By Kelly Stater
Throughout the fall, a broad coalition of union members, business leaders, energy workers, contractors, mineral owners, and other community partners spoke out against an unprecedented plan to politicize zoning decisions in Ventura County through the county’s so-called “update” process to its General Plan.
Despite this broad opposition, the Board of Supervisors moved forward and passed the controversial plan, stripping decision-making responsibilities away from the non-partisan experts in the county’s Planning Division and instead granting themselves the right to approve and deny certain land use permits at will. This means, even if a company follows all the laws and regulations of the county and state, their projects can still be shut down if the supervisors don’t approve for any reason at all.
The changes will add unnecessary red tape, delays, partisanship, and legal challenges to a well-functioning permitting system for existing safe and responsible energy operations in Ventura County. This will ultimately hurt local energy production operations and kill good-paying, local jobs.
While local officials typically don’t pursue policies that will eliminate jobs and tens of millions in tax revenues during an economic crisis, that is exactly what has happened in Ventura County. As the pandemic continues to take its toll on our community, the economy and our local workforce, residents are worried about their jobs and struggling to make ends meet to support their families. The zoning ordinances will only result in more local workers losing quality careers at a time when the county can’t afford to lose a single job or critical tax dollar. Where is the economic justice here?
Indeed, nearly two times as many Ventura County residents are out of work today compared to just a year ago. Given this, the prospect of devastating thousands of local working families left a coalition of local energy producers and their workers no other option than to collect signatures and challenge the misguided and unnecessary zoning amendments via referenda.
At the very least, Ventura County voters should have the choice to protect local energy production, safeguard thousands of jobs for working families, and retain much-needed tax revenues for local governments. The alternative would be to allow the partisan zoning power grab to stand, effectively shutting down the local energy industry and ultimately undercut the financial future of the county.
There are plenty of reasons for Ventura County voters to reject the zoning ordinances beyond the thousands of lost jobs and over $21 million per year in lost revenues.
For starters, Ventura County residents already pay some of the highest energy costs in the country. Shutting down local oil and gas production would increase costs for consumers and businesses across the region, as California would be forced to rely more heavily on foreign oil and gas imports to meet demand. Currently, California sends $25 billion per year to Middle Eastern countries for oil that could be produced locally.
In addition, shutting down local energy production is not an environmentally friendly policy prospect. In fact, a production shutdown in Ventura County would actually increase emissions as more foreign oil is shipped to California via tanker from halfway around the world—instead of being produced locally under the most stringent environmental and public health protections on the planet.
The choice for Ventura County voters is clear: allow local energy workers to provide the oil and gas we need, safeguard local jobs for working families, and retain tax revenues for local governments during an economic crisis—or support policies that will ultimately raise emissions and force residents to pay higher costs for imported foreign oil.
Bad energy policies have consequences, and now Ventura County voters have the opportunity to avoid the worst consequences of the backward policies pursued by their local leaders.
We are confident Ventura County residents will understand that keeping energy production local and affordable under the toughest regulations in the world is good for both the economy and the environment.
• Kelly Stater is the chairman of the American Petroleum Institute Coastal Chapter California.