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PD Editorial: Thumbs up, thumbs down

  • In this photo taken Wednesday Nov. 21, 2012, workers on a scow bring in a load of freshly harvested oysters at Drakes Bay Oyster Company in Point Reyes National Seashore, Calif. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, said he will shut down an historic Northern California oyster farm along Point Reyes National Seashore, designating the site as a wilderness area. Salazar said he will not renew the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. lease that expires Friday. The move will bring a close to a years-long environmental battle over the site. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

<b>Effort to bankrupt newspaper fails</b>

Two months ago, we published a column by Dan Morain of the Sacramento Bee highlighting the trials of a Glenn County newspaper publisher and editor who was battling for the survival of his paper. In a dispute with a local school district, a judge inexplicably found that a California Public Records Act lawsuit by Tim Crews, publisher of the Sacramento Valley Mirror, was frivolous and he ordered him to pay $56,595 in attorneys' fees and costs.

The judgment would not only have put Crews, who makes roughly $20,000 a year, out of business, but also would have set a dangerous precedent. Allowing public agency to threaten requesters with liability for attorneys' fees would have had a chilling effect on the public's right to access government information under the Public Records Act.

Fortunately, that threat was put to rest on Wednesday by state appellate court which struck down the lower court order, noting that Crews' petition for school records — emails in this case — "was not utterly devoid of merit or taken for an improper motive. Consequently, his action was not frivolous, and he should not have been ordered to pay attorney fees and costs." Another important win for openness.

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<b>That sinking feeling</b>

One of the primary arguments made by the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. in its battle to stay open in a section of the Point Reyes National Seashore that has been designated as a federal wilderness is that an oyster farm is an environmentally friendly business.

So wouldn't it make sense to scrupulously follow state environmental laws while the battle over the oyster farm's permit plays out in Congress and the federal courts?

On Thursday, a Marin County judge ordered the oyster farm to comply with California Coastal Commission cease-and-desist orders directing it to stop cultivating non-native species, to remove debris from the estuary and to resolve other long-standing issues.

Supporters of the oyster farm challenged the Coastal Commission orders, then, in a head-spinning twist, claimed victory after losing in court. That's quite a fish tale.


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