Tom Fulks

Phillips 66 project is as good as dead, but how will Lynn Compton vote?

Liberal columnist Tom Fulks
Liberal columnist Tom Fulks

San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Lynn Compton has an easy vote coming up this week.

The Phillips 66 Co. oil train project arrives on life support Monday at the county Board of Supervisors.

Phillips, which doesn’t have three votes for approval, should start pricing pine boxes for its 1.3-mile rail-spur project on the Nipomo Mesa.

Compton sits in the unique position of being able to vote “aye” or “nay,” with little long-lasting political damage either way.

Seeking re-election in 2018, she may try expanding her reach into the 4th District’s moderate voting bloc by siding against Phillips. That would give Compton a veneer of independence from the hard-right board majority with whom she routinely aligns.

Should Compton join her two liberal colleagues — Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill — to vote against Phillips, she might score cheap political points among some of her district’s voters deeply concerned about her dreadful environmental record.

That gesture’s insincerity would be of a piece. Integrity on the hustings isn’t necessarily a priority for office-seeking, right-wing partisans in San Luis Obispo County, so view Compton’s opposition to Phillips as an illusion of round corners on a sharp-edged ideologue.

Pandering for re-election support, Compton has for weeks misleadingly claimed developer fees collected in Nipomo aren’t spent there, that the community’s been shorted $8 million over some years. She’s stoked community agitation with this fabricated injustice, bolstered the lie with “alt-facts,” setting herself up as protector of common folk against liberal coastal elites. No one can accuse Compton of truthiness in catering to her base of anti-tax, anti-government, anti-liberal, anti-city of San Luis Obispo voters.

With a vote against Phillips, Compton might increase her appeal to voters who may know her personally, but are coming to detest her Faustian pact with tea party board colleagues Debbie Arnold, John Peschong and their pro-oil, pro-development patrons.

If Compton wants support from moderates, she must persuade them to ignore her record opposing nearly every program benefiting the environment and supporting many projects that don’t.

She’s worked doggedly to undermine a regulation dealing with dust from the Oceano Dunes. She’s opposed nearly every attempt to manage the North County’s groundwater crisis, and now is trying to stick taxpayers countywide with the bill.

She opposed a marine sanctuary off the county coast and a widely-popular, business-supported, half-cent sales tax for traffic congestion relief that narrowly failed in November.

Compton supported a gravel mine near Santa Margarita overwhelmingly opposed by the community and routinely supports development projects that steadily, incrementally erode our county’s fine quality of life.

The one time she opposed a development — the Laetitia mega-mansion project bordering her neighborhood — Compton said it would have impacted her neighborhood’s water supply, a thin patina of environmentalism masking blatant self interest.

Phillips wants to offload Canadian crude from mile-long oil trains traversing dense population centers from Paso Robles to Arroyo Grande, requiring entire communities to endure the safety risks for the sole benefit of Phillips.

The Planning Commission denied Phillips, which appealed to the Board of Supervisors, where hearings are scheduled to begin Monday and could last as many as five days.

People from throughout California are expected to testify, but the drama may be unnecessary, because it’s fairly clear the project will be denied for want of three votes.

Gibson and Hill are expected to vote “no,” given their long-standing pro-environment politics. Arnold probably will vote “yes,” given her long-standing anti-environment politics and ideological alliance with COLAB, a secretive group of pro-oil developers masquerading as farmers.

Peschong would have sided with Phillips, but he’ll not be voting. His consulting firm was paid $262,313 by Phillips to promote the project. Peschong told The Tribune he’ll recuse himself.

Should Compton side with Arnold, she’d appease hardcore tea partiers and COLAB, but would provide pro-environment voters incentive to mount a challenge to her re-election, a risk she might take but probably won’t.

Should Compton align with Gibson and Hill, she’d appease environmental voters but annoy the big money funding base she needs for re-election.

A “no” vote from Compton might also come to the chagrin of political consultant Amber Johnson, who advised Compton’s campaign in 2014 and was paid by Phillips to campaign locally for its oil train project. Johnson also shills for unknown interests against the marine sanctuary.

My bet: Compton votes against Phillips. The project’s already dead, her funders know it, and they’ll forgive her.

Compton’s challenge will then be to convince moderate voters in her district that she really is moderate, which she decidedly is not.

Liberal columnist Tom Fulks serves on the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Central Committee. His column runs every other Sunday, in rotation with conservative columnist Andrea Seastrand.