Unable to decide whether to endorse Das Williams or Susan Jordan in the Democratic primary for California’s 35th Assembly District, the California Sierra Club opted to endorse both. Once political allies and colleagues, Jordan and Williams are now engaged in a bitter contest for the hearts and minds of South Coast voters. Both have aggressively touted their environmental credentials. Typically, the Sierra Club gives little or no money to candidates, but its endorsement carries weight because the group, exceptionally well known, bestows the green equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

In this case, the statewide club followed the lead of the Los Padres Chapter, which encompasses both Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Jordan fared better in Ventura, where she’s been involved in high profile campaigns to stop a proposed Liquified Natural Gas plant from being built. Likewise, Williams performed well in Santa Barbara, where he’s served on the Santa Barbara City Council for seven years. To prevail, a given candidate needed to capture a three-quarters majority. Since neither Williams nor Jordan could manage that, the chapter—and the state club—decided to endorse them both. Whoever wins the battle for party nomination will face either Republican candidate Mike Stoker or Daniel Goldberg in November.

While Williams and Jordan can both lay claim to the environmental mantle, they differ sharply on whether PXP, a Texas-based oil company, should be allowed to expand drilling from their platform in federal waters off the coast, into oil reserves located within the state’s jurisdiction. PXP won strong support from a coalition of Santa Barbara environmental groups—most notably Get Oil Out, Citizens Planning Association and the Environmental Defense Center—in exchange for a contractual agreement to stop all drilling off the coast within 14 years, dismantle rigs and processing facilities, and donate lands for preservation.

Williams has supported this agreement. But Jordan and her husband, Pedro Nava, the current California State Assembly member from the 35th district, effectively lobbied the State Lands Commission to reject this deal the first time it went before that body. They contended it was unenforceable and set a dangerous precedent that might open the entire coast to additional oil development.

This disagreement has generated a seismic rift among long-time environmental allies.

Initially, the Sierra Club conditionally endorsed the deal, but only of the terms were enforceable. When the State Lands Commission staff concluded that the terms were not legally enforceable—how could a state agency dictate what occurred in federal waters, they asked?—the Sierra Club withdrew its endorsement.


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