California's Santa Barbara County Reverses Offshore Oil Drilling Stand

By Noaki Schwartz | April 8, 2009 | 3:55 PM EDT
Los Angeles (AP) - Months after making headlines for supporting offshore oil drilling, the California county famous for spawning the modern environmental movement reversed course Tuesday and voted to oppose the drilling.
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, citing a need to preserve its coastline, voted 3-2 for a resolution to oppose oil exploration and extraction in the county.
The resolution, which will be sent to President Barack Obama and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is largely symbolic because the board lacks authority to allow or prevent drilling. However, drilling critics said the vote was timely because the Department of Interior is scheduled to discuss oil and gas leasing next week.
Democratic Assemblyman Pedro Nava called the resolution "a welcome change" from the board's 3-2 vote in August to ask the governor to change state policy and allow drilling off the county's coast. Nava has introduced a resolution calling for a moratorium on offshore drilling to be reinstated.
Proponents of drilling say it would provide a new revenue stream for the cashed-strapped county and that modern advancements have made drilling safer than ever.
The board's first resolution was passed last summer when gas was nearly $5 a gallon and domestic oil and gas production were key topics during the presidential race, prompting Republican Sen. John McCain to visit Santa Barbara to highlight his support for offshore drilling. Gas prices have since dropped by more than half.
The board introduced the new resolution after a supervisor who supported drilling left the board.
For nearly three decades, the federal Outer Continental Shelf off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and the eastern Gulf of Mexico have been protected by a drilling ban. Experts have said that lifting the ban would not produce any oil for five to seven years.
Offshore drilling has long been a touchy issue in Santa Barbara, a tony coastal community 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Los Angeles. A disaster at a Union Oil Co. platform in 1969 coated miles of beaches with oil, killed thousands of birds and helped lead to the Clean Water Act and a moratorium on offshore drilling.
For a few short months, Santa Barbara County, Calif,. was officially supportive of off-shore drilling. That is no longer true -- thanks to the county board of supervisers.