Citing record-high gas prices and a state economy strapped for cash, a divided Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted in support of expanded offshore oil drilling late August.

On Aug. 26, after a heated daylong debate, the board of supervisors voted 3-2 to send a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger expressing the county’s willingness to expand its offshore oil production. The board’s decision marks a drastic change in policy for Santa Barbara County, the site of the 1969 oil spill widely believed to be a major catalyst for the modern environmental movement.

The move, however, is seen by many as a largely symbolic gesture, considering Schwarzenegger’s public opposition to offshore drilling and the county’s lack of jurisdiction on the issue.

In response to the board’s move in August, the Santa Barbara City Council voiced its opinion at a meeting on Sept. 9. The city council voted 5-1 in opposition of offshore drilling, upholding a moratorium that has been in place for nearly four decades.

Despite the governor’s opposition, proponents claim drilling would provide much needed revenue for the county, while also helping to reduce gas prices and American dependence on foreign oil.

Opposition to the board’s decision, however, was strong across the county, with many environmental groups as well as local Assemblyman Pedro Nava condemning the decision.

“Supporting offshore drilling in Santa Barbara is like drilling in the Arctic wilderness,” Nava said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Santa Barbara is a symbol for the country and the world on the dangers that can occur with offshore oil drilling.” He later went on to say that additional drilling would have no effect on gas prices.

Fourth District Supervisor Joni Gray, however, threw her support behind the letter.

“Oil doesn’t frighten me,” she said. “Oil doesn’t scare me, and I don’t see oil as a bad thing. Unless you arrived here on a horse or you walked or rode a bicycle, you are part of the oil industry. We are all part of it. That means we all have to work to balance it.”

On the national stage, Congresswoman Lois Capps, who represents Santa Barbara County as well as portions of Ventura and San Louis Obispo counties in the U.S. House of Representatives, voted against a new bill Tuesday that would weaken the restrictions on new offshore drilling within 200 miles of the California coastline.

“The call for new drilling as some sort of solution to our energy problems is disingenuous and doomed to fail,” Capps said in a press release. “We just can’t drill our way out of this mess.”