The commission voted to re-certify the environmental documents in December and allow Venoco to resume oil production from its PRC 421 pier and process the oil at the Ellwood Onshore Facility.
The suit claims there are problems with the project descriptions, mitigation of environmental impacts and analysis of alternatives.
Goleta city leaders don’t want the oil from the pier to be processed at the Ellwood Onshore Facility, and the suit argues that the other alternatives — such as processing at Las Flores Canyon instead — should have been analyzed in the environmental review.
Challenging the EIR means the project timeline will be put on hold, Goleta City Attorney Tim Giles said.
“(The SLC approval) is the first in a series of approvals Venoco would need,” Giles said. “They also need approval from the city allowing processing to be done at PRC 421, and permits for the lines needed in the city jurisdiction between the well and the EOF.
“Those decisions come later, and until this lawsuit is resolved they won’t move forward with those.”
Venoco could also face closing its Ellwood Onshore Facility.
The Goleta City Council adopted an ordinance Tuesday that establishes non-conforming use termination procedures, which can put an expiration date on certain zoning uses.
Council members are split on the issue, which allows the city to terminate a legal nonconforming use — one that is no longer in compliance with land-use or zoning rules.
The ordinance could force Venoco’s Ellwood Onshore Facility to shut down, and the city is already planning a hearing to discuss it.
Mayor Paula Perotte and councilmen Jim Farr and Michael Bennett voted to adopt the ordinance, while councilmen Roger Aceves and Tony Vallejo opposed it.
Venoco vice president Ian Livett asked the council not to adopt the ordinance, saying the company has legal objections.
“The city has already admitted that the purpose is to target Venoco with the ordinance,” he said. “Laws adopted for the purpose of discriminating against and compelling discontinuance of a particular business are illegal.”
A comment letter submitted by Venoco’s attorneys at Buynak Fauver Archbald Spray expressed similar concerns, saying there will be an “expensive legal fight” that could be avoided if the ordinance is revised before adoption.
“One thing is certain, however – the five year or less amortization timeframe the City Council is binding itself to in the initial termination hearing is arbitrary and unreasonable on its face, absurd as applied to Venoco, and subjects the ordinance to certain legal challenge,” they wrote. “With a five year order to terminate the EOF, Venoco will suffer severely and have no choice but to fight to survive.”