Santa Barbara County won’t put an oil production tax on the June ballot after all, as the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to table the item.
The supervisors discussed the oil severance tax in December, after a Grand Jury report suggested the tax to increase countywide revenues, and there was a deep divide among the five members. North County supervisors Peter Adam and Steve Lavagnino voted against the tax, saying it would hurt the economy and job market in their districts.
In a surprise switch, supervisors Salud Carbajal and Janet Wolf opposed the tax on Tuesday, saying there wasn’t enough information to pursue a ballot measure right now. Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr didn’t say much, but voted with the rest to take no action.
The proposed tax would start at $1 per barrel and apply to all wells that produce more than 1,800 barrels per year in unincorporated parts of the county. It would also impact wells within three miles of the high-tide line.
After the staff presentation, Carbajal immediately read a statement explaining his desire to wait. There are plenty of needs in the county, but there hasn’t been enough community discussion to put this tax on the ballot in June, he said, adding that he would rather pursue a higher transient occupancy tax rate, which was echoed by many of the speakers at public comment.
Wolf said she felt uncomfortable asking voters to support something with “information that I don’t even have a full grasp on.”
Lavagnino was not expecting the change in opinion, saying “everything seems backwards.” He said he would fall out of his chair if Adam suddenly supported it, but Adam channeled Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, saying “not in a house, not with a mouse; not in a box, not with a fox.”
The supervisors voted to take no action, which leaves the oil production tax’s future vague. However, this and other tax measures could come back for consideration later, even for the November ballot.
About a dozen people spoke against the tax, saying the industry is vital to the local economy. Several decided not to speak after learning the board shifted its view.
Last June, the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury recommended that the county put an oil production tax on the ballot as an option for raising much-needed money for the new North County Jail, among other things.
As proposed, the tax would bring in $3 million per year, which would be split between the library system, maintaining parks and open spaces, and fire stations.
The idea originally came from former county chief executive officer Chandra Wallar, who has since been replaced by Mona Miyasato. The supervisors considered an oil production tax in February 2012, too, but failed to get the four votes necessary to put it on the ballot.