Carpinteria residents will get the chance to vote on whether to approve Venoco Inc.‘s slant-drilling project next June after a late-night decision Tuesday by the Carpinteria City Council.
The council voted unanimously to put the item on the June 8, 2010, primary election ballot, but the only other option the city had was to approve the project outright.
More than 1,000 signatures were gathered earlier this year to place the slant-drilling operation, Project Paredon, on the ballot as a citizens initiative. The oil company argues that its proposed project would be a boon to city coffers and state revenues.
City officials appealed that decision earlier this year, citing concerns that the company could be trying to circumvent the environmental review required for a project of that magnitude, but a judge ruled in Venoco’s favor. The case is still under appeal.
At the last council meeting, city staff presented a 162-page report to the council detailing the effects of the project, since the normal environmental documents aren’t required under law for initiatives.
City Manager Dave Durflinger went over the report’s executive summary, which states that while the city would gain a “significant annual amount” in revenue from the project, home values in the neighborhood surrounding the project would drop 10 percent to 15 percent, it would open the city up to litigation and it would allow effects not permitted in other projects.
Venoco spokesman Steve Greig said voters would decide only the first step of the process and that governing bodies, such as the California Coastal Commission, would have to sign off on the project, too.
He also contends the city was under-reporting the benefits the project would bring to the city. “This is an unprecedented windfall for the community,” he said.
Greig and Venoco’s attorney, Mark Manion, were met by a thorny audience, many of whom identified themselves as members of the group Citizens Against Paredon.
“This is against the public interest,” said Miguel Checa, a spokesman for the group.
He pointed to the city seal behind him on the wall, emblazoned with the title “City of Carpinteria: World’s Safest Beach.”
“Let’s keep it that way,” he said.
Councilwoman Kathleen Reddington said that when she heard Venoco representatives talk, she didn’t hear anything about the community’s interest. “When I hear them speak, I hear money, and that’s all I hear,” she said.
When Greig said the company would foot the bill to hold a special election in early April, instead of a primary in June, Councilman Joe Armendariz said he was puzzled by the choice.
“We really want to do what the voters of Carpinteria want,” Greig responded, saying the company would like to do mail-in ballots after it saw the turnout success of Santa Barbara’s city election in November.
Councilman Brad Stein asked Greig what the company would do if it failed. “What if you go down in flames?” he asked.
“Venoco will take that information and go from there,” Greig said.
The sentiment that the planning and environmental process was being circumvented by the initiative was nearly unanimous on the dais.
“We were elected up here to uphold the laws and rules, and it’s being taken away from us,” Stein said. He also said that many of the qualifying signatures for the ballot measure were from people who were misled by Venoco.