Representative Jared Huffman, home in Marin during the congressional summer recess, paid a visit to Point Reyes Station this week to hear from his constituents.
Comments and questions from residents at the Dance Palace on Monday largely reflected favor for his viewpoint: he won 77 percent of the vote last year to take representation of the state’s second district.
Rep. Huffman, nevertheless put in the hot seat several times, addressed topics ranging from the future of ranching in the Point Reyes National Seashore to wealth inequality, immigration, gun control, health care, climate change and President Donald Trump. Several speakers challenged his outspoken support for ranching in the seashore, reflected in a bill he co-authored last year that proposed elk management and 20-year ranch leases.
One woman commended him for his past efforts to protect the environment, but pressed him on the park: “Given the impending threat of climate change and knowing that the beef and dairy industry is the largest contributor of Point Reyes National Seashore’s greenhouse gas emissions, knowing [it] has been documented polluting water systems, spreading noxious weeds, spreading invasive species and threatening endangered and threatened species, including snowy plover and tule elk… how will you ensure that the park lessens its greenhouse gas emissions and protects its biodiversity?”
The congressman first reminded the audience that the park service is expected any day to deliver the draft environmental impact statement on the amendment to the seashore’s general management plan, which will outline management strategies for ranching and elk. Yet he also made clear the way he wants the chips to fall.
“I am not one of those who believes that the handful of multigenerational and, I believe, sustainable ranches and dairies need to be pushed out of the park,” he said. “I am also not for cutting anyone a break under the Endangered Species Act if it is true that there is that kind of impact, though I don’t think there is, and I think that assertion is going to be heavily disputed.”
He continued to present a broader perspective, which he underscored several times during the town hall in response to other objections.
“The very conception of the Point Reyes National Seashore included a reservation for what was referred to as a pastoral zone,” he said. “It was all about protecting that part of an agricultural heritage in West Marin from development at that time which was going to turn it into track homes. So as much as it may be tempting for some folks to say, “Let’s just get rid of it,” because we want to see elk everywhere—not just in the wilderness and at Pierce Point—I think we can’t totally do violence to what the Point Reyes National Seashore was all about.”
Applause erupted in the room of around 100 people.
In another crowd pleaser, the representative broke some local news. Responding to a concern about the timeline of the county’s purchase of the 36-home former United States Coast Guard property in Point Reyes Station, he revealed that the board of supervisors will consider authorizing a notice of intent to purchase next week. That deal has been long in the making: Rep. Huffman helped to pass legislation that earmarks the property for the county’s purchase for use as affordable housing.
Most of the other issues raised were national. Wealth inequality? He said the $23 trillion and growing national debt was putting the country in “real trouble,” and lamented the lowering of the corporate income tax rate. He said he saw tangible steps as investing in infrastructure, education and health care, creating well-paying jobs in those industries.
Immigration? He has spent some of his recess at the border in El Paso to see the conditions for himself; he directed residents to support the Canal Alliance when considering how to help displaced immigrant children and families.
Gun control? He considers gun violence an epidemic and co-sponsored H.R. 8, which would mandate a background check before every firearm sale and passed the House in February. Health care? “I happen to believe in Medicare for All,” he said.
Climate change? The representative sits on the select committee on climate change, as well as numerous environmental committees and coalitions, and is an original co-sponsor of the Green New Deal resolution.
When it came to the President, the audience and the congressman appeared united. “You almost can’t exaggerate this threat to our democracy that we are facing right now,” Rep. Huffman said. “And it’s more than just our democracy: There’s an ugliness and a hatred woven into it… Don’t think for a minute that we are immune to the same dark forces that took over the democracy in Germany in the 1930s.”
He continued, “What can we do about it? As exhausting as it is, as overwhelming and unpleasant as it can be and as powerless as we can feel, we have to just keep calling it out every single time we see it. And standing up, whether that’s in the streets or, in my case, I’m trying to light my hair on fire in Congress and do everything I can to bring my colleagues over.”
An audio recording of the town hall can be found at kwmr.org/post/9455.