The city of Santa Barbara plans to file suit against Plains All American Pipeline, seeking claims for damages incurred due to the May 19 crude oil spill off the Gaviota Coast.

City attorney Ariel Calonne has recommended the Santa Barbara City Council retain special legal counsel to assist in pursuing the claims against the pipeline company, the responsible party for the spill. The council unanimously backed a decision to hire co-counsel in a closed session vote June 23.

Calonne made the announcement Thursday, alleging that although the Santa Barbara coastline hasn’t been significantly impacted by the oil spill near Refugio State Beach some 20 miles north, they city’s reputation has suffered greatly.

“The negative news coverage has affected the city’s reputation as a world-class tourist destination, according to visitor-serving businesses and organizations,” the city said in the announcement. “At this time, damage estimates have not been quantified.” 

Calonne recommended retaining the national plaintiffs law firm of Baron & Budd on a contingency fee basis, meaning any compensation will depend on what the city recovers, he told Noozhawk.

Attorney Scott Summy, who leads the Encino, Calif.-based firm’s environmental litigation group, will serve as co-counsel with the City Attorney’s Office. He’s helped litigate other high-profile cases, including the Deepwater Horizon/BP spill, according to the city. 

City Council will consider approving a formal agreement to retain Summy — who also formerly represented the city in connection with MTBE water contamination issues — at its meeting July 21.

“It is unfortunate that the actions of an oil and gas company has resulted in damages to the City,” Summy said in a statement.

“I am honored to assist the City of Santa Barbara to make sure the city is fully compensated for any past and future losses that are associated with this unlawful incident.”

News of the pending lawsuit came a day before Refugio State Beach is scheduled to reopen at noon for the first time since the oil spill, which was caused by a corroded section of the Plains pipeline that sent up to 101,000 gallons of crude oil onto the coastline and into the ocean.

A Plains All American spokeswoman said the company does not comment on pending legal matters.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at gpotthoff@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.