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  • Writer's pictureAntonio Gonzales

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Schwarzenegger's MLPA Initiative: A Question of Bad Public Policy by Dan Bacher Proponents of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative constantly gush in generic terms how the controversial process is "open, transparent and inclusive." Anybody who criticizes any aspect of the privately funded initiative is blasted for being against "ocean protection." However, what many critics of the MLPA Initiative are actually opposed to is the parody of marine protection that Schwarzenegger's initiative has become. Many supporters of comprehensive ocean protection point out that the intent of the law, signed by Governor Gray Davis in 1999, has been continually violated under a privately funded process filled with numerous conflicts of interest and violations of state, federal and international laws. The MLPA, as implemented on the South, Central, North Central and North Coasts of California, has completely taken oil drilling, water pollution, wave energy projects, corporate aquaculture, habitat destruction and all other human uses of the ocean off the table other than fishing and gathering. The law, as now implemented, would do nothing to stop an ecological catastrophe like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico from devastating the California coast. What type of marine protection is this? Many critics of the Initiative believe that the privatization of California ocean and bay management through an initiative privately funded by the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation is very bad public policy. This process has violated the Bagley-Keene Open Meetings Act, the California Public Records Act, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and other laws. The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces appointed by Schwarzenegger include oil industry, real estate, marina development and other corporate interests whom many believe have clear conflicts of interest in the process. The current marine protected area proposals for Southern California were crafted under the leadership of Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association and the chair of the South Coast MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force, who has called for new oil drilling off the California coast. In spite of claims by MLPA Initiative proponents that the process is "open, transparent and inclusive," thousands and thousands of Californians feel that their voices are not being heard in the process. In fact, 300 Tribal members, fishermen, immigrant workers and environmentalists felt so left out of the MLPA process that they had to organize a march and direct action to peacefully take over a MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting in Fort Bragg on July 21 so their voices would finally be heard. Those of us who have been involved in creating these marine protected areas under the MLPA Initiative, the citizens who will be locked out of areas in the ocean where we have recreated, fished, and made a living for years, know from personal experience that the most open and transparent process ever, the one with unprecedented transparency and stakeholder involvement -- is anything but, said Jim Martin, the West Coast Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, in his recent article in the Capitol Weekly. In fact, the members of 50 Indian Nations and their allies who participated in the historic direct action in Fort Bragg felt so disenfranchised by this allegedly open and transparent process that they are willing to risk arrest to defend their sovereign right to gather and practice their religion as they have done for thousands of years. Thomas ORourke, the chair of the Yurok Tribal Council, told the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force on July 21, We as an Indian Nation have the right to manage our resources. The people who have managed for the last 200 years havent done so well in managing the land and our coast." It is wise to listen to the people who managed these lands for thousands of years, he continued. We believe in protecting species. We will continue to exercise our right to harvest seaweed and fish as we always have. You have to take us to jail until you go broke and you fix this law. The Yurok Tribe has a representative, Megan Rocha, on the MLPAs Regional Stakeholder group. However, ORourke said the MLPA process has viewed tribes exactly the same as recreational fishermen, even though tribes are sovereign nations. There is nothing more offensive than the lack of recognition we have received from the Initiative, he stated. We are a sovereign government within the State of California and should be treated accordingly. We would like the Blue Ribbon Task Force to do what is morally right and remove tribes from this inappropriate process. "If the MPLA is so 'open, transparent and inclusive,' why are the California tribes continuously being ignored?" emphasized Morning Star Gali, a member of the Ajumawi band of the Pit River nation and IITC (International Indian Treaty Council) community liaison coordinator. Everybody who supports environmental justice and sound public policy in California should support an oversight hearing to investigate the conflicts of interests, mission creep and violation of state, federal and international laws under the MLPA Initiative. Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez last year proposed such a hearing, but Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg apparently squashed it. Assemblyman Wes Chesbro also announced at this springs Legislative Fisheries Form that he planned to hold a hearing on the MLPA. I have challenged MLPA proponents to answer the following questions that cut to the core of the current MLPA process. None have responded to the specific questions, but only continue to repeat their unsubstantiated claims that the Initiative is "open, transparent and inclusive" and that anybody who criticizes the initiative is an opponent of "ocean protection." Here are the questions: Why did the Governor and MLPA officials install an oil industry lobbyist, a marina developer, a real estate executive and other corporate interests as "marine guardians" to remove Indian Tribes, fishermen and seaweed harvesters from the water? Isn't this very bad public policy? Why is Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, allowed to make decisions as the chair of the BRTF for the South Coast and as a member of the BRTF for the North Coast, panels that are supposedly designed to "protect" the ocean, when she has called for new oil drilling off the California coast? Do we want to see oil rigs off Point Arena, Fort Bragg and other areas of some of the most beautiful coastline of North America? Why is a private corporation, the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, being allowed to privatize ocean resource management in California through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the DFG? Why do the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) and Science Advisory Team continue to violate the California Public Records Act by refusing to respond to numerous requests by Bob Fletcher, former DFG Deputy Director, for key documents and records pertaining to the MLPA implementation process? Why do MLPA staff and the California Fish and Game Commission refuse to hear the pleas of the representatives of the California Fish and Game Wardens Association, who oppose the creation of any new MPAs until they have enough funding for wardens to patrol existing reserves? Why did MLPA staff until recently violate the Bagley-Keene Act and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by banning video and audio coverage of the initiative's work sessions? Why has the Initiative shown no respect for tribal subsistence and ceremonial rights? This is an overt violation of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Article 32, Section 2, of the Declaration mandates "free prior and informed consent" in consultation with the indigenous population affected by a state action ( The MLPA also violates Article 26, Section 3, that declares, "States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned." Why are there no Tribal scientists on the MLPA Science Advisory Team and why were there no Tribal representatives on the Blue Ribbon Task Forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast or South Coast MLPA Study Regions? Why does the initiative discard the results of any scientists who disagree with the MLPA's pre-ordained conclusions? These include the peer reviewed study by Dr. Ray Hilbert, Dr. Boris Worm and 18 other scientists, featured in Science magazine in July 2009, that concluded that the California current had the lowest rate of fishery exploitation of any place studied on the planet. Why does the MLPA Initiative refuse to acknowledge California Indian Tribes as sovereign nations? Finally, why did 300 Tribal members, fishermen, immigrant workers and environmentalists on July 21 feel so left out of the MLPA process that they had to organize a march and direct action to take over a MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting so their voices would be finally heard? Ill leave you with a quote from Frankie Joe Myers, a Yurok Tribal citizen and organizer of the Coastal Justice Coalition: This is about more than a fouled-up process that attempts to prohibit tribes from doing something they have done sustainably for thousands of years. It is about respect, acknowledgement and recognition of indigenous peoples rights. For more information about the tribal perspective on the MLPA process, go to the Coastal Justice Coalition's website:

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