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First District County Supervisor Das Williams — running for reelection in a bitter, narrow battle against challenger Laura Capps — spoke alongside his supporters Thursday morning in a show against Capps’s most recent political onslaught suggesting he is beholden to the oil industry.
“I never thought that I would see the day where Das Wiliams is being attacked for being in the pocket of Big Oil,” said Katie Davis, chair of the Santa Barbara Sierra Club, which endorsed Williams. Davis was one of three environmentalists who spoke in support of Williams above an abandoned oil well at Lookout Park in Summerland.
“Let’s be clear,” Davis continued. “The oil industry is targeting this region. So it was a surprise to many of us fighting this oil takeover when Laura Capps decided she was going to run against enviro standard-bearer Das Williams because it detracts resources away from the key 3rd District, which is a swing district we knew would be targeted by oil.”
Since Capps announced she would challenge Williams last August, the key issue in the hotly debated race has been Williams’s role in approving 35 percent of the state’s cannabis cultivation licenses in Santa Barbara County while accepting more than $62,000 in campaign donations.
Now, less than one week before the March 3 election, the focus has shifted from pot to oil — with rumors flying that established environmentalist Williams is making back-door oil deals weeks before proposed drilling projects will go before the Board of Supervisors, including at Cat Canyon and Plains pipeline.
“The Plains All American oil spill spewed 142,800 gallons of crude oil onto our home environment — one of the most biologically diverse coastlines in the U.S.,” said Lindsay Bubar, senior strategist for the Capps campaign. “We deserve to know why those behind Plains All American are the poster boys for the ads for Das Williams.
“Getting heaps of support from the cannabis industry makes sense,” Bubar continued, “given Das allowed their lobbyists to dictate much of the ordinance and the money he continues to take from them despite his pledge not to. But now Big Oil? What does the industry think they will get from Das?”
The pro-Williams ads Bubar referenced featured conservative and outspoken pro-oil-industry backers Joe Armendariz, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association and the Santa Barbara County Technology and Industry Association; Cory Bantilan, chief of staff to Supervisor Steve Lavagnino; and Chris Collier, who represented Plains All American and Venoco oil companies. The three were quoted in the ads as supporting Williams.
“My adversaries turn into allies. I think that should be a sign of my character rather than a badge of shame,” Williams said about the support from the pro-oil lobbyists. “I do have some Republican supporters. I think it’s very bizzare to be attacked for having bipartisan support in a time when that is more critical than ever. This is Santa Barbara not Washington, D.C. We value working across the aisle, civility, and delivering results.”
Gail Marshall, former 3rd District supervisor, and Gail Teton-Landis, chair of the Santa Barbara County Democratic Party, also spoke in support of Williams at the event, calling the oil rumors “outlandish” and nothing like “the Das [they] know.” But even with the mass of supporters surrounding him, a few party crashers showed up, too.
“Why are you holding this event here and not in front of Carpinteria High School?” Joan Esposito asked Williams, referring to the highly disputed issue of cannabis odors reported in that area. The odor problem in Carpinteria and its schools, or more specifically the perceived lack of response to it by Williams, has been a massive driver in Capps’s initial decision to run.
Williams responded that it was illegal, and after a few minutes of back-and-forth with Esposito and other critics, he cut them off: “I think we’ve been really civil considering the acrimony you’ve put on us,” he said to Esposito.