Ventura County Supervisors to Consider Eliminating Public’s Right to Challenge Oil Drilling Projects

Move by Supervisors Foy and Long Would Hand a Free Pass to the Oil Industry

 

 

Ventura, Calif. – On Tuesday, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors will consider eliminating the public’s right to participate in the approval process for oil drilling and other development projects throughout the county. If approved, the move would allow the county’s Planning Division to rubber-stamp oil drilling projects without public oversight, and would take away the ability of the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to make improvements to these projects to address public concerns.

The request to eliminate public participation – authored by Supervisors Peter Foy and Kelly Long – asks the Board to make changes to the County’s Zoning Ordinance. The proposed amendment would end the public’s ability to file appeals of Zoning Clearances, a mechanism that the Planning Division frequently uses to approve new oil wells throughout Ventura County.

“Supervisors Foy and Long are putting oil industry profits ahead of the public’s right to participate in decisions that affect the health of our environment and our communities,” said ForestWatch executive director Jeff Kuyper. “This is a thinly-veiled attempt to fast-track more oil drilling and minimize public oversight, putting places like Santa Paula Canyon and Sespe on the chopping block.”

Ventura County uses Zoning Clearances to permit oil wells in Ventura County because most oil drilling operations were approved under antiquated permits issued in the 1940s and 1950s — before many of our bedrock environmental laws were passed — with no expiration date and few, if any, permit conditions to protect the environment and public health. To drill a new well under one of these old permits, an oil company simply submits a Zoning Clearance application along with a $330 fee to obtain an over-the-counter Zoning Clearance.

Previously, County supervisors have expressed concern about Supervisor Foy’s proposal to limit public participation and eliminate the appealability of Zoning Clearances. At a hearing last year, Supervisor Parks explained, “I do believe we are all better off when the public does participate, so I wouldn’t want to take any measures at all to clamp down on the ability of people to appeal. I think there has been progress as a result of the appeal.”

ForestWatch has been at the forefront of efforts to bring transparency to the County’s Zoning Clearance approval process. Until 2014, when ForestWatch encouraged the County to post a weekly listing of approved Zoning Clearances on the County’s website, Zoning Clearances were approved without any public notice. They are now posted in real-time through the County’s Citizen Access online portal.

Further underscoring the benefits of the public appeals process, the County cancelled its illegal approval of three oil wells in the Sespe area of the Los Padres National Forest after ForestWatch threatened to file an appeal in 2014. ForestWatch also filed the first-ever appeal of a Zoning Clearance for oil drilling in Hopper Canyon in 2014. No drilling project has been cancelled due to any public appeal, but additional measures have been adopted through the appeal process to reduce environmental impacts.

“Our experience shows that the Zoning Clearance appeal process works,” said ForestWatch conservation director Bryant Baker. “It provides the public with an opportunity to bring their concerns before a formal decision-making body where they can be aired and addressed out in the open, instead of behind closed doors.”

The move comes on the heels of two other proposals to reduce the public’s ability to participate in the County’s planning process. Last year, the County Planning Division requested that the Planning Commission reduce the amount of time the public has to submit comments prior to Commission meetings. And just last month, the Board of Supervisors considered – but ultimately denied – a proposal to reduce the amount of time allowed for public testimony at Board hearings from five minutes to three minutes.

“In today’s complex and hectic world, we need to be making it easier for the public to participate in these decisions, not putting up roadblocks and shutting concerned residents out of the process,” said ForestWatch public lands advocate Rebecca August.

For a listing of Zoning Clearance appeals filed by ForestWatch – and the beneficial results those appeals achieved – please visit our website at LPFW.org/zoning-appeals.


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