It used to be that Santa Barbara ruling elites had a modicum of common sense. Say what you want about the landed gentry, mouths into which silver spoons were born, and, of course, the white patriarchal privilege thing, but those snugly sinecured in their valley ranchos and behind vaulted hedges knew a thing or two about maintaining the status quo.
I was reminded of this last week when President Donald Trump issued yet another executive order, this one threatening — at least hypothetically — to open up the Pacific coast to further oil development. Statewide enviros quickly held a DefCon Four fire drill in response, and Santa Barbara’s State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson introduced a bill that would effectively declare all state waters off-limits to any of the infrastructure needed to further drill in federal waters. For enviros who have traditionally insisted upon belts-and-suspenders vigilance where offshore oil is concerned, Jackson’s bill has moved us to bulletproof vests and bomb shelters. As a rhetorical gesture, Jackson’s bill sends Trump a finely wrought, one-fingered salute. But given how her other anti-oil bills have fared, I don’t see this one getting anywhere.
That’s probably okay given the limited nature of the actual threat. Only by staring into the sun can the language of that order be construed to apply to the Pacific coast’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), or more colloquially, our beach. That order was designed to undo actions taken by Barack Obama in the last days of his administration making vast swaths of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans off-limits to new oil and gas exploration. Nowhere in that order is any language opening up the coast of Florida to such exploration, an interesting coincidence given the frequency of Trump’s visits to Mar-a-Lago. Also nowhere in Trump’s new order is there any reference to the Pacific. But then again, nothing in the order says tracts of the Pacific OCS cannot be considered in the future for offshore oil exploration. To the extent there’s anything remotely specific in Trump’s order pertaining to our area, it’s that the potential for oil and gas development must be considered when deciding to designate any new areas a national monument. Such language could weigh against the creation of a Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary — now under discussion — but I’ve never regarded that plan as a serious possibility.
Conspicuously missing in action have been the landed gentry who in years past — long before the birth of the modern environmental movement — played a major role fighting back against offshore oil … and effectively, too. Contrary to popular journalistic fiction, Santa Barbara’s hate-hate affair with Big Oil didn’t start with the Oil Spill of 1969. Way back in 1954 — 15 years before The Spill — it was the blue bloods and landed gentry who first conspired to stop offshore oil development. That’s the year former mayor Jack Rickard got a bill passed declaring oil development off-limits for a stretch of Santa Barbara coast 16 miles long. Rickard — a card-carrying Republican who would later be appointed a superior court judge by then-governor Ronald Reagan, now a Republican deity — was as wily an operator as Santa Barbara has ever seen. He got the bill passed by convening a hearing of the state legislature right here in Santa Barbara, taking the attendees out on a blissful tour of the channel, wining and dining them in fine fashion, and then twisting arms, buttonholing, and exploiting his old-school connections for what they were worth. Back then, Rickard and the Powers that Be, Republicans and Democrats, had decided Santa Barbara’s economic future lay in the expansion of UCSB (then a fledgling UC campus) corporate think tanks, and enterprises that could be described as smokeless industry. In this scenario, oil development, very conspicuously, was flat-out bad for business.
In their own inimical ways, Rickard and Jackson each got it right. For all the oil out there, it’s strictly a short-term proposition. Recent estimates suggest that if you maxed out the channel for 25 years, you’d get enough oil to supply the United States for 22 days. By contrast, if you increase the fuel efficiency standards by just .01 percent, you’d “produce” more oil than that in energy savings.
In this context, I was sorry to learn that a family trust on which Adam Firestone is a trustee — Rock Hollow 2013 Trust — donated $250,000 to Trump’s inauguration. Firestone is now most famous for cocreating the popular, successful Firestone Walker Brewing Company right here in River City. Firestone is the bear seen on the company label, and Walker the lion. He’s also the son of Brooks Firestone — scion of the Firestone tire and rubber empire which used to all but own the nation of Liberia — who helped pioneer wine production in the Santa Ynez Valley. Brooks represented Santa Barbara in Sacramento in both the Assembly and Senate and later served a few terms as 3rd district supervisor. Though Brooks was the epitome of the rock-ribbed Republican plutocrat, he was remarkably accessible. He was also sane and moderate. Perhaps that’s why he was savaged far worse by the Republican right wing than he ever was by Democrats. I don’t pretend to know Adam or why he might have made such a lavish gift to the inauguration of Donald Trump — even among gazillionaires, $250,000 qualifies as a lot of money — but sanity and moderation rank high among the qualities Trump violently repudiates on a daily basis.
It should be noted that Firestone Walker didn’t make the donation. It just happens to share a mailing address with the trust that did. Adam Firestone grew up in the Santa Ynez Valley. I’m guessing that former valley resident and fellow vintner Tom Barrack — who ran Trump’s inaugural committee — might have put the neighborly squeeze on Adam. In an equally neighborly way, he wrote out a check for $250,000.
Jack Rickard, I’m certain, would have figured out how to say no.
Good thing I drink Guinness.