SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - Santa Barbara County Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, using his power as Chair of the Board of Supervisors, has called a special meeting of his fellow supervisors and county staff in the middle of the traditional summer recess to address what he says is a major legal concern for the county.
That is the current wording of Measure P as it prepares to go to the printers for its place on the ballot for the November General Election.
Measure P would place a ban on future "high-intensity" oil and gas extraction and production methods in the unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County including fracking, steam injection and acidization.
"One of the things that we found is there are major, major flaws in it", Lavagnino says about the current wording of Measure P, "we've already had one attorney come to me and tell me we are talking about a lawsuit with the County and its going to have a "b" in it, it can either for billion or bankrupt, but its going to be costing a lot of money."
Lavagnino says he wants County attorneys to explain to the Board what the language in Measure P means, if it truly means "future" production or "existing" operations and what exemptions would be covered in the proposed ordinance.
"Proponents of Measure P are telling us that its only for new development, it has nothing to do with existing operations or existing revenue", Lavagnino says, "but the attorneys out there are telling us the way they read it and the way a judge would look at it, they determined it would cover existing operations."
Lavagnino says Measure P, as written, leaves the county vulnerable to a tidal wave of lawsuits citing the unconstitutional taking of private property and private property mineral rights.
"Probably the most exposure this county has ever seen as far as litigation goes", Lavagnino says, "I think just about every landowner in northern Santa Barbara County would have a claim against the County, there would be thousands of claims, not just by the existing oil operators but those that are next to oil operators, those that said they bought land on speculation, we'd be tied up in court forever."
Ed Hazard says he and his family own underground mineral rights in the oil-rich Cat Canyon area of northern Santa Barbara County as well as around the Santa Maria Valley.
"Our minerals are severed, we don't have surface ownership", Hazard says, "we own the minerals, which are anywhere between 2,000 and 6-7-8 thousand feet below the surface."
"We are are being forced to fight for our rights, and we will", Hazard says about his mineral rights and the future of Measure P, "we will fight to the end."
Hazard is President of the California Chapter of the National Association of Royalty Owners.
He cites his family, and tens of thousands of other property owners, who rely on the royalties they receive from oil and gas companies that tap into their mineral rights.
"It's the private citizens that own this asset", Hazard says, "by necessity we have to lease to oil companies and gas companies, the producers, because they have the resources."
Hazard says most of the property owners who rely on oil and gas production royalties on the Central Coast, or across the state, are elderly people living on a fixed income.
"The majority of mineral owners in this state, and its estimated there are 510,000 of them, are over the age of 60 and female", Hazard says, "the oil companies wouldn't be here if the oil wasn't here."
Hazard says Measure P could cost he and his family hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income.
"We are confident the State, under SB 4, CEQA, AB 32, has in place the toughest environmental standards, perhaps in the world, for the production of oil and gas", Hazard says, "we use it here, why not produce it here, for the benefit of all our citizens, not just the mineral owners, not just the oil companies, but everyone who works, pays taxes, eats, sleeps in this county."
Supervisor Steve Lavagnino says he wants everything about Measure P spelled out to him, his fellow Supervisors and the voters of Santa Barbara County.
"I think that the important thing (Tuesday) is to get the determination, is this a flawed ballot measure that we are dealing with, if it is, then its incumbent upon each of us is, if we support the oil industry, or don't support the oil industry, is to let the voters know what they are voting on", Lavagnino says.
"From what we have been hearing from attorneys outside is they are looking at this and interpreting it that it does cover all existing operations", lavagnino says, "so what I want to hear from our County Counsel (Tuesday) is direct the Board of Supervisors, does it cover existing operations or does it not cover existing operations? Because if it covers existing, the litigation threat to the county would be enormous."
A spokesperson for the group that organized the petition drive to get Measure P on the November ballot says the majority of County Supervisors disagree with Lavagnino's interpretation.
"The only lawyers who are saying the initiative applies to existing operations are ones paid by the oil industry to say that", says Katie Davis of Santa Barbara Water Guardians, "plenty of lawyers including top firms in San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Stanford University have all clearly said that it does not apply to current projects or any conventional oil production and will not result in legal suits because it's well established law that communities have the right to ban these techniques."
The special meeting of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors gets underway Tuesday morning at the Supervisors Hearing Room in the County Administration Building on Anacapa Street in downtown Santa Barbara.