After issuing a 4-1 vote in closed session Monday night, the Carpinteria City Council has announced it will appeal a judge’s ruling that would require a Venoco slant-drilling project to appear before voters.
Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderle denied a request from the city to keep the item off the ballot, and his ruling would compel City Attorney Peter Brown to draft language for the ballot measure by Sept. 1.
City sources confirmed last week that the city has spent at least $180,000 so far in its legal battle with the company, and will end up spending more by way of appeal.
For more than a decade, Venoco has been planning an extended-reach drilling project that would produce up to 11,000 barrels of oil a day, according to the project’s final environmental impact report. The project, known as Project Paredon, originates with a 140-foot drilling rig to be installed at Venoco’s Dump Road processing facility.
Carpinteria Mayor Gregg Carty, who voted in favor of the appeal, said his biggest concern remains doing what’s right for the city.
“The initiative raises serious conflicts with the city’s Local Plan and coastal program, which is the blueprint for development in our community,” he said. “The initiative, as drafted, represents an end run around the normal planning process, a process that has served our city well for many years.”
Carty said important legal issues weren’t addressed by the trial court and still need to be resolved. But the city also doesn’t want to delay the initiative’s circulation while the appeal is pending, so the council has directed Brown to draft up the title ballot and summary before Sept. 1.
That way, proponents can circulate the initiative in an effort to qualify the measure for an election, which most likely would be held in 2010, he said.
Councilman Joe Armendariz, who was the dissenting vote on the matter, said he felt the money could be better spent on other things. Although he voted to authorize Brown to start litigation against the petitioners, Armendariz said he believed they had received their answer through an appeal.
He said he didn’t think the city would win the appeal not only because of Judge Anderle’s recent ruling, but because the same appeals court that will hear Carpinteria’s case also just upheld an initiative ruling in a similar case in San Luis Obispo.
“My colleagues are willing to spend as much taxpayer money as it takes to appeal this decision,” he said, though not because they feel they will win in court. “They want to send a clear message to the Wal-Marts, Costcos and Venocos of the world that the city’s land-use decision-making process is too complex and should not be placed in the hands of an uninformed citizenry.”
Armendariz said the approach “fails to appreciate the collective wisdom” of local voters.
Venoco spokeswoman Lisa Rivas called the decision “another disappointing move” by the City Council.
“It’s pretty surprising if you think about it,” she said. “While Californians vote on statewide initiatives all the time, Carpinteria’s City Council is using tax dollars to prevent its citizens from having the same right.”