Situated about 50 miles from Drakes Estero in Marin County, the landlocked city of Sonoma would seem an unlikely place to take a stand in an oyster company's fight for survival.
But colorful signs supporting the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. have popped up all over town, and the Sonoma City Council on Monday unanimously adopted a resolution calling on state and federal legislators to intervene on the company's behalf.
The city's resolution cites the "heroic efforts" by Kevin and Nancy Lunny to keep their oyster company going in Drakes Estero, a 2,500-acre federally protected estuary in the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Sonoma leaders consider the company a sterling example of sustainable agriculture and the kind of environmental leadership the city of 10,000 residents promotes.
Councilwoman Laurie Gallian said the case highlights "what is being done to (a) small farmer without due process." If the city failed to act, "we would be very lax in our ability to set policy and lead communities," she said.
On Tuesday, Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, said the state Legislature cannot get involved in pending litigation, referring to the oyster farm's legal battle with the Department of the Interior following former Secretary Ken Salazar's order last fall to close the farm that harvests $1.5 million worth of oysters a year.
"We need to await the outcome of that (legal) process," said Levine, who was elected in November to a Sonoma-Marin district that includes Drakes Estero.
Asked if he thought California had the right to lease the estero bottom for oyster production, a fact assumed by the resolution, Levine said that even if that were the case the oyster company "still may need to deal with getting access to the shoreline."
"That's a question that I would have," he said.
Rep. Jared Huffman, also a San Rafael Democrat whose North Coast district includes Drakes Estero, declined comment Tuesday, citing the press of congressional business.
Huffman has previously remained neutral in the oyster company dispute.
Three judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals are expected to rule by mid-July on the Lunnys' request to continue raising Pacific oysters in the estero, a biologically rich waterway that hosts fish, migrating birds, bat rays, leopard sharks and one of California's largest harbor seal colonies.
The farm's permit to raise shellfish in waters designated by Congress as "potential wilderness" expired in November and Salazar did not renew it.
The Lunnys immediately filed a federal lawsuit alleging the decision was "arbitrary and capricious" and based on flawed scientific assessments of their farm's impact on the estero.
Sonoma Mayor Ken Brown said Tuesday he brought the resolution to the council at the urging of Yannick Phillips, who like Brown is a member of the Sonoma Valley Grange.
Brown also noted that members of the Lunny family reside in Sonoma.
Councilman Steve Barbose said the oyster company is part of a "real movement" around locally sourced food. He called on cities in Marin County to get on board.
Twenty-four people addressed the council Monday with only two criticizing the resolution. Supporters included several members of the Lunny family and employees of the oyster farm.
Hunt Bailie, manager of Murphy's Irish Pub in Sonoma, told the council his staff shucks up to 400 Drakes Bay oysters every week. The pub's Tuesday night parties featuring beer-steamed bivalves are a popular draw for locals.