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Spending on Measures A & B on old oil permits breaks county record

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By Kit Stolz Special to the Ojai Valley News

Ventura County voters on June 7 will decide what appears to be the costliest local ballot measure battle in its electoral history, more than doubling the previous record. Already the county’s biggest oil producer, Aera Energy has, over the last two years, donated $6.5 million to a “Stop Measures A and B” coalition. 

Mail-in ballots are expected to arrive in the mailboxes of registered voters on May 9.

Chevron donated $500,000 on April 21 to the campaign against the propositions, and numerous smaller contributions opposing the measures came from consultants and the lobbying group, the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), according to public campaign finance records.

“We’re running a campaign to educate the voters,” said Ben Oakley, manager of California Coastal Region at WSPA, who said he is overseeing the campaign in the county. “We’re presenting facts to the voters about what Measures A and B will do,” he said. “This is a power grab that allows politicians to shut down the oil industry.” 

Measures A and B are modeled after two county ordinances governing unincorporated areas — one for coastal areas, and one for inland areas — that require an environmental review of all new oil wells drilled or redrilled in the county. The measures also impose standard health and safety measures in the design and installation of all new or redrilled wells. 

Though opposed by the oil interests from the start, these ordinances were approved by a 3-2 vote by the Board of Supervisors in November 2020. They were almost immediately set back by a professional signature-gathering campaign for a proposition to roll back the ordinances. The signature-gathering campaign was backed by nearly $1 million in funding from Aera Energy. 

Despite complaints from environmental groups filed in December 2020 with the county Elections Division about misleading statements to voters from the canvassers, the opposition campaign gathered more than 40,000 signatures, and the supervisors were forced to submit the two measures to the voters as a proposition for approval on the June ballot. 

Environmental review of proposed new oil well projects by local agencies has been standard procedure in California since 1970, but drilling for oil began in Ventura County in the 1860s, and thousands of oil wells were drilled without any environmental review and no expiration dates. 

According to a Ventura County Planning Commission report of July 2020, “Approximately 60 percent” of oil wells in Ventura County are currently operated under “antiquated” permits issued in the 1940s.” These permits required no initial environmental review. 

“This is a common-sense measure that protects our health and our water, so that all oil-development projects play by the same rules,” said Tomas Rebecchi of Ventura, Central Coast manager for Food and Water Watch, which has contributed $25,000 to the “Yes on Measures A & B” campaign. 

Rebecchi said his coalition had been outraised by a “40-to-1” margin by the oil industry, but said the “Yes on Measures A and B” campaign got a boost this month when Patagonia donated $450,000 to the VCSAFE (Ventura County Save Agriculture And Freshwater For Everyone) coalition for grass-roots outreach. 

“We believe Ventura County needs adequate safeguards to protect people from the oil infrastructure that surrounds our homes, our offices, our beaches and our recreational spaces,” said J.J. Huggins, a Patagonia spokesperson. “We’ve been interested in the measures since we learned about it and are happy to give the funding for the campaign to help right here in our back yard.” 

Campaign leaders in support of Yes on Measures A and B said they don’t have the advertising dollars that the oil and gas industry has to spend on the campaign, but promise a vigorous grass-roots campaign. 

“Our goal is to speak to as many voters as possible, by phone banking, by text, or by direct door-to-door outreach,” said Lucia Marquez, associate policy director at CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance for a Sustainable Economy). “In Ventura County, we have a lot of cities that rely on groundwater, including Santa Paula, Fillmore, Oxnard, and the city of Ventura. The risk that comes from these antiquated permits that allow drilling to pass right through our aquifers is just very dangerous. We need to make sure we’re protecting our sources of drinking water so that when people turn on their faucets for water they know that it’s safe to drink.”

The ballot language for Measures A and B is:

— MEASURE “A”

“Shall Ordinance No. 4567, an ordinance of the County of Ventura repealing and reenacting Division 8, Chapter 1.1, Sections 8175-5.7 of the Ventura County Ordinance Code, to amend the Coastal Zoning Ordinance regulating oil and gas exploration and production, be adopted?”

MEASURE “B”

“Shall Ordinance No. 4568, an ordinance of the County of Ventura repealing and reenacting Division 8, Chapter 1.1, Sections 8107-5 of the Ventura County Ordinance Code, to amend the Non-Coastal Zoning Ordinance regulating oil and gas exploration and production, be adopted?”

 

 

 

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