Paul Wellman

Hundreds of Carpinteria’s residents flocked to the waves of the city’s beach on Saturday in a celebratory protest of Measure J, the ballot initiative being pushed by oil company Venoco, which owns and operates three of the rigs off the Santa Barbara coast. If the measure is approved, it would allow Venoco to skirt the standard environmental review process in its quest to construct a 140-foot drill rig on the city’s bluffs that would slant drill into offshore reserves, an ambitious plan otherwise known as the Paredon Project. Surfer and artist Carrie Reynolds organized the beach event to give the community a chance to speak out in solidarity against Venoco’s plan while enjoying the water and listening to live music.

Venoco first attempted to get Paredon approved by the City of Carpinteria, but the City Council stonewalled the proposal, largely because it would be constructed on environmentally sensitive bluffs near neighborhoods, City Hall, a nature preserve, and the seal rookery. The city also was concerned about the disruptive and constant noise emanating from the 24-hour-day, seven-day-a-week operation, and worried that such commotion could drive down property values and threaten the seals. And there are always risks of eco-disaster, from explosions to spills, as the ongoing environmental crisis in the Gulf Coast illustrates all too well.

Venoco, meanwhile, maintains that this is an initiative to benefit the public, promising big paydays for the community once the oil starts flowing. The company has spent $300,000 on the campaign, which is an exorbitant amount for the small town of Carpinteria, and that alone is alarming many residents. But combine an economy in recession with advertisements that claim Measure J is good for the children, and there are fears that the seemingly unpopular measure could still pass. Of course, what the advertisements fail to mention is that there are no guarantees that Carpinterians will ever see any revenue from the drilling — the operation could turn out to be dud and, if it is profitable, critics claim that the future revenues are not specifically dedicated to the citizens of Carpinteria.

Saturday’s event was a reminder of how contentious oil drilling is on the South Coast, where the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969 prompted the state to pass the still-standing offshore drilling moratorium and sparked the creation of Earth Day. Measure J critics say that this is an attempt to loosen the grip of California’s historical resolve against drilling by setting a dangerous end-around precedent, providing energy companies with a new means of accessing offshore oil.

But this issue is not merely environmental — it is also a legal one regarding Venoco’s attempt to circumvent the standard civic process and exempt itself from the usual government oversight required of any development. As such, the City of Carpinteria has sued Venoco over the measure, claiming that it threatens the city’s ability to regulate and enforce.

Amongst the gathered citizens on Saturday were politicians from throughout the region, including Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, California Assemblymember Pedro Nava, and the Democratic candidates for the 35th California State Assembly District, Susan Jordan and Das Williams. Jordan said the measure “overrides a city’s power” and sets “a terrible precedent” while Williams described it as a move in the wrong direction, explaining that the progressive Santa Barbara region is already moving toward green energy, and away from murky politics.

Among the kayakers, sailors, surfers, and swimmers was the Chumash Maritime Association, which brought their traditional tomol canoe to paddle in support of not only Carpinteria but the entire South Coast. Michael Cordero said the Chumash have been taking care of the coast for thousands of years and warned that a single political misstep could jeopardize the whole area and undo the environmental progress of the last 30 years.

Carpinteria will vote on Measure J on the June 8 ballot.


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