LEON PANETTA: WORTHY FIGHTS

by Dan Haifley

SPECIAL OFFSITE & TICKETED EVENT
LEON PANETTA, Worthy Fights
CONVERSATION & BOOK SIGNING
Monday Evening, November 10th at 7:00pm
At Peace United Church


Panetta will be in conversation with Jim Newton, editor-at-large of the Los Angeles Times. A booksigning will follow.
Please see click here regarding ticket availability.

Former Congressman, Secretary of Defense, and CIA Director Leon Panetta reflects on his legendary career in his inspiring autobiography. Imbued with the honest, grounded, and often quite funny spirit of a man who never lost touch with where he came from, Worthy Fights takes us from his family’s walnut farm in Carmel Valley all the way to Washington D.C. Panetta’s story is a testament to a lost kind of political leadership which favors progress and duty to country over partisanship.

Leon Panetta was born in Monterey and played a vital role in establishing the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Together with his wife Sylvia he founded the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, which provides a variety of study opportunities in government, politics and public policy, and sponsors a range of other programs.

Dan Haifley, local ocean advocate, reflects on the contributions that Congressman Leon Panetta made toward protecting our environment.

Leon Panetta’s biography, Worthy Fights, is packed with political battles waged during his remarkable career as lawyer, farmer, U.S. congressmember, CIA director, Secretary of Defense, and presidential Chief of Staff and budget director. The book’s title describes those battles as fights worth having and if you know Leon, you know he means it. As a child of immigrants, raised on hard work, his passion is congenital. I’ve seen it during the 35 years I have gotten to know him in the frenetic arena of ocean advocacy.

The story of Leon and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary starts with the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, which gave Americans nightly images of oil-soaked birds struggling for life. That event motivated Congress to approve a new law allowing the creation of marine sanctuaries, and the newly formed California Coastal Commission proposed such status for Monterey Bay.

Leon was elected to Congress in 1976, two years after the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon, for whom he once worked in the area of civil rights; he quit in despair of the Nixon administration’s politics. Panetta began work on securing marine sanctuary status for Monterey Bay and 12 years later, in 1988, he got congressional authorization to begin planning a marine sanctuary at Monterey Bay.

Leon was able to get that authorization, without which today’s sanctuary would never have been possible, using his patience, persistence, and sense of humor over that long interlude. He neither oversold the idea nor neglected to bring it up at opportune moments.

The Backstory—Offshore Oil
After just a few years in Washington, Leon established himself as an ocean expert. Backed by Richard Charter, a Bodega Bay resident who lobbied Congress using a network of local governments and environmentalists who could generate letters and phone calls, Panetta had worked as a member of the House Appropriations Committee to obtain an annual moratorium which literally denied funds to the federal government to run copy machines or buy pencils needed to plan for leasing ocean real estate to oil companies. I was working on behalf of Save Our Shores and the City of Santa Cruz to pass 26 local ordinances in municipalities from Humboldt to San Diego to curb onshore facilities for offshore oil, attracting a lawsuit by the Western Oil and Gas Association.

Leon’s yearly moratoria worked until 1986, when it failed in committee by a single vote. The year before, a compromise had been presented that involved some limited drilling off California, but it was soundly rejected by coastal residents and environmentalists. After the moratorium’s defeat, Panetta was able to use his skills to, for the first time, secure a federal pathway toward Monterey Bay being designated a sanctuary.

Leon once told me the story of a discussion with a powerful committee chair in which he asked for expansive protection against offshore oil. That wasn’t possible, the chair replied—what else did he want? Leon got his chance. “I want a marine sanctuary for Monterey Bay.” He got it.

While the loss of the moratorium had made the coastline newly vulnerable to oil drilling, marine sanctuary status provided an opportunity for permanent protection. The Environmental Working Group was formed in 1988 to promote the largest boundary and strongest protections. Representing Save Our Shores, I served as its co-chair, along with Rachel Saunders of the Center for Marine Conservation (now called the Ocean Conservancy).

Also participating was long-time environmentalist and Pacific Grove resident Jo Stallard, who also served on a committee formed by Leon Panetta and his wife and unpaid advisor, Sylvia Panetta, to help guide discussions about the rules that would govern the new sanctuary. That group included Monterey County agricultural commissioner Dick Nutter, fisher Dave Danbom, then–state assemblymember Sam Farr, state senator Henry Mello, and others.

Trust and Humor
Leon was raised in Monterey in a neighborhood he affectionately refers to as “Spaghetti Hill.” Fishing was the center of the world he’d grown up in, and fishers were suspect of marine sanctuary status. At least one previous effort to obtain sanctuary status had failed due in part to their opposition.

Leon worked to ensure that fishing would remain regulated by the federal and state agencies who knew the business best. He used his considerable credibility to keep fishers and environmentalists—including me—on board.

After Panetta obtained congressional approval for a marine sanctuary for the region, the federal government began to consider seven options for its boundary and size. The Environmental Working Group supported “Option Five” to protect an area stretching from Cambria in San Luis Obispo County to Point Reyes in Marin County.

An Unlikely Victory
Thousands of people attended public hearings, wrote letters, and made phone calls, most supporting the largest boundary in order to prevent offshore oil from Marin County to northern San Luis Obispo County. Local counties, using money from oil royalties, helped fund research about the biological diversity of the region, which was part of the scientific basis for the boundaries. But the most critical piece was the politics. President George H.W. Bush, who had been in the oil business, was running for reelection and was down in California polls, a must-win state. In a bid to gain environmentally concerned voters, he ordered the creation of the sanctuary using that largest boundary. It didn’t get him reelected, but it got us the permanent protection we sought.

Without the persistence, patience, and infectious humor of Leon Panetta, the coastline we see between the Golden Gate Bridge and Cambria would be a different place. And not a better one.

Dan Haifley has been Executive Director of O’Neill Sea Odyssey since 1999 and has also served as the Executive Director of Save Our Shores. His column, “Our Ocean Backyard,” appears in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

 

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