In August of last year, when gas prices flirted with $5 a gallon and “drill, baby, drill” was a part of the national vernacular, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors made a loud statement and dropped its longstanding opposition to offshore oil.
On Tuesday, however, the board reverted back to its traditional pro-environment stance, voting 3-2 to adopt a resolution against additional federal oil leases. Partly in response to a planned hearing next week with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, the shift is more indicative of a new political reality. With Doreen Farr — a self-described environmentalist — now serving as 3rd District Supervisor, the five-member board is considerably more liberal than during the previous four years, when Brooks Firestone represented the district.
The resolution adopted Tuesday was more symbolic than substantive, given that the county has practically no say over how the federal government handles off-shore oil production. But just like in August, the decision nonetheless makes an important statement, Farr said.
“More and more, information is coming out that shows fossil fuels aren’t our future and can’t be our future,” she said. “We just have to chart a better path.”
Santa Barbara has a long and troubled history with oil production. In 1969, a major oil spill off Montecito’s coast coated the shore in oil and caught the attention of people nationwide. The spill, which first prompted the county board to oppose oil production, is also widely regarded as a major catalyst of the modern environmental movement.
Nonetheless, 4th District Supervisor Joni Gray voted against the measure, taking the same stance she did in August.
“Oil doesn’t frighten me,” Gray said in an interview following the August vote. “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.”
Farr, however, pointed to statistics that say additional oil production off Santa Barbara’s coast wouldn’t have a positive impact. According to Farr, 80 percent of the known reserves are already accessible from existing platforms and there are several leases that have been sold but not yet developed.
Still, 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf — co-sponsor of Tuesday’s resolution — said that this week’s action was important.
“I felt that the summer resolution was mostly symbolic,” she said. “I don’t feel this is. This was not symbolic. The community has a lot at stake.”