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In Response to Oil Spill, Demonstrators Make Stand in the Sand for Alternative Energy

Anti-oil rally kicks off with speeches before chanting marchers move to West Beach for symbolic photo opportunities

Carrying a giant symbolic pipeline, Stand in the Sand demonstrators march to Santa Barbara’s West Beach on Sunday in a rally against the use of oil and other fossil fuels. Click to view larger
Carrying a giant symbolic pipeline, Stand in the Sand demonstrators march to Santa Barbara’s West Beach on Sunday in a rally against the use of oil and other fossil fuels. (Urban Hikers photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

“What do you call a solar spill? A nice day!”

Approximately 500 people marched down State Street to the beach in Santa Barbara on Sunday, chanting slogans like that for Stand in the Sand.

The group first gathered at De la Guerra Plaza in front of City Hall. The peaceful anti-oil rally featured guest speakers, creative chants and a fervent audience — all summoned in response to the May 19 pipeline leak and oil spill near Refugio State Beach.

Down at the waterfront, the demonstrators temporarily blocked the busy intersection of State and Cabrillo Boulevard at the base of Stearns Wharf, before organizers cleared the streets and got everyone re-grouped on West Beach. There, they formed a single-file line across the sand.

People brought their children, dogs and plenty of homemade signs, which painted a colorful picture as they held hands for photo and video opportunities on the beach.

Among the props were some floating fish and squid puppets, and a giant, black “pipeline” that had to be carried by dozens of people at a time.

“We have seen this before: the 1969 spill in the Santa Barbara Channel, the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, and in 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico,” Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider told the crowd. “The reality is that under the status quo we will see more spills like these in the future.

“We are here because we want to see another alternative. We’re here because we want to get ourselves to a better place that is less reliant on oil and more reliant on new clean and renewable technologies.”

Stand in the Sand was first organized in 2010 after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, as a way to stand in solidarity with those affected by the environmental catastrophe. This year, organizers resurrected the rally to stand up for their own turf, Santa Barbara County’s South Coast.

Officials say about 105,000 gallons of crude oil leaked from the broken pipeline owned by Plains All American Pipeline, with an estimated 21,000 gallons spilling down the hillside and into the ocean along the Gaviota coast. The cause of the breach remains under investigation.

The incident is said to be the largest oil spill to hit Santa Barbara-area beaches since the 1969 blowout, when 3 million gallons of oil spilled from a drilling platform about five miles offshore. The modern environmental movement traces its roots to that spill. 

That movement is still going strong, with all kinds of local groups stepping in to support clean energy any way they can. Not to mention that UC Santa Barbara is considered one of the greenest public university in the United States.

Phil McKenna, board president of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, gave a poetic speech, emphasizing his own detailed descriptions of Refugio Beach.

“It is a place that is in constant motion yet is known for its tranquility; a place so ephemeral that it changes twice a day; a place so dynamic that it transforms from summer sand to hard cobble in winter,” he said.

Although the overarching message of the day was positivity, many of the speakers expressed their melancholy over the gathering.

A recurring theme in the speeches was the necessity to use the negative impacts of the Refugio spill for good — for new legislation, more clean energy opportunities, and attention from the rest of the world to better spread this message.

State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, and Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, were represented by staff who had prepared statements from the legislators.

The day’s final speaker, Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, finished on a strong note.

“We have all the recourses necessary to switch from our past to the future, to sit down with our decision makers, governments and industries, and tell them that, in going with renewable energy, they will continue being in business,” he said.

“We need to protect and preserve our life support system ... We are the only species on the planet that has the choice and the privilege not to disappear.”

Noozhawk intern Ana Mezic​ can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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