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Carpinteria Throws Wrench into Venoco’s Drilling Initiative Plan

City attorney challenges route to ballot and the lack of an environmental review.

By Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer |

Less than two weeks after Venoco Inc. filed a voter initiative with the city of Carpinteria on behalf of a proposed extended-reach drilling project, the city fired back with a 26-page complaint challenging the legality of the company’s future plans.

Venoco wants to install a 140-foot drilling rig at its Dump Road processing facility to enable extended-reach, or slant, drilling, which would allow access to oil and natural gas in the Santa Barbara Channel without using an offshore platform. The proposal, known as Project Paredon, could produce up to 11,000 barrels of oil a day, according to the project’s final environmental impact report.

If all goes as Venoco plans, the company says it will contribute $1 million a year for up to five years to the Carpinteria Education Foundation and would donate 22 acres of land on its 55-acre Dump Road parcel to be designated as open space. An additional $200 million windfall could come to the community as a percentage of the $1 billion the state of California would gain from the deal.

But now city attorney Peter Brown is raising questions about the means by which Venoco is trying to achieve the end result. After several Carpinteria residents heard about Venoco’s project and potential contributions, they proposed an initiative that would allow voters to weigh in. On Feb. 2, the Carpinteria Community Initiative was turned in to the city.

Brown, however, says an initiative is not appropriate because it would circumvent the environmental review necessary for projects like Paredon. His complaint also says Venoco’s description of the project is vague and contains false statements and violates Carpinteria’s General Plan. Under state law, an initiative is only allowed to cover legislative acts, not specific projects, he said.

Venoco maintains it has done nothing illegal and should be allowed to let the initiative proceed.

“We would’ve never taken action had we not believed it was legal,” said Steve Greig, Venoco’s government relations director.

Greig said he was optimistic that the initiative will stand up to the legal challenge and be brought before voters later this year.

“We believe that if it’s what the citizens want, then our intent is to make sure that initiative is adopted,” Greig said.

Vernon Mesick, a Carpinteria resident and an early proponent of placing the initiative on the ballot, said the paperwork on Project Paredon had been in gridlock for too long. The project was submitted to the city for review back in 2004, but has been in the works for nearly a decade.

“It’s been sitting there a long time,” said Mesick, who adds that he’s talked to people for and against the project, and that he thinks a vote would be best.

“I’d like to see people have a chance to say what they feel,” he said. “This is the democratic way, to see what the majority of the people want.”

Mesick said he’s studied the project thoroughly and is supportive because it would reduce dependence on foreign oil and that the city would gain from the amount of money Venoco has promised to contribute if it succeeds.

But Brown’s complaint speaks differently of the royalties Venoco has promised. He says residents aren’t guaranteed to receive any of the royalties of the project, which the State Lands Commission controls and could send anywhere in California. Venoco would have to obtain a permit and the commission would have to agree to give the funds to Carpinteria.

“Since the royalty payments are the primary source of benefit for the Carpinteria community under the initiative, its misleading description could result in the voters obtaining a contract for which they did not bargain,” the complaint said.

The complaint also says the initiative authorizes any Venoco activity, offshore and onshore, and lacks the project description required to tell voters what they’d be approving.

The city of Carpinteria doesn’t have a position on the project yet and the complaint will be addressed in Santa Barbara County Superior Court on April 7. Until then, a stay of obligation from preparing the title ballot and summary has been issued.

But Greig says the entire community has expressed interest in voting on the issue and, although it’s too early for specifics, such as if the initiative’s language will be beefed up for the ballot, his staff would be looking over the complaint to weigh its options.

“Our hope is that we can move forward,” he said.

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» on 02.20.09 @ 08:01 AM

LET IT MOVE FORWARD!  If this complaint by the city isn’t just more of the same: anti-business, anti-jobs, anti-revenue, anti-growth, anti-the real world.

Of course Veneco has to go to the people for a vote, this issue and opportunity is too big to let be decided by so few.

This is a reality check people.

» on 02.20.09 @ 10:03 AM

And we wonder why we are in a finacial mess at both a state, county and city level.  Here is tens of millions of $$$ ($1 billion for the state) being waved before us.  This could help our town, our schools, our children, our state deficit, job growth and everything else we need.  But no, we turn our backs and refuse to even listen because we are so stubborn and sore about anything that has to do with oil or drilling.  If we don’t take the action that is desperately needed to get ourselves out of these financial messes, then we will continue to stay in one.  For one minute, for one time, lets stop being stuck up, niave, and ignorant to crumbling world around us.  Lets stop putting our noses in the air and lets put an ear to the ground.  We need this and it’s a fair and mutually benefitial agreement for both sides.

» on 02.20.09 @ 12:19 PM

This is so typical of Carp’s leadership.  Now even their city attorney is in on the anti-business rants.  Think about it, over the past few years the city council has been hostile to Vons, Albertsons, BEGA, the chamber of commerce, and of course there’s always Venoco to kick around.  You wonder why Venoco wants to go directly to the people with their project, look no further than Mr. Brown’s comments.  Business can’t get a fair shake in Carpinteria!  Move over city council and let the people speak about Paredon and anything else.  Let Democracy work!

» on 02.21.09 @ 10:41 AM

We have environmental laws and review processes to protect our health against companies like Veneco. In this case, the laws would protect Carp residents against their own willingness to trade their health and future residents’ health for cash.

» on 02.21.09 @ 11:58 AM

It’s VeNOco as in NO!

» on 02.21.09 @ 05:34 PM

Venoco has contributed so much to the schools in CO and the money would be a blessing in Carp. If oil is such a dirty word then why are those saying no using oil. Are they all walking and going with bikes…

» on 02.22.09 @ 10:11 AM

No one should be above the law.  We saved the Carpinteria Bluffs and developed the Viola Playing Fields.  We still honored the public process and took the playing fields through public review.  What makes Venoco feel that they are above the law or exempt from it?  The Venoco Oil Drilling Initiative is a flagrant attempt to bypass the planning and environmental review process with promises of big money to the community but little said about the 11 Class I Impacts that have been identified with the project.  This was not a community generated initiative but a Venoco one.  Furthermore, our own lawyers agree with the City that this initiative is unconstitutional.  The truth is, Venoco’s project will be a tough one for any current planning commissioner or city council member to approve with all the potential risks the project could bring to public health and safety.  Venoco, seeing the writing on the wall, is trying to scoot around this necessary public review.  Is this the new way we would like any development project, large or small, to receive its permits in Carpinteria or any community?  Is our great little town of Carpinteria for sale at any price?

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