Environmental Justice in West Marin?

Rosie's crew

Rosie the Riveter and her very diverse crew were a vital part of the war effort, just as the oyster workers are a vital part of West Marin sustainable farming

A visit to the National Park Service ‘Rosie the Riveter’ historic site in Richmond, California tells the inspiring tale of how America united in a national purpose.  The World War II effort changed the nation by bringing together ethnic communities and ushering women into well-paying jobs in the workforce.  “Rosie the Riveter” celebrates the growing movement that would accelerate racial integration, strengthen the institutions that would bring safety and health to the workforce, as well as establishing fair treatment of labor.  In Point Reyes, NPS that has betrayed all that their Rosie the Riveter memorial stands for in its continued attempts to erase a multi-generational ethnic community that predates the park and has thrived in the practice of sustainable food harvest for decades.

There is no better example of the hypocrisy of Salazar’s recent decision than a recent private meeting held by NPS with the oyster workers in Point Reyes.  A two-hour recording reveals a community deeply worried about the future and two woefully unaware representatives from Salazar and one from Point Reyes National Seashore, who were blindly ignorant of the true impact that Salazar’s decision would have on the community. What is most telling about this meeting is that, despite all law, regulation and policy and the National Environmental Policy Act concerning environmental justice, it was the first meeting with the very stakeholders who would be most impacted by Salazar’s decision: the oyster workers themselves.

It is even more telling that the Secretary’s first engagement with the oyster workers was made after his decision.  The President’s Executive Order 12898 and NEPA are very explicit, a major point of the Executive Order stating all stakeholders should be engaged as soon as possible in the process and that Agencies should recognize the interrelated cultural, social, occupational, historical, or economic factors that may amplify the natural and physical environmental effects of the proposed agency action. These factors should include the physical sensitivity of the community or population to particular impacts; the effect of any disruption on the community structure associated with the proposed action; and the nature and degree of impact on the physical and social structure of the community”. Review of Executive Order 12898 and the Council on Environmental Quality/EPA documents make it plain that of the five major points in the Executive Order, Salazar has violated not one, but all of them.

The November 29, 2012 Secretarial decision to reject a renewal permit to the oyster farm is the last of a long series of NPS actions that have converted Drakes Estero into a regulatory free-fire zone for NPS, where neither law, regulation nor policy seem to apply.  Under Jon Jarvis, as Pacific West Regional Director and now, Director, NPS, and Park Superintendent Don Neubacher, (now promoted to Yosemite) NPS dealing with the communities of West Marin has been anything but transparent, open and honest.

Despite repeated complaints from the community, overly aggressive law enforcement by Park Rangers led to an initial 2003 incident where an off-duty ranger hosed down passing motorcyclists on Highway 1, leading to an altercation resulting in NPS losing a lawsuit brought by the motorcyclists.  This was then followed by a 2004 incident where the same ranger and a fellow officer, off Seashore property, handcuffed two teenagers and pepper sprayed them in the face and eyes.  This eventually resulted in a $50,000 settlement, but most damaging in the eyes of the small West Marin communities was the fact that then-superintendent Neubacher lied at a public meeting, claiming that he was asking the Marin County DA to investigate the incident, when in fact he was asking the DA to bring charges against the teenagers.  The community was justifiably incensed.

The Park Service actions are extensively documented by Pulitzer Prize winning editor Dave Mitchell in the Point Reyes Light and on his blog, Sparsely Sage and Timely. These two incidents were extensively reported in the local press and seeded a great deal of community distrust in the Park Service.

More closely related to the current oyster situation, in 2004, the Seashore had scoping meetings on the long-overdue update to the 1980 General Management Plan.  These scoping meetings were vague in stating their actual objectives, and but the proposals put forth by NPS appeared to be an attempt to change the balance of the long-standing relationship between pastoral, recreational and natural uses of the Seashore.  This change can be attributed to then-Superintendent Neubacher, increasingly isolated from the community after the law enforcement incident, and a ‘kitchen cabinet’ of three or four individual members of segments of the environmental community (as identified in the 2008 IG report).

The proposed scoping changes brought out the community with virtual ‘pitchforks and torches’ to protest at the meetings, as one local noted.  The GMP proposal was dropped, and the last mention of it is the Seashore’s 2008 GMP newsletter, which handled the issue of mariculture by wholly excluding it from the report – though the report does mention the Socio-Economic study required both for the GMP, and the current Environmental Impact Statement.  The March 2012? DOI/Atkins peer review of the NPS’ Socio Economic shows that the study was yet another NPS expenditure designed to mislead and confuse the public.  Despite the importance of agriculture and mariculture to West Marin, the study made absolutely no mention of the oyster farm, the largest single employer in West Marin next to the Park Service itself.   According to Atkins Peer Reviewer Dr. James Wilen, a UC Davis professor,   “the socioeconomics reviewer (Wilen) found that the methods used to conduct the economic assessment do not follow accepted economic impact analyses practice…” and “economic impacts are assessed using qualitative judgments instead of quantitative measurements, leading to ‘unsubstantiated inferences and interpretations of impacts that are difficult to judge reasonable...”  Once again, NPS research was subordinated to an undisclosed NPS agenda – eliminate the farm, its contributions to community and the economy – and the skilled shellfish workers as well.

Wilen found that the draft EIS derives qualitative impact assessments with minimal comparative data and undefined criteria, leading to conclusions that are ‘vague at best, and misleading at worst.’  Wilen’s concerns directly mirror the concerns of Dr. George Goldman, a planning expert at UC Berkeley, interviewed in a November 20, 2008 column in the Point Reyes Light entitled, ‘Statistics, Damnable Statistics and Lies.”  Goldman noted gross errors in the use of the software that created the plan and concluded that the report “bears little relevance to actual socioeconomic impact and seemed designed to make park policies look good.”  This Atkins Peer Review report was commissioned by NPS itself, in preparation of the Environmental Impact Statement to renew and extend the oyster farm permit.

In January, 2010, Point Reyes Light Editor, Tess Elliott submitted a DQA Complaint to Secretary Salazar to correct errors regarding the omission of economic data from oyster farming in Drakes Estero and related issues.  Copies of the Complaint were provided to Superintendent Neubacher, NPS Director Jarvis, NPS Deputy Science Advisor John Dennis, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Will Shafroth and the then Chief of Staff to the Secretary, Tom Strickland.  It was also provided to several elected officials and the Inspector General’s Office at DOI.  The Complaint detailed the failures and distortions in the NPS-funded report “Economic Impacts Study,” by BAE and requested corrections to the factual exclusions and compliance with various identified NPS Management Policies.  It also inquired about a previous Point Reyes Light DQA filed in 2007, which had not yet been addressed by DOI. In both cases, NPS failed to respond as required by law and policy. They simply ignored the petitions.

During the Secretary’s visit last month, DOI and NPS continued its exclusionary, arbitrary way of doing business in Point Reyes. The Secretary and NPS appear to have modified the definition of a critically important term — “stakeholders, so that only ‘pre-approved’ stakeholders were invited to the community ‘stakeholder’ meeting at Park Headquarters with the Secretary when he visited Point Reyes on November 21, 2012.  People and organizations like long-time and well-respect local environmentalist, Ken Fox, of the Tomales Bay Association, Marin Conservation League and Phyllis Faber, co-founder of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, and other community groups were simply not invited. Faber, a local scientist and founding member of the California Coastal Commission attempted to attend the meeting, but this white-haired, tennis shoe wearing environmental icon was physically blocked by four NPS Park Rangers.

To return to the meeting with the oyster workers, if DOI and NPS had followed law, policy and regulations required in a situation like this, they would have had a full understanding of not only of the oyster workers, but all of West Marin and the true nature of the science and public support for the farm and its long-time oyster workers.  The DOI has been allowed to conduct both the GMP and EIS process in a complex, stove-piped manner that has avoided all accountability for egregious violations of law, policy and procedures.

Secretary Salazar can’t claim that he did not know about such problems in the agency. Inspector General Devaney was asked by Congress to address the “institutional culture of managerial irresponsibility and lack of accountability” in the Interior Department. In his 2006 Congressional testimony, he described a major problem within DOI, namely, “intricate deviations from statutory, regulatory and policy requirements to reach a predetermined end.”  This mirrors exactly the rogue actions of NPS in the Drakes Estero case today, riding roughshod over the rights of the oyster farmer, the oyster workers and the community at large.  It’s time to send a strong message to Secretary Salazar and NPS Director Jarvis:  such behavior will not be tolerated, and remove them from management of the estero and the pastoral zone, and replace it with a separate park management body.  If that’s unacceptable, then it’s time for the White House and the President to provide leadership at Interior and the NPS who will respect the law and the citizens of West Marin.



About russianrivertimes

Northern California's Alternative Uncensored Newspaper
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2 Responses to Environmental Justice in West Marin?

  1. Kathy Voth says:

    There is a White House Petition online asking the President to reverse Salazar’s decision. Supporters can register and sign it at:


    Deadline for raising the necessary 25,000 signatures is December 31, so don’t delay!

  2. Pingback: 12-24-12 Remember the Pulitzer Prize Winning Author’s article “What’s In the Inspector General’s Report?” 8-12-08 « Drakes Bay Oyster Company & the National Park Service. (to watch the video) "THE FRAMING OF AN

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