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Trump Barges into West Marin Ranching Controversy

Columnist: Bill Meagher
December, 2019 Issue
Columnist

Bill Meagher
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Senator Dianne Feinstein, Congressman Jared Huffman and President Donald Trump on the same side of a divisive local issue? Politics truly do make for strange bedfellows.

The phrase was adapted long ago from The Tempest by Shakespeare, but it came to life in the West Wing with Point Reyes rancher Kevin Lunny thanking Trump for stepping into the fight over the fate of agriculture in the Point Reyes National Seashore.

While Trump carried on about everything from a recent chat with Boris Johnson to Asia’s economy to a baby in the crowd cooing, the reason Lunny found himself in the White House was Trump’s executive orders to supposedly put federal guidelines online and, as he put it, “[to] protect American citizens from secret interpretations of regulations, unexpected penalties, and violations of their rights.”

The White House invited Lunny to point to the National Parks Service (NPS) actions that resulted in the closing of Drakes Bay Oyster Company. And Lunny obliged, according to the official event transcript. “In 2014, the National Park Service launched a National Environmental Policy Act process that cost millions of dollars and lasted over eight years. And the NPS forced our oyster farm out of business. And if that wasn’t enough for our family and our community, today the rest of agriculture, which includes about another 24 ranching family farm businesses within the national seashore, are facing the exact same process.”

The debate over agriculture in the park sharpened considerably once Drakes Bay was told to pack a suitcase. Which is, of course, the point. Lunny and other ranchers and farmers are facing a review process by the NPS, and they’re looking for support in standing their ground.

Trump weighing in isn’t the first time conservative politics entered the fight over business in the seashore. Cause of Action jumped in to help Lunny fight the decision over Drakes Bay Oyster. While Cause of Action bills itself as a non-partisan charity, the fact is it’s tied to the Koch brothers via its financing and structure. It supported Lunny and Drakes Bay gratis in the effort to turn its fate around.

In the latest skirmish, the NPS conducted a review process and is now considering public input it received before it decides whether to allow agricultural activity that was present since the Seashore opened, or to end farming and ranching to provide a purer nature experience for park visitors.

I have doubts Trump could find Point Reyes on a map given a Sharpie and a magnifying glass, but that really isn’t the point. His Big Foot routine in the Roosevelt Room could just be another photo op, or it could actually mean he will put the arm on the Interior Department the way he has the Department of Justice over Russia and the Ukraine, and hand out marching orders regarding ag in Point Reyes.

Of late, he looks for any excuse to interfere in California, a state that holds zero love or votes for him. Since September the administration has attacked the state over the homeless, how much water should flow through the Delta, how veterans can use the GI Bill in California and of course the state’s right to regulate cars sold here. His picking fights in California makes him look tough to his political base and carries zero risk since Trump is never going to score electoral college votes in the Golden State.

In turn, the state brought at least 62 lawsuits against the feds since the coifed one took a seat in the Oval Office and ordered his first Big Mac. Sacramento takes joy from essentially telling Trump and Co. to stay the hell out of life in the fifth largest economy in the world.

Agriculture in Marin was a $94 million industry in 2018, with organic dairies leading the way. While that won’t make anybody forget about Autodesk’s revenues, those dollars turn over three times in the local economy. The fight for agriculture in the seashore is about more than hanging onto a lifestyle, or seeing farm-to-fork up close and personal.

Huffman and Feinstein were vocal in backing ag in the seashore, with Huffman calling for Trump’s impeachment. Feinstein was more circumspect around impeachment, though she participated in hearings tied to investigating the issue.

But if Trump were to actually go beyond getting Kevin Lunny’s name right in a press conference, and tell the Interior Department to interfere with the NPS review of Point Reyes, from a political point of view things would get interesting for Huffman and Feinstein.

Which brings to mind a line the Bard didn’t write, “May you live in interesting times.”

Bill Meagher is a contributing editor with NorthBay biz and pens this column on a monthly basis. He wishes all a joyous holiday filled with laughter and love, or at the very least, credit card bills that don’t make you cry.

 

      

 

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