Sanctuary 30th Anniversary Series – Blog #6 “Finding sanctuary: More politics in effort to save the Monterey Bay” by Sam Farr

PUBLISHED: Santa Cruz Sentinel, August 7, 2022
PUBLISHED: Monterey Herald, August 12, 2022

In my last column I described the proposal by Cecil Andrus, Interior Secretary for President Jimmy Carter, for offshore oil drilling in the late 1970s. My friend, the late Jim Rote, alerted me to the proposal and we went to work to galvanize opposition to Lease Sale 53, which galvanized our communities in central California. Jimmy Carter withdrew the proposal. We won, but not for long: Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in 1980.

New tool in the toolbox

Rote pointed out that the federal government had other tools in their ocean toolbox, specifically a process to create a national marine sanctuary. We immediately wanted one. There were only two ways in law to create one — either by nomination from the Department of Commerce, the home of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, or by Congressional action.

We still were in the midst of the energy crisis. The avenue of using NOAA, an agency who reported through the Department of Commerce to President Regan, to create a new sanctuary wasn’t likely to happen. However, our tripartite form of government gave us another avenue, congressional action. We had then Rep. Leon Panetta. Still, this wasn’t going to be an easy avenue. It was not likely a majority of votes could be obtained to enact a bill creating a sanctuary to protect the bay from oil drilling during the national energy crisis.

So, how do you get this through Congress when you couldn’t get the majority in support? By finding a “must pass” bill and adding a small amendment. The bill that was used was the legislation to bail out Florida from federally declared disaster of Hurricane Andrew, a “must pass” bill. My friend, Leon Panetta, will tell this story in a future column.

Boulder Creek’s Jen Brumbaugh qualifies for U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur | Local Roundup
Lobbying around the creation of the sanctuary was intense. Panetta asked State Sen. Henry Mello and me to mobilize local and state support. I found semantics played a role in getting the support of local commercial fishermen. Their response was a strong negative. The concept of “sanctuary” meant something quite different to them, than it did to me. In the church, the area around the altar is considered a sanctuary, a haven, or a place that is protected. It took time and building trust to explain that a “marine sanctuary” would not impact their fishing practices. In the end, we had everyone one in support and created the largest National Marine Sanctuary in the continental United States. However, to this day, many commercial fishermen are still cautious about sanctuary management.

Politics after the sanctuary

In 1998, it was the international Year of the Oceans and also midterm elections. I had been pushing the White House to sponsor a White House conference on the oceans to coincide with the Year of the Oceans. The first reaction by the White House was that it was a good idea, and that perhaps the under secretary of the Navy could keynote the conference in Washington. However, then Sen. Barbara Boxer, who was close to the Clintons, suggested the president ought to keynote the conference and it ought to be in my district in California as both of us were on the ballot and we deserved to get credit for our important work.

Locally, every marine science lab and the Naval Post Graduate (NPS) School wanted the president to visit. I reminded them that just coming here will put Monterey Bay Science Institutions on the map. We can claim the Marine Science Capitol if we all pull together. This organizing effort, led by Lora Lee Martin at UC Santa Cruz, gave birth to the Monterey Bay Crescent Ocean Research Consortium. The consortium eventually grew to include more than 20 institutions of higher education and research around the Monterey Bay Crescent. This organization still exists today.

The first National Ocean Conference attracted the largest turnout of White House officials that I had ever seen. It included President Bill Clinton and the first lady Hilary Clinton, but also Vice President Al Gore, three department secretaries and more than half a dozen members of Congress. (I had never experienced such an esteemed turn out for any other event). We also had world famous marine scientist Sylvia Earle in attendance.

Elementary schools throughout the region sent students, some who had never seen the ocean. The Clintons signed posters that the students had drawn, and the aquarium gave the students special tours. The Naval Post Graduate School hosted academic work shops. The ocean conference was a great success and gave much more understanding of the importance of National Marine Sanctuaries.

Following the Year of the Oceans, a lot of attention was placed on developing stronger ocean management recommendations. The Pew Charitable Trust established a nonprofit commission to recommend management tools. Locally, Panetta and Julie Packard were appointed along with former Republican New Jersey governor and later EPA Administer, Christine Todd Whitman. At the same time, I authored a joint resolution creating a federal commission to get the support of Congress and the White House. It passed. President George W. Bush appointed the commission. He placed a Texas oil executive on the commission along with retired Adm. James Watkins who had been chief naval officer of the Navy and in his father’s, President George H.W. Bush’s, cabinet.

Both commissions made strong recommendations and submitted their recommendations about the same time. I put them in a bill to establish the National Policy for Ocean Management. We called it “Oceans 21.” The goal for all federal agencies examining their jurisdiction was to “do no harm” to the ocean. Despite the bill having several prominent Republican co-sponsors, the Republican controlled House wouldn’t give the bill a hearing. Even with Watkins yearlong effort to get Congress and the White House to pay attention to the work of both important Commissions. No luck.

Sam Farr is a member of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Foundation Board of Directors. He served on the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, the California State Assembly, and represented the central California Coast in the US House of Representatives. He also served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia as a young man. He lives in Carmel with his wife, Shary. For more on the sanctuary’s 30th anniversary, go to



About this series

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary celebrates its 30th anniversary this fall, and the national sanctuary system celebrates its 50th. For the next 12 weeks, the Sentinel will publish columns by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, along with Sam Farr, Dan Haifley, Fred Keeley, and Sanctuary Superintendent Dr. Lisa Wooninck. All of these contributors serve on the board of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and were involved with the Sanctuary’s designation.