Elections

Measure G going down to defeat, trailing by 11 points

Charles Varni shares his thoughts on early returns for Measure G

Charles Varni, with Measure G, shares his thoughts after seeing the early numbers from Tuesday's election during a gathering at the Libertine Brewing Company in downtown SLO election night after the polls closed.
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Charles Varni, with Measure G, shares his thoughts after seeing the early numbers from Tuesday's election during a gathering at the Libertine Brewing Company in downtown SLO election night after the polls closed.

The No on Measure G campaign isn’t claiming victory yet, but late on election night “it looks good,” said Matt Cunningham, spokesman for the campaign to defeat a measure that would ban new oil wells and fracking in unincoprorated areas of San Luis Obispo County.

As of 12:43 a.m., with 81,440 ballots counted and 100 percent of precincts reporting, 55.7 percent of voters said “no” to Measure G and 44.3 percent said “yes.” An unknown number of mail-in and provisional ballots are yet to be counted.

Updated results are expected in the following days and possibly weeks.

Local environmental activist Charles Varni wasn’t willing to call defeat yet, and said he was “cautiously optimistic.”

“There’s a lot of ‘yes’ votes out there to be counted. I’m staying optimistic; I’m not moping around,” Varni said from a campaign party for volunteers at Libertine Brewery Company in downtown San Luis Obispo.

Early returns tend to lean conservative, and it’s not wild to say that votes for and against Measure G could fall along party lines. Still, making up a 11-point difference could be difficult, especially given the unprecedented amount of money spent in the county by oil companies to defeat the measure: $8 million.

“Everybody cares about the environment,” said Matt Cunningham, spokesman for the No on Measure G campaign, “but they’re also sensitive to the fact that they don’t want people to lose their jobs. ... We reached out to all demographics in the county.”

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The initiative was brought to the voters by a local group of conservationists concerned that a proposed expansion of 481 new oil wells at the Arroyo Grande Oil Field would further contaminate groundwater.

They also sought to make SLO the seventh county in the state to ban fracking, while bolstering the statewide movement away from fossil fuels.

The Coalition to Protect San Luis Obispo County received funding from the Center for Biological Diversity, groups associated with Food and Water Watch, 350.org and dozens of residents. The campaign had about $250,000 in contributions.

For months, would-be voters were bombarded with advertisements — with messages from union workers, farmers and local leaders such as county Assessor Tom Bordonaro — paid for by Chevron, Sentinel Peaks Resources and Aera Energy, which is co-owned by Shell and ExxonMobil.

The No on Measure G campaign has said the new county rules would ultimately cause the local oil and gas industry to shut down, costing the area jobs and tax revenue.

“We felt if we got the facts to the voters, they would reject Measure G,” Cunningham said.

Varni saw their efforts in a different light: “They just twisted and contorted so much, and they had so much money to broadcast. ... We dealt with this as effectively as we could with the resources we had.”

He said the Coalition to Protect San Luis Obispo County has built a strong, grassroots organization that will fight any attempts to expand oil drilling in the county, no matter what happens to Measure G.

If Measure G passes, it won’t necessarily go into effect in its entirety. A similar measure passed by Monterey County was legally challenged and is still held up in court.

Monica Vaughan: 805-781-7930; @MonicaLVaughan
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