Tom Fulks

Think Measure A protects our coast from offshore oil development? It doesn’t

Tom Fulks
Tom Fulks

The local “blue wave” victories in San Luis Obispo County’s election last November are tempered today by the reality that Big Oil’s nearly $8 million spending spree smashed the anti-fracking Measure G at the polls by eight points.

All Big Oil needs now to start drilling off SLO County’s coast is loads of cash for another expensive pack of lies to fool voters into overriding Measure A, a decades-old, voter-approved ordinance designed to protect the SLO County Coast from offshore oil.

It’s an inviting challenge. The only apparent barrier to defeating Measure A at the polls is spending enough to buy the election, as demonstrated by the 54-46 percent thrashing of Measure G last November.

Measure G would have banned fracking in SLO County (there’s no fracking now) and prohibited new onshore oil wells from being drilled. Big Oil made numerous false claims about Measure G: It would have banned all drilling — even current extraction activities —killed existing jobs and cratered the local economy. All untrue.

Given the SLO County Board of Supervisors’ 3-2 refusal in 2017 to seek national marine sanctuary status to permanently protect our coast, expect offshore drilling to rise phoenix-like in the next couple of years — if Donald Trump’s energy policies translate into action.

The rationale the board’s Tea Party majority gave for opposing a marine sanctuary was that SLO County’s coast is already protected by Measure A, adopted by voters in 1986, requiring voter approval of permits issued by the county for onshore pipelines, piers and processing plants supporting offshore oil.

That fig leaf covered the fact that Measure A is about as strong a defense as the paper it’s written on. Supervisor John Peschong should know; his political consulting firm was paid $643,000 to help defeat Measure G.

In the fight for Measure A in 1986, fishermen, environmentalists and local businesses — including the SLO Chamber of Commerce — supported it. The likelihood of the SLO Chamber and fishing interests maintaining that position is questionable, considering they came out against the Marine Sanctuary in 2017. Those conflicting positions are puzzling at best.

Shell Oil tested Measure A in 1988, bringing three permits before voters for onshore projects supporting the San Miguel Project, a drilling platform that would have squatted several miles off Point Sal and piped crude to the existing refinery on Nipomo Mesa.

After the most expensive campaign in the county’s history at the time — about $750,000 — voters rejected Shell’s permits, suspending Big Oil’s interest in this county’s coastline — for the time being.

News accounts then reported Shell spent some $20 for each “yes” vote in its losing effort. Imagine what Big Oil would be willing to spend now. Wait, we already know: $8 million, about $139 per vote.

Measure G failed because Big Oil paid Big Money to defeat it. There’s no fracking in SLO County, so it’s curious why companies such as Chevron, Shell Oil and ExxonMobil underwrote the expenses, since none has a large footprint here.

A test run for a go at Measure A, perhaps?

No one should believe our coast is protected from offshore oil drilling by Measure A.

Big Oil’s lavish campaign to defeat Measure G proves that.

Update on 2020 elections

The San Luis Obispo County Democratic Central Committee unanimously approved a resolution this week asking County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong to implement the vote-by-mail provisions of SB 450 in time for the March 3, 2020, primary election.

Gong is scheduled to go before the county Board of Supervisors on Feb. 26 to explain himself and discuss what, if anything, he intends to do to expedite getting vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots out for the primary.

Senate Bill SB 450, signed into law in 2016 in response to record low voter turnout in 2014, allows counties to send VBM ballots, with postage-paid returns, to every registered voter. Postage would be reimbursed by the state due to AB 216, another new law

The senate bill also calls for replacing neighborhood polling places with regional voting centers operating for 10 days prior to and on Election Day. Gong has declined to implement the new law until the 2022 election, some six years after it became law.

Gong says SB 450 requires more time and resources to implement, and that he’s prohibited legally from sending VBM ballots to every registered voter unless they specifically ask for one.

In sum, Gong says since he won’t implement all of SB 450 so he can’t implement part of it — the VBM portion.

County supervisors may take a different view.

Liberal columnist Tom Fulks serves on the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Central Committee. His column runs in rotation with conservative columnist Ed Bogusch.