LAND AND SEA

Santa Barbarans awoke last Sunday morning to visions of the
apocalypse – or at least a lot of nasty ash generated by a large
fire in Los Padres National Forest. By midweek, winds had died down
and smoke from the blaze had dissipated. The Day Fire – so named
because it started on Labor Day weekend – unexpectedly doubled in
size last weekend, burning over 85,000 acres and coming within
seven miles southeast of Lockwood Valley, near Ojai. No structures
had been reported burned by Tuesday, though the fire had
incinerated a condor sanctuary in the Sespe Wilderness. With the
fire 20 percent contained Wednesday morning, and Santa Ana winds
expected to resume on Friday, the Los Padres was closed to the
public in Kern, Ventura, and southern Santa Barbara counties. Fire
service investigators have determined that human activity started
the Day Fire; the investigation into who caused it and how is
ongoing.

While water districts across the South Coast have been
increasing water rates for their agricultural customers – or trying
to – the City of Santa Barbara just cut the rate it charges such
customers by 10 percent, decreasing the average ag water bill by
about $130. Even so, Santa Barbara’s 71 ag users – mostly avocado
growers – still pay more for water than their counterparts in other
districts. This cut will reduce revenues for the water department,
which enjoys an annual budget of $26 million, by $9,000. The city
council approved a 3.5 percent increase in general water rates
earlier this year.

The endangered California sea otter got a reprieve from water
pollution, disease, and poachers this week. On Monday, Governor
Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill enhancing protections for the
sea otter population, which has been threatened by oil spills,
encounters with fishing gear, habitat degradation, and food
resource limitation resulting from pollution. The bill was authored
by Dave Jones (D-Sacramento) and John Laird (D-Santa Cruz).

San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace (MFP) – a nuclear watchdog
organization – filed a motion with the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission asking the federal agency to suspend Pacific Gas &
Electric’s (PG&E) license to oversee the installation of dry
cask storage for spent nuclear fuel at the Diablo Canyon nuclear
power plant. The MFP objects to PG&E’s decision to install the
casks without first conducting an environmental impact review. The
9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the MFP on September
6; PG&E reportedly plans to appeal the decision to the U.S.
Supreme Court. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has refused to
recognize the 9th Circuit’s ruling.

Santa Barbara Assemblymember Pedro Nava blasted plans to
construct a liquefied natural gas facility off the coast of Long
Beach, charging the facility would emit 25 million tons of
greenhouse gases each year. Nava argued that building the LNG plant
would fly in the face of the recently passed law to restrict
greenhouse gas emissions in California. He also argued that the
facility would put too many people at risk in the event of an
explosion. LNG supporters insist the technology is safe, and that a
new plant would make state residents less vulnerable to shortages
and attendant cost spikes. Nava’s wife, Susan Jordan, is a
well-known environmental activist leading the charge against LNG
plants in California.

Attorney Mary Ellen Barilotti of Los Olivos won a showdown in
federal court against the U.S. Forest Service that Santa Barbara
forest activists hope will set a precedent for Los Padres National
Forest, where the controversial Adventure Pass has been required of
visitors for more than a decade. Barilotti – whose client was
ticketed for parking her car beside a road in a national forest in
Arizona without a pass – argued that the latest federal rules limit
the collection of pass fees to areas that have been substantially
improved, like campgrounds and picnic areas. The judge agreed,
arguing that a maintained trail – on which Barilotti’s client was
hiking – did not fall into that category. Forest Service officials,
who rely on forest pass revenues, plan to appeal the ruling.

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