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Posted on August 7, 2014 | 12:58 p.m.

Santa Barbara County Releases Draft Ordinance for Implementing Measure P

Source: Severn Williams for Santa Barbara County Water Guardians

The Planning & Development Department of Santa Barbara County has released a draft ordinance that would be used to implement Measure P, “The Healthy Air and Water Initiative,” if voters approve it in November.

If passed, Measure P would ban new high-intensity oil production in the county, including techniques like fracking, acidizing and steam injection. The measure aims to protect the health, air and water of local residents. Measure P allows ongoing oil production in the county.

Measure P specifies that Santa Barbara County may establish a process for handling its exemptions. Owners of existing operations won't have to take any action under Measure P and can continue to operate as always. If they want to modify their existing operations, this ordinance gives them a straightforward way to apply for that. It also allows landowners to apply for an exemption from the measure if they claim the ban would “take” their property.

"In releasing this draft ordinance, county staff has made it clear that there will be life after Measure P for current oil and gas operators in Santa Barbara," says Rebecca Claassen of the Yes on Measure P campaign. “We drafted Measure P in a manner that encouraged the county to create a streamlined mechanism for approving exemptions for existing operations and for anyone who might have a valid legal claim. This draft ordinance does a good job of establishing such a system."

Exemptions under Measure P are intended to allow current oil production to continue and to protect the county from legal risk when implementing the measure. The draft ordinance presented by county staff this week outlines a process for processing exemption applications in order to ensure a seamless integration of Measure P’s restrictions should voters approve it in November. The draft ordinance provides a straightforward process for determining exemptions. In most (if not all) cases, the exemption request would be processed concurrently with an application for a development permit, streamlining the application process.

County staff will hold a public workshop from 2 to 4 p.m. Friday in the Board of Supervisors Hearing Room at 105 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara to solicit public input on the draft ordinance. The ordinance would then go the Planning Commission and Board of  Supervisors to be approved before the November election and would be implemented along with Measure P should it be approved by the voters.

FAQs Re: Draft County Ordinance Implementing Measure P

Q: Why did the county develop this draft ordinance?

A: If enacted by the voters, Measure P would take effect approximately two weeks after the Nov. 4 election. By developing this ordinance now, the county will have a system in place for processing the exemptions listed in the measure. The draft ordinance shows that Measure P can be implemented fairly and without an undue burden on oil and gas producers.

Q: What does the proposed ordinance do?

A: The ordinance provides a straightforward process for determining exemptions. The ordinance proposes that the county Planning Director provide routine approvals for existing oil operations, and indicates that the Board of Supervisors would consider claims based on the legal takings exemption. In most (if not all) cases, these exemption requests would be processed concurrently with an application for a development permit, avoiding adding a whole new layer of work for the county.

Q: When would this draft ordinance take effect?

A: The Board of Supervisors will consider this ordinance in advance of the November election. Therefore, the ordinance would already be in place if Measure P is passed by the voters.

Q: Who would need to seek an exemption under the ordinance?

A: Owners and operators of existing operations won't have to file any application under the ordinance and can continue to operate as always. If they want to modify their existing operations, this ordinance gives them a straightforward way to apply for a modification. It also allows landowners to apply for an exemption from the measure if they claim the ban would “take” their property.

Q: Measure P does not apply to owners and operators with a vested right to conduct high-intensity oil and gas operations. What is a vested right?

A: Owners obtain a vested right if their existing operations were legal when they began and are continuing in November. They also obtain a vested right for new operations if they have received all necessary permits by November and have begun construction. Vested rights allow owners to continue to operate these, or similar, operations.

Q: When does an unconstitutional “taking” of private property occur?

A: Regulations could cause a taking if they deprive owners of all or substantially all uses of their property.

Q: Would Measure P shut down oil and gas production throughout the county if voters approve it?

A: The draft ordinance confirms that Measure P would not shut down existing uses. The ordinance expressly states that existing oil and gas operations would be allowed to continue, even where an oil company is seeking an exemption and has not yet received a determination from the county.

— Severn Williams represents Santa Barbara County Water Guardians.

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