Hundreds of opponents of Measure J — Venoco Oil’s controversial ballot initiative that aims to expedite its Paredon drilling project — took to the streets of downtown Carpinteria on Friday for the symbolic launch of a blimp, meant to represent the physical height of an oil rig proposed in the legislation.
“See? That’s what a 140-foot-high [drill] will look like,” said one protester, pointing with a picket sign to the orange balloon floating above her head.
But, it’s not only potentially compromised aesthetics that had the coastal residents up in arms: Several protestors cited the putative health and safety risks that the oil development project would allegedly pose.
“I’ve lived here all my life and I don’t want to breathe dirty fumes,” said 19-year-old Johanna Sediny, who attended the event with her family. “And the seal population here, which is a huge tourist draw, will be impacted by the noise. This isn’t worth it.”
Vice-Mayor Al Clark said the ballot initiative will avoid environmental review and other regulations usually applied to these projects, resulting in “the loss of the city’s ability to protect the health and safety of the public.” He went on to pose a scenario, in which a compressor generates benzene and the oil company purchases offset credits, leaving the community with a “cancer footprint.”
“The BP oil spill makes this more dramatic,” said one protestor. Clark agreed. “What BP taught us,” he said, “is that no matter how advanced drilling technology is, the technology used for cleanup is still in the Stone Age. That should definitely be considered in the case that something goes wrong.”
The preservation of community control was clearly a salient issue for Measure J protestors. “You see that this isn’t just a small group of advocates,” said former mayor and three-term city councilmember Donna Jordan, “it’s the majority of the community. But Paredon put hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaigning for this,” she went on as she perused a “Yes on J” flyer made to resemble the city’s local paper. According to Jordan, Venoco has spent between $700,000-$800,00 campaigning for Measure J, while opponents spent about a tenth of that amount for their campaign against it.
“You know, we have all of the issues you have in a national campaign, except we all know each other’s names out here”, said Ted Rhodes, President of Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs, as he marched towards Linden Avenue — where the blimp was anchored — to join Jordan and the other protestors. “We would be out here for any big box company, any business coming in and not going through the process. This is about community.”
Sara Beladi is an Independent intern.