Measure P, a countywide anti-fracking initiative on the Nov. 4 ballot, would lead to the loss of current and future jobs in the oil and-gas industry, along with other sectors, at time when the North County already struggles with poverty.
That was the message driven home Wednesday by speakers at what was billed as a "Job Wars Conversation" in Santa Maria.
The lunchtime session at Church for Life on Skyway Drive attracted approximately 100 people.
Speakers urged those in attendance to vote against Measure P, saying it will take a high toll on jobs.
“It is a plan to shut down the onshore oil-and-gas industry in Santa Barbara County,” said David Pratt, president of Santa Maria Energy.
Measure P would ban high-intensity petroleum operations. Its backers call it the "Healthy Air and Water Initiative to Ban Fracking."
Opponents of Measure P contend it would do much more, including shutting down operations on wells now in production, costing a thousand jobs.
“Measure P will affect existing operations just as surely as it will affect future operations,” Pratt asserted, adding that existing wells require maintenance that wouldn’t be allowed under Measure P.
Measure P proponents claim oil-and-gas production will harm air quality and water resources.
But Pratt cited reports contending air quality in the county has improved, and said allegations about water are an attempt to exploit the drought.
He also says hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, isn’t planned for the county.
“Simply put, Measure P is deceptive,” Pratt said. “I thought long and hard about what word I would use, and that’s the most polite one I could come up with.”
If oil production increases, property valuation would increase, giving more money for schools, firefighting and law enforcement services, he said.
In 2011, the oil and gas industry in Santa Barbara County had a $291 million economic impact, opponents of Measure P said. Additionally, oil and gas sites in 2014 are expected to generate $20.3 million in property taxes, or 3.1 percent, of the county’s total property taxes, Pratt added.
Increased production would only see those numbers rise, Pratt added.
“Unless Measure P is defeated, it will destroy jobs and leave a big hole in the economy,” he said, urging people to vote no and drawing applause from the crowd.
The report noted that 65 percent of the children living in poverty in the county reside in North County.
“Poverty is a big worry,” Walthers said. “I think we need to be very mindful of policies that exacerbate it.”
A community’s other problems, such as crime and illiteracy, often are tied to poverty, he noted.
“We’re very much worried about what happens when you limit the amount of jobs …,” Walthers said.
Of the nearby community college districts with one school, Hancock ranks at the bottom for property valuation behind Santa Barbara, Cuesta, Monterey and Hartnell. This affects the local college’s ability to issue bonds to fund new projects, he added.
Shannon Seifert, executive director of the Santa Maria Valley YMCA, recalled the high toll the recession took on the organization’s members, with jobs lost and houses going into foreclosure.
Recounting the stories she heard from members “almost makes me cry just thinking about it,” she added.
“I am really scared about this happening again if this measure goes through,” Seifert said. “I’m so scared of that. And it’s my own personal terror … . I don’t want to lose our quality of life, you guys.”
Several speakers noted that in addition to the lost jobs in the oil and gas industry, a multiplier effect would mean fewer jobs in other sectors.
Representatives of the Yes on Measure P campaign didn’t speak at the event.
Later Wednesday, Katie Davis, one of the supporters of the measure, said the initiative would not affect current jobs because existing wells are exempt.
“Oil is a tiny fraction of jobs in the county, less than 1 percent of our workforce, and extreme extraction puts the other 99 percent of jobs at risk,” Davis said. “Our economy is based on ag, tourism, tech, and a healthy environment where people want to live and do business.”
She added that increased oil production would create temporary jobs, and that it would involve specialized, imported workers at the cost of other jobs. She contended studies show that counties that rely on oil extraction have lower wages and job growth.
“Using fracking and other extreme techniques brings little benefit at high cost, and is not worth the risk for our county,” Davis added.