Most Santa Barbara County residents didn’t vote on Tuesday, but those who did made one thing clear: They didn’t support Measure P. Shot down by a whopping 62.65 percent of voters, the contentious initiative — which would have banned all new fracking, acidizing, and cyclic steam injection wells in the county’s unincorporated regions — pitted environmentalists sounding the alarm on climate change against the oil industry calling for fair regulations. And the oil industry — with help from operators in Santa Barbara County and beyond — dug into its deep pockets, shelling out approximately $6.6 million to defeat the measure, while Measure P supporters raised just more than $400,000.
Measure P took root in the spring when, in mere weeks, an activist group dubbing themselves the Water Guardians gathered 16,000 signatures in support of the ban. Environmental groups including the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) and the Community Environmental Council (CEC), as well as the county chapter of the Democratic Party, Assemblymember Das Williams, and State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, also joined the Guardians in advocating for the initiative. But being outmatched more than 16 times over in fundraising and facing a low-turnout midterm election with little else to galvanize progressive voters — and, in Measure P itself, a lot to galvanize conservative voters — getting the ban passed proved impossible.
“You fought a righteous fight. Your voices mattered. You were the spark that has started a true grassroots movement for change in Santa Barbara County,” said Owen Bailey, head of the EDC, to a packed but somber Measure P–supporting crowd at the Piano Riviera Lounge. “Seven million dollars may indeed buy a victory tonight, but that victory will be short-lived. We leave this campaign with a veritable army,” Bailey continued, vowing that the environmental community will fight future drilling projects.
Prominent Water Guardian Rebecca Claassen made similar promises to keep keeping an eye on the area’s oil industry. “This campaign was the beginning of the fight — not the end,” she said. “We want to sincerely thank all of Measure P’s supporters for their enthusiasm and tireless efforts in this great cause, a cause that will never waiver and only build from this campaign onward.”
Last November, the Board of Supervisors’ approval of Santa Maria Energy’s 136-well cyclic steam injection project brought that extraction method to the county consciousness. The passage of Measure P, Santa Maria Energy officials argued during the campaign, would have spelled death for that project, as the company hadn’t secured all of its permits pre-election. “Now we’re going to be able to build that project. We’re very excited about that,” said Bob Poole, the company’s public and government affairs manager. Speaking to the voters’ strong rejection of the measure, Poole said, “We are very humbled. What we look forward to is continuing the discussion on energy that we, Santa Maria Energy, were instrumental in beginning through our process.” A similar but further-reaching initiative in San Benito County, authored by the same law firm that wrote Measure P, passed handily with 57 percent approval. And in Texas, the city of Denton became the first in the state to ban fracking, with 59 percent of voters saying yes.
Voters also swiftly turned down Measure S, the $288 million school facilities bond that would have modernized and replaced about a dozen buildings at Santa Barbara City College (SBCC), including some of those on its two satellite campuses. Measure S required 55 percent approval to pass but received only 48.89 percent.
Opponents cautioned that the bond requested was too large and not considerate enough of community concerns. Consternation over this year’s measure comes in stark contrast to the 2008 election, when City College pitched a $77 million bond measure and scored 70 percent approval and little opposition. Glen Mowrer, who helped fight the measure, said the “No” team was “gratified that the people of this community understood our message.” Continuing, Mowrer said, “A community college is a public asset for the community it serves. The loss of this perspective is what cost SBCC this time around. If SBCC comes back with delineated needs, a specific cost, and a promise to actually meet the needs we as a community see as appropriate, we will be supportive.” Measure S supporters — raising nearly $340,000 to opponents’ $3,000.
“I am really quite disappointed,” said SBCC President Lori Gaskin. “This loss hurts.” Gaskin explained that she’s been asked about a plan B, but because the state is unwilling to fund facilities improvements and the community has spoken, the school has “nowhere to go.” “Community colleges are woefully underfunded,” she said. With $19 million in remaining funds from 2008’s Measure V bond, construction for a general classroom building will break ground in the next few months, which will replace 32 portable classrooms. Out of the 10 other community colleges around the state that put bond measures on their districts’ ballots, eight passed.
Squeaking out a victory was longtime Congressmember Lois Capps, who beat actor Chris Mitchum with 51.6 percent of the vote. “It’s the best of all times and the hardest of all times,” Capps said, referring to her victory juxtaposing with the Republicans’ takeover of the Senate. “It’s going to be hard, but I have a track record of working across the aisle.”
Capps and company had expressed concern recently that Mitchum, who has expressed Tea Party values but doesn’t affiliate himself with that group, could eke out a win with a combination of a redrawn district that now includes more registered Republicans and a low-turnout election. Last up for reelection in 2012, Capps pummeled challenger and former lieutenant governor Abel Maldonado by 9 percentage points. But while some questioned the extent to which Mitchum could woo moderate voters, in recent days, Mitchum’s team released its own polling showing him with a possible lead over Capps. Mitchum also attracted the support recently of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who briefly came to town to campaign for the Republican candidate. “I’m obviously disappointed,” Mitchum said of the outcome. He added, though, that the overwhelming loss of Measure P shows a “rejection of the liberal ideals.”
But while Mitchum scored 49.5 percent of the vote in San Luis Obispo County, Capps bested him by a larger margin in Santa Barbara County, winning 75,307 total votes to Mitchum’s 70,673. Capps said that she and her team — who have been focusing heavily on voter outreach efforts in Isla Vista in the weeks leading up to Tuesday — spent the wee hours of the morning until early evening walking door-to-door in the seaside college town to encourage UCSB and SBCC students to vote. Over the course of the campaign, Capps raised $2 million to Mitchum’s $400,000.
Of the 196,998 voters registered in the county, only 84,761 — or 43 percent — cast ballots in this election. The last midterm election, in November 2010, saw a nearly 68 percent turnout.
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