County Circles Wagons in Greka Case

Attorneys Fighting Oil Company's Efforts to Depose Former Supervisor Salud Carbajal

<b>ICK:</b> Pictured above is an oil spill cleanup on Greka property off Palmer Road in April 2008.
Paul Wellman

The Santa Barbara County Counsel’s office is fighting efforts by the oil company formerly known as Greka Oil ​— ​now HVI Cat Canyon ​— ​to depose former county supervisor Salud Carbajal, now a member of Congress. Attorneys for HVI are seeking to depose Carbajal to explore whether in 2008 he lobbied state and federal environmental agencies, such as California Fish and Wildlife and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to “destroy Greka.”

At that time, Greka’s North County oil production facilities were plagued by sustained problems, giving rise to multiple leaks and spills. These, in turn, sparked federal and state lawsuits against the oil company, which remain unresolved. Mary Pat Barry ​— ​an attorney with the County Counsel’s office ​— ​dismissed HVI’s deposition subpoena as a “fishing expedition,” adding the information sought is legally irrelevant.

Former Greka president Andrew DeVegvar has claimed under oath that he’d been told in 2008 by the EPA’s Robert Wise that Carbajal summoned a group of state and federal regulators to “destroy Greka.” According to Barry, the EPA’s Wise testified under oath he’d never said that. Carbajal’s press spokesperson also denied it. Barry also argued that Carbajal ​— ​as a county supervisor ​— ​lacked the authority to trigger the ensuing litigation that’s been filed against Greka, which between 2005 and 2010 amassed a record of environmental notoriety and fines still unrivaled in Santa Barbara County. Barry also claimed that Carbajal ​— ​as an “apex” official ​— ​enjoyed limited immunity from such subpoenas.

Greka eventually paid the County of Santa Barbara $2 million as part of a settlement over widespread environmental transgressions. The state and federal litigation was sidetracked when it turned out state environmental regulators had lost computerized inspection records and failed to disclose this to the court. Greka sought to have the entire case tossed because of this.


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