Measure P about protecting water resources

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published in the Santa Maria Times on August 8, 2014: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/columnist/measure-p-about-protecting-water-resources/article_52384a7d-6e0c-50fe-a3d2-8d6286837eff.html

At the July 29 Board of Supervisors hearing on Measure P, several speakers stated that if the measure is approved in November, the oil industry in Santa Barbara County would be shut down.

A recent guest commentary in the Santa Maria Times said the same, and on July 27 the Times expressed the belief the sponsors of Measure P want to "kill the local oil business."

To be sure, some individuals no doubt would like to see the local oil industry shuttered. But most who support the measure recognize we all use oil, and clean energy alternatives won’t be sufficiently developed for some years, in spite of our advocacy for them. Many of us support the measure because of our concerns about water resources.

Last month in this space, Jerry Connor wrote about how the rock strata on the Central Coast "are not neatly horizontal, but are instead tortuously bent, folded, rotated and faulted due to very active plate tectonics." He worries that oil, gas and produced water could therefore follow unintended paths, perhaps into our aquifers.

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Geology and unconventional oil extraction

Most of us use all manner of petroleum products. I am grateful for the opportunities and materials provided by petroleum.

At the same time, I want to preserve our water quality and avoid the irreversible hazards that would result from contaminated water escaping from deep rock formations into the groundwater.

During intensive oil removal processes, steam or water mixed with chemicals and sand are injected deep into the ground under high pressure.

Both Santa Barbara County Action Network and the local chapter of the Sierra Club support a reasonable and safe increase of already approved oil extraction, to generate tax revenues and increase the volume of cash flow to well-paid workers and into the local economy.

Favoring caution and restraint, however, both organizations support the initiative to ban fracking, which is to be decided by the voters in the November election.

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Local oil's value not worth risks

By Janet Blevins, SB CAN Board Member

for the Lompoc Record

May 29, 2014

Boosters and speculators have been heralding the potential of shale oil in California, and the jobs and tax revenues it could bring.

While federal energy authorities have just drastically reduced their estimates of recoverable oil here, there's no doubt production has been ramping up in our area, with Santa Maria Energy's 136 wells approved last fall, PetroRock's 56 wells approved in March, and investments pouring in, such as the $665 million from Beijing-based Chinese Goldleaf Jewelry Co. Thousands of potential new wells have been identified.

The downside is that this unconventional oil can only be extracted through water-intensive, high-emissions processes like fracking and steam injection.

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Inner-city park really needs your help

Which is the oldest park in Santa Maria? Do you know how it started and why it spurred incorporation of the city?

Here is a hint. It has to do with the Minerva Club, the Morrison family and it was a gathering place for May Day and July 4th celebrations in the 1890s and early 1900s. The 4.03-acre park has a Camp Fire Cabin, a playground, horseshoe pits, barbecue pits, basketball courts and picnic tables. Tall eucalyptus trees shade one area. There are some older shade trees and several young trees that will provide shade in the future.

It is west of the Santa Maria Inn, north of Santa Maria High School and the Fairpark, and east of the Good Samaritan Shelter. Its address is 800 S. Pine Street.

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Democratizing wealth, building an economy

Do you feel like you’re working harder than ever, but have less to show for it? Does it seem like corporations are running the world, and there’s nothing you can do? Would you like to have more say in how your community develops in terms of housing, food production, energy and transportation? Would you like to have more influence at work?

You’re not alone. The economy and power structures have changed, leaving less wealth and influence for the average person, while catapulting a select few into extreme wealth and power.

“The richest 400 Americans now own more wealth than the bottom 180 million taken together,” said Gar Alperovitz, professor of political economy at the University of Maryland.

They are worth just over $2 trillion collectively, an average of $5 billion each, according to Forbes.

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Unanswered questions regarding ICE facility

Although more than 1,000 people came to Santa Maria City Hall recently to urge the City Council not to change the zoning of a small parcel of land at McCoy and Depot in Santa Maria, they did.

The zoning change was designed to accommodate a new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility. Councilwoman Terri Zuniga was the only one to vote against it both times it came before the council.

Two weeks later, nearly 3,000 people came to the Fairpark to urge the Planning Commission not to approve a permit for construction of the facility. Yet they did.

When this many people are opposed, why move forward with these changes? Why not conclude that this use is incompatible with the neighborhood? Why not get answers to all the many questions before taking action?

We had a lot of questions then, and do now.

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Keep urban recreation within the city

On Feb. 11, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors will consider a Planning Commission recommendation to deny a rezoning request and conditional-use permit for an illegal conversion of farmland to public recreational uses, which consists of a 1.5-acre paintball field, a half-acre track for remote-control cars, and a 4.5-acre soccer field.

These facilities were developed between 2006-2011 along Highway 246 across the Santa Ynez River from Lompoc. The property is zoned for agriculture. Some of it is prime soil, and is adjacent to highly productive agricultural land. Some of the facilities were developed earlier, but according to the county’s analysis of aerial photographs, active cultivation of the rest of the property ceased in 2009, and the soccer fields were constructed in 2010. Only after a zoning violation complaint did the owner apply for the rezone and conditional-use permit.

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Carpool lane on 101 should move forward

Thirty years ago, the biggest Central Coast bottleneck on Highway 101 was the section through Santa Barbara, with its notorious traffic lights.

After the cross-town freeway was built in the mid-1980s, the main bottleneck was the four-lane section from Santa Barbara to Goleta. After that section was widened to six lanes and to this day, the biggest bottleneck is the four-lane section from Ventura County through Carpinteria and Montecito to Santa Barbara.

Over the last 20-plus years, plans have been in the works to widen that section to six lanes. As the project evolved, many residents and community groups urged that it not be a simple freeway widening that would just bring more traffic. In response to those concerns, the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) determined the additional lanes would be designated for high-occupancy vehicles during the morning and evening rush hours.

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Oil company should thank county supervisors

Santa Maria Energy won approval from the Board of Supervisors to extract oil from 136 wells in the Orcutt Hills. Yet, you'd think the project had been denied.

The company got its project. The number of wells was not reduced. The amount of oil they could extract was not changed. They weren't even required to do no harm. They were, however, required to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions further than they wanted, which meant they would make less profit. They still stand to make millions of dollars mining a non-renewable local natural resource. A denial, no doubt, would have cost them millions.

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Economy, environment go hand-in-hand

Last week, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors upheld the appeal of the Planning Commission's approval of the Santa Maria Energy project, setting tougher standards for greenhouse-gas emissions.

As one of the appellants, the reader might expect that I came home and popped open the champagne. I didn't. Instead, I've been giving thought to next steps and reflecting on all the heartfelt comments I heard from 110 concerned residents of our region.

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Santa Barbara County Action Network
Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN) works to promote social and economic justice, to preserve our environmental and agricultural resources, and to create sustainable communities.