July 1, 2024
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Ventura County hit with lawsuits over General Plan


An Aera Energy oil well in the Ventura Field in west Ventura. Aera has sued the county over the oil and gas regulations in its new General Plan. (file photo)

More than half a dozen groups have sued Ventura County in response to the county’s recently adopted 2040 General Plan.

The plan went into effect Oct. 15, 30 days after it was passed by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors. Several of the groups that filed suit against the county are oil and energy interests objecting to the county’s plans to regulate oil production in the county, including Aera Energy, which leases mineral rights to an active oil field just northwest of the city of Ventura.

Aera filed a writ of mandate in Ventura County Superior Court on the first day the General Plan was in place, saying the plan’s limitations on drilling would unlawfully impede Aera’s existing and future operations. The complaint claims the county’s proposed actions are preempted by state and federal law, and that the county failed to disclose, evaluate and reduce environmental consequences of its plan.

The county of Ventura did not reply to requests for comment.

Many of the other filings from oil and energy companies have similar complaints. Michele Newell, a spokesperson for Aera, said the company tried to work with the county by writing letters and providing public comment. In many cases, the comments and letters did not get any response back, she said.

Newell was also concerned with what the industry believes is existing overregulation. There are already more than two dozen state and local agencies that oversee the oil production in Ventura County, she said. The industry provides jobs for more than 2,000 residents, and Newell pointed to parts of the General Plan that would limit the industry’s ability to develop or adjust new wells in the future.

“Good regulations are good for everybody,” Newell said, “but regulations for the sake of regulating doesn’t make sense.”

Part of the 2040 General Plan limits new oil drilling operations to the northern, inland section of the county. Under the General Plan, all land between U.S. Highway 101 and the shoreline would be off limits for new oil development, as would any land designated residential, recreational or environmentally sensitive. Between U.S. Highway 101 and the coastal zone boundary, existing oil drilling and related facilities are allowed, but no major new facilities or expansions would be allowed, unless in a designated industrial area.

“The whole plan is really egregious to the industry itself,” Newell said. “It seems to us they want to shut down the industry.”

The oil and energy companies aren’t the only groups that filed against the county. The Ventura County Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business—or CoLAB, a group focused primarily on property rights and land use regulations—and the Ventura County Agricultural Association jointly filed a lawsuit, saying the county did not meet the basic standards for public review and engagement, as well as environmental impact analysis, to the detriment of the agricultural industry, local businesses and vulnerable residents.

“Our members are concerned that the General Plan adds regulatory burdens that greatly increase the cost of doing business, growing food, and even living in Ventura County,” said Louise Lampara, Ventura County CoLAB’s executive director, in a news release. “Hundreds of community members spoke out against the General Plan, telling the county that their policies will hurt already struggling families by making it even more expensive to live here and more difficult for the next generation of workers to find local employment—but the county ignored their concerns.”

David Cruz, president of the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the county did not translate any of the plan’s policies into Spanish before the plan was adopted.

“It is disappointing that the county thought so little of our Latino community that it either deliberately ignored us or was poorly advised by its staff against meeting with organizations that would have counseled against the General Plan because of its disproportionate negative impact upon communities of color,” Cruz said in the news release issued by CoLAB and the Agricultural Association.