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Judge Stays Venoco’s Voter Initiative in Carpinteria

Legal maneuvering continues over extended-reach drilling proposal and a November ballot ploy

By Sonia Fernandez, Noozhawk Staff Writer |

Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderle on Tuesday granted a request for a stay filed by Carpinteria’s city attorney, briefly holding up Venoco’s plans for an extended-reach drilling project.

As a result of Anderle’s ruling, Carpinteria City Attorney Peter Brown is temporarily relieved of having to prepare a ballot title and summary for Venoco’s proposed oil-drilling measure, the Carpinteria Community Initiative. Brown was legally required to do so when Venoco filed the voter initiative with the city in February in support of its Paredon project.

The project is an extended-reach oil and gas drilling operation that involves a 140-foot drilling rig on Venoco’s onshore facilities on Dump Road near the Carpinteria bluffs. If approved, the technology would enable Venoco to tap oil reserves in the area without having to use an offshore rig.

In February, Venoco filed a voter initiative for the November ballot, a move that would place the fate of the project in the hands of voters. If approved, the Paredon project would generate an estimated $200 million in state royalties and other revenue for the city.

Also part of the deal would be a donation of 20 acres of coastal land to the city and $5 million to the Carpinteria Education Foundation.

Brown’s motion for a stay is one of a series of attempts to keep the initiative off the ballot. After Venoco filed the voter initiative, the city fired back less than two weeks later with a complaint regarding the legality of the initiative, citing the need for better environmental review and questioning how much of the royalties would come back to the community. Brown was also granted a stay of his statutory duties until April 7. Since then the parties were given a continuance on the motion to stay, in order to “expedite the briefing schedule and hearing on the merits of the initiative.”

On April 21, however, the court did not grant another motion for a stay, saying instead it intended to hold a hearing Tuesday to set a trial date. Instead of the hearing, however, the court granted another stay as it waits for more information from both sides on a proposed schedule for review of the case. According to the court, that information has not yet been furnished.

A trial date on Venoco’s initiative has been scheduled for 11:30 a.m. July 28.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).




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» on 04.29.09 @ 09:30 AM

Venoco’s supposed intent to give voters (and only voters) of Carpinteria the “right to vote on a high-profile project” is really a thinly veiled attempt for the company to try to bypass any further public review of their project and to exempt their project from Carpinteria’s General Plan, Local Coasta Plan and other local planning policies that the community has worked so hard over the years to bring to such a professional level.  We are joined by a host of other individuals and organizations from our local community in our support of the City Attorney’s position on this and believe that, in court, Venoco’s oil drilling initiative will be struck down as illegal and unconstitutional.  (You can read more of our own position at carpinteriabluffs.org)

When we donated the Carpinteria Bluffs to the City of Carpinteria and subsequently helped them develop a small portion of the property into the Viola Playing Fields, we still took the project through the entire environmental review and planning process.  What makes the Venoco oil company think they are above the law?  Furthermore, whatever supposed monies they are promising the community for such an exemption turn out to be (and they could be zero), they are irrelevant: our town is not for sale.

» on 04.29.09 @ 09:30 AM

Venoco’s supposed intent to give voters (and only voters) of Carpinteria the “right to vote on a high-profile project” is really a thinly veiled attempt for the company to try to bypass any further public review of their project and to exempt their project from Carpinteria’s General Plan, Local Coasta Plan and other local planning policies that the community has worked so hard over the years to bring to such a professional level.  We are joined by a host of other individuals and organizations from our local community in our support of the City Attorney’s position on this and believe that, in court, Venoco’s oil drilling initiative will be struck down as illegal and unconstitutional.  (You can read more of our own position at carpinteriabluffs.org)

When we donated the Carpinteria Bluffs to the City of Carpinteria and subsequently helped them develop a small portion of the property into the Viola Playing Fields, we still took the project through the entire environmental review and planning process.  What makes the Venoco oil company think they are above the law?  Furthermore, whatever supposed monies they are promising the community for such an exemption turn out to be (and they could be zero), they are irrelevant: our town is not for sale.

» on 04.29.09 @ 12:16 PM

“If approved, the technology would enable Venoco to tap oil reserves in the area without having to use an offshore rig. If approved, the Paredon project would generate an estimated $200 million in state royalties and other revenue for the city. ”

What are we waiting for?? DO IT.

» on 04.29.09 @ 02:17 PM

Very interesting case. Here’s a question. Do voters have a right to approve a project directly or must the project be approved by elected officials elected by the voters?

If the voters are smart enough to elect the people responsible for reviewing projects then are not the voters smart enough to directly approve projects?

I think the simple solution is a statewide ballot inititive on the 2010 ballot that authorizes voters to directly approve offshore oil projects.

» on 04.29.09 @ 03:55 PM

For good or for bad, the voters of California do have the right to approve project through the initiative process and are NOT subject to CEQA.  Is it doing a run around the environmental process?  Maybe but the courts don’t see it that way.  As for Paredon, there is a EIR and anyone is free to read it.  This project has gone through the process and that information is available to the voters.  They can look at that and weigh the costs and benefits of the project.  I don’t see a problem there, unless you think the average citizen isn’t as smart as the average citizen who sits on city council.

» on 04.29.09 @ 06:03 PM

It isn’t a question of voters being smart enough to approve projects.  We have governmental regulations, coastal plans and general plans that our local governments have created with much community input in order to ensure that our communities retain their quality of life and character.  If we left everything to the voters without the due process of public planning and environmental review, any individual or company could simply come along, promise the world to a community, convince folks to let them be exempt from public review, and then do whatever they want, at a possible great detriment to the community.  Furthermore, the proposed Paredon drilling project by Venoco would not be offshore,as one comment maker suggested, but onshore.  In fact it would be between the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve and a local residential neighborhood.  It would come with more than 2 dozen environmental impacts, 11 of them being Class I, meaning there is no mitigation that can bring them below a significant level.  These impacts include Risk of Upset, meaning possible explosion, release of flammable vapors, oil spills, etc.  Not too many of our voters in Carpinteria will take the time or have the time to read the extensive environmental analysis that the City has already conducted on this project.  However, our planning staff and our City Council will take that time.  And a good thing they will.

» on 05.05.09 @ 11:38 AM

“Very interesting case. Here’s a question. Do voters have a right to approve a project directly or must the project be approved by elected officials elected by the voters?”

According to state law, voters may approve legislative matters by initiative, but a voter initiative may not be used to approve administrative or adjudicatory matters.  The only real legislative approval needed for Paredon is a zone text amendment.  All other project approvals, including a Coastal Development Permit, are administrative/adjudicatory in nature.

So to answer your question: voters have the right to approve a component of this project, but elected officials (City Council) are responsible for approving the rest.

The City’s complaint also addresses other defects in the proposed initiative, such as how it runs afoul of the state constitution (Article II, Section 12): no voter initiative that “names or identifies any private corporation to perform any function or to have any power or duty, may be submitted to the electors or have any effect.”

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