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Close to Home: Permanent coastal protection is almost here

  • (The Press Democrat)

On a warm evening in 1988 at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, I sat with a group of women delegates from the North Coast listening to Rachel Binah — our coastal protection political and spiritual leader — who was rallying us to oppose offshore oil and support then-Rep. Barbara Boxer. We wore T-shirts with crossed-out oil derricks, and when Boxer delivered a rousing speech, we waved posters and cheered her boisterously.

I don't wear a shirt with a slogan unless I believe in it. I love our coast and know that with its beauty and natural bounty comes a responsibility for those of us who live here to protect it. Protecting our Sonoma Coast became a major part of the campaign that brought me to Congress as Boxer's successor in 1993.

At that time, California's coast was protected only by a temporary moratorium banning oil exploration and drilling. The moratorium required an annual renewal by Congress. When Democrats were in the majority, this was not a big worry. But when the majority shifted in 1995, it became very uncertain.

In 2004, my staff and I discovered that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had studied our coast and found that its living marine resources were equal to, and in some cases exceeded, those in the nearby Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries. These sanctuaries are similar in many ways to an oceanic national park. Oil and gas exploration is banned, while fishing and appropriate recreation are welcomed. It didn't take long for us to conclude that the way to protect our coast was to expand the two sanctuaries.

Tom Roth took on the assignment of project manager, and our office set out to make it happen. We asked for advice from the experts: Richard Charter, a coastal resident and a nationally known ocean activist; Ed Ueber, former marine sanctuary superintendent; Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations; Susan Williams, then-director of the Bodega Marine Lab; staff from Sen. Boxer's office and the House Natural Resources Committee; and many others.

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