Kevin Lunny, owner of Drakes Bay Oyster Company, a business that has been blocking the creation of the first marine wilderness on the West Coast, is perhaps the most stubborn man in Northern California. But Lunny’s stubbornness is not the kind that deserves respect. It’s the kind that deserves scorn. And it’s way past time for him to take his tired act elsewhere.
Even the US Supreme Court wants Lunny to go away. On Monday, the high court refused to even hear his appeal of lower court rulings that ordered him to close his oyster business at Point Reyes National Seashore. Lunny and his attorneys had argued that those lower court rulings were wrong and that the federal government was trampling on his alleged legal right to operate his private business in a national park. But Lunny couldn’t convince four of the Supreme Court’s nine justices to agree to review his case — as required to receive a hearing. And this is a conservative court that has repeatedly ruled in favor of corporations and private interests. In other words, the Oyster Man had no case.
Now, normally, when you lose at the trial-court level and in the appellate courts, and then the Supreme Court dismisses your appeal without a hearing, you figure that’s it. It’s over. But not for Lunny. Shortly after the high court’s decision, he held a press conference to declare once more that he would not give up. Although he and his lawyers declined to reveal exactly what they plan to do next, Lunny shrugged off the Supreme Court’s ruling. “This is a disappointment, but not really a setback.”
Not really a setback? Umm. Mr. Lunny, you lost. Again. It’s time to go away. Really.
To say that environmentalists are fed up with Lunny is an understatement. “The courts have told him ‘no’ four times; at some point he needs to understand that no means no,” said Amy Trainer, executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, which has led to the fight to create the first marine wilderness at Drakes Estero in Point Reyes. “It’s plain as day to everyone that he has no legal basis to keep operating. It’s delusional.”
Delusional, actually, is the right word. It fits Lunny better than stubborn.
Let’s review. In 2004, when Lunny bought the oyster farm, he knew its lease with the National Park Service was going to expire in 2012. Indeed, he got the farm at a discount because of that fact. The park service then told him repeatedly that it had no intention of renewing his lease. The reason? In 1976, Congress designated Drakes Estero — the spot his oyster farm occupies — to become a fully protected wilderness once the farm’s lease was up in 2012.
Undaunted, Lunny rallied US Senator Dianne Feinstein to his cause. The senator, in turn, authored legislation that sought to unilaterally award Lunny a new lease. But Feinstein couldn’t get her fellow Democrats to sign on to that legislation, so in 2009 she amended it to give the Secretary of the Interior, who oversees the park service, the discretion to renew Lunny’s lease. After careful review, then-Secretary Ken Salazar decided in November 2012 that the lease should expire as planned.
But Lunny was just getting started. He sought out legal help and quickly teamed up with a Koch-brothers-linked group, which sued Salazar on Lunny’s behalf, asserting the rights of private businesses to operate on public land. Clearly, the right-wing group saw Lunny’s legal battle as a possible way to further erode the power of the federal government. But their case was weak, and so they lost overwhelmingly at the trial-court level.
Realizing that his association with a conservative group was hurting him in the court of public opinion, especially in the liberal Bay Area, Lunny severed ties with the Koch-brothers-linked organization. But he pressed on, nonetheless, and appealed his case to the Ninth Circuit, where he promptly lost a 2-1 decision. He then requested that the entire Ninth Circuit review his case, but not a single appellate judge agreed to do so.
So he went to the US Supreme Court — and was told on Monday to go away.
But based on what’s happened so far, it seems clear that Lunny’s not going anywhere — no matter what the courts or the federal government say. In fact, he’s been operating all through his legal appeals, tending his oyster beds, planting invasive species, and buzzing his boats through the estero, past important pupping grounds for harbor seals.
At this rate, he might only go away if forcibly evicted by the local sheriff — and perhaps not even then.
Oakland Council Goes One for Two
The Oakland City Council made two key decisions last week, but only one of them was a smart move. The council made the right choice by not signing off on a flawed lease extension proposal with the Oakland A’s at the Coliseum. As we noted last week, the deal, engineered by Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan and county Supervisor Scott Haggerty, called for letting the A’s keep the $5 million the team owes the city and county in back rent. The A’s would have spent the money on a new scoreboard, and then would have received all the advertising revenues from it. In short, it wasn’t a good deal.
As for the not-so-smart move, a council committee killed a proposed ballot measure that sought to create a public citizen oversight panel for the scandal-plagued police department. The Oakland police union, not surprisingly, strongly opposed the measure, and the council appeared unwilling to stand up to the union. But that decision could come back to haunt the council if residents decide this fall to vote against Measure Y, a public safety tax renewal, because they’re reluctant to give more money to a department that has been unable to police itself.