU themselves and used the time to create a good transition plan. Instead they let the Lunnys make the purchase, gave them mixed messages, then a couple of years later they started this bizarre misinformation campaign. The myth that the lease "ended" and couldn't be renewed, along with the myth that the Lunnys reneged on something ("a deal is a deal" -- slogan created by paid PR professionals at EAC), is part of the false narrative being pushed by NPS and its allies.

There is no wilderness here to protect. This is a National Seashore with a road running through it and millions of visitors every year. Drakes Bay is a major site for recreational paddling, including commercial kayaking outfits (all of whom support the oyster farm). It's also a big area for birders, as Kurt recently reported. Those birders and kayakers use the same parking lot area as the oyster farm. Destroying the oyster farm won't make this a wilderness. And it will not protect anything. Far from it--if the oysters are removed, the water quality will suffer. The oysters provide valuable ecological services--that's why there are oyster restoration projects all over the place. It's working very well in San Francisco Bay, Chesapeake Bay, Massachusetts, and many other places.

I'm pretty sure that Charlie Johnson swallowed this pill because they sweetened it with a renewal clause. I've read that he was informed that renewal would be likely. Then Congress threw a wrench into the original plan.

I'm still upset that Senator Feinstein didn't just stick to her original rider that mandated a 10 year special use permit be issued.

I'm also wondering why the Coastal Commission is wading into discussing the water bottom lease, since the leases are still controlled by the California Dept of Fish and Game. While the leases are contingent on the access to NPS land, I haven't heard of any CDFG action to evict yet. I'm a landlord myself. The rental agreements I've drafted have all sorts of terms in them where I could theoretically evict my tenant for violations. However, it's up to me to enforce them. My neighbor can't order an eviction just because he doesn't like my tenant. My wife also can't evict on my behalf without expressed authorization.

CDFG seems to be the most sympathetic to the plight of the oyster farm. Could it be they're waiting to see what happens with the current lawsuit before taking any action of their own?

Sarah Rolph:
The same situation applies to the ranchers, Greg. This is an agricultural area. When the area became a National Seashore, all the ranches and dairies along with the oyster farm sold their property to the government and received the equivalent of a lease (it's actually called a Reservation of Use and in the case of the oyster farm there is also a special-use permit). The lease-equivalents are for a specified period of time and then they get renewed. The oyster farm's agreement had a renewal clause just like all the other agreements. The Lunnys have not reneged on a contract. They simply wish for it to be renewed. The Park Service has the right not to renew it, but they do not have the right to lie about why.
My understanding is that the ranches is a little more complicated than that. I think the issue was twofold. First was that the Point Reyes dairy farming was a critical component to make the West Marin dairy processing facilities viable. Without enough critical mass, they would might not be worth operating or would be more expensive to operate per volume of milk. The other was that there calls to build housing at Point Reyes. Either ranches that owned their own land or landowners who leased to tenant farmers would be tempted to sell to housing developers. I read that the land for several of the ranches (including the G Ranch) was owned by RCA. I think they had a radio transmission facility in the area, and I guess they owned the land around it too. If housing was built there, the viability of the rest of the West Marin dairy industry was in danger because they might not be able to operate the processing plants profitably.

Thanks for that history, y_p_w. Interesting points.

There's some information here about the RCA station: http://www.nps.gov/pore/historyculture/people_communications.htm

This art deco building is still there--I wish they would refurbish it and make it a museum or something. You can't go in it, but you can drive up to it. The short road that leads to it has lovely old cypress trees on either side of it--a favorite subject for photographers, especially in the fog.

Yes, my understanding is that the threat of housing developments is what brought everyone together over the plans for the National Seashore. People often ask Kevin Lunny if he dislikes the Park Service because of its actions against him and he always says no, that he and the entire community are very grateful that the Park Service helped save this land from development.

Kurt, thanks for having an edit feature. It's nice to be able to correct my typos even after the fact! (not that I find them all, but I try!)

y_p_w, you raise a good point about CDFG (which I'm told is CDFW now--fish&wildlife). I am still pretty mystified by the complexities of California politics. As you know, CDFW did issue the water-bottom permit quite a while back, and it's good until 2029. Perhaps you're right that they're waiting to see what happens.

The CCC doesn't seem to be very interested in what's right or proper. The hearing last week was basically a lynching. Kevin Lunny told me the commissioners actually made faces at him while he was trying to make his presentation. Can you imagine such a thing? The staff also presented an old photo of a trashy Johnson oyster farm as if it were from the current operation. I expect to have a story that includes that photo next week.

Here's a link to the story I published this week about the CCC action: http://oysterzone.wordpress.com/2013/02/14/02-14-13-pt-reyes-light-coastal-commission-trumped-up-claims-against-dboc/

(The Point Reyes Light is a small local paper that has the quaint idea that they ought not put too much free content on the web, lest people stop buying the print edition. But I have their permission to post my story at the oysterzone blog. Lots of great material there for those who want to delve deep, including Corey Goodman's 44-page chronology of the controversy: http://oysterzone.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/chronology-05-05-12-44-pages1.pdf Goodman does like details....)

Sarah Rolph:
y_p_w, you raise a good point about CDFG (which I'm told is CDFW now--fish&wildlife). I am still pretty mystified by the complexities of California politics. As you know, CDFW did issue the water-bottom permit quite a while back, and it's good until 2029. Perhaps you're right that they're waiting to see what happens.
NPS (especially Neubacher) was making a big stink on 2004 when CDFG and the Fish and Game Commission were considering renewing the water bottom lease. I saw some letters from Neubacher to CDFG pleading with them to not renew the lease or at the very least issue only a short term lease to Johnson's until certain conditions were met. I watched one of the CFGC archived meeting videos where the oyster farm was on the agenda. I think one of the commissioners was on the Commission at the time of the renewal. He noted that they made the lease terms contingent on maintaining the federal reservation of use or a special use permit because NPS complained. Their continued validity wasn't tied to the NPS land before.

Im guessing that they feel that they'd rather not do something that can't be undone until DBOC exhausts their legal challenges.

I've seen interviews, watched meeting videos, and read letters from CDFG and CFGC. They've always been supportive of the oyster farm.

Like to repeat.

Y_P_W: "I've seen interviews, watched meeting videos, and read letters from CDFG and CFGC. They've always been supportive of the oyster farm."

Seems like NPS is on muddy ground and has been for quite awhile on this issue if procedures and intent are scrutinized. The character of these places are being irrevocably lost to revisionists and it's not good for the culture, I believe. More museum phylosophy that some past Secretaries of Interior abhored.

Here's an op-ed about the CCC action by local environmentalist Phyllis Faber, who was at the hearing: http://www.marinij.com/opinion/ci_22598249/marin-voice-california-coastal-commission-uses-distorted-information

The latest on the issue coming out today. Injunction granted in favor of Drakes Bay Oyster.

http://causeofaction.org/2013/02/25/emergency-injunction-granted-for-drakes-bay-oyster-company-2/