by Jack Morse
Following on the protracted fight and ultimate closure of Drakes Bay Oyster Co. last year, Tomales Bay Oyster Company is now in trouble. The popular oyster farm and picnic spot, located in Marshall, five miles north of Point Reyes Station, was ordered on September 16th by the Marin County Community Development Agency to significantly reduce its hours open to the public and to remove all existing picnic tables and BBQ grills changes that TBOC Assistant Manager Sean O’Brien says will not only hurt the company’s bottom line but will force it to lay off thirteen employees.
The order comes on the heels of a decision by the Marin County Planning Commission to deny Tomales Bay Oyster Company’s application for a permit to legalize the existing set up as well as increase parking and bring the number of bathrooms onsite up to code.
On any given afternoon the scene at TBOC is a lively one, with guests grilling and picnicking seven days a week. The farm, which sits right on Tomales Bay along Highway 1, has extremely limited onsite parking, a situation which frequently results in cars parked on both sides of the highway.
This has resulted in predictable complaints from neighbors about traffic, as well as for some to call the situation flat-out dangerous. Liza Crosse, aide to Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey (who also sits on the on the California Coastal Commission), told SFist that TBOC’s popularity has resulted in “hundreds and hundreds of cars parked along Highway 1” and “unsafe conditions along the roadway.”
After the closure of Drakes Bay Oyster Company in 2014, visitors to TBOC and attendant traffic and parking problems only increased.
The oysters farmed by TBOC are available both to-go and for onsite consumption, and it is the latter which has landed the company in trouble. It seems that the TBOC’s 1987 Use Permit granted the company the right to a limited retail operation, but it put the focus on a wholesale farming operation. It is the terms of the 1987 Use Permit, which makes no mention of onsite oyster consumption, that TBOC will now be forced to adhere to.
The last day for picnicking will be on October 11th, as the tables and grills will be removed shortly thereafter. Starting October 16th, TBOC will reopen on a limited basis for cash and carry sales only, according to the 1987-approved hours Friday from noon to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
O’Brien told SFist that this decision “is going to have a really negative impact on [the] business,” as “60 percent of our revenue is from picnickers.”
So what’s next for Tomales Bay Oyster Company? O’Brien explained that they “will resubmit another application and hope for the best,” with the goal of reopening to the public for onsite picnicking at some point in the future.
To aid in this effort, the company has launched a petition with the goal of gathering signatures in support of the business. They intend to submit the list of signatures along with their next permit application. In the meantime, they'll abide by the Commission's ruling.
“We’ve been here since 1909. We’re the oldest farm on the bay and people have been picnicking here forever,” O’Brien told SFist. “Everyone should be able to come out here and enjoy the bay.”