Archive for 2015

Kamala: AG “Boots on the Ground” in Spill Probe

Friday, June 5th, 2015

raw-1Playing oil spill tourist, state Attorney General and Democratic U.S. Senate wannabe Kamala Harris dropped by Santa Barbara Thursday, a visit that her staff kept insisting was official business but that sure felt like a campaign stop.

In the ancient tradition of high-profile California politicians, General Harris commanded the attention of most of the TV news cameras in Southern California, striking a pose before the Santa Barbara Channel, the state’s most beguiling symbol of enduring conflict between the splendors of nature and the abominations of corporate rapacity.

In brief remarks to reporters, the 2016 Democratic front-runner was definitely leaning nature’s way.

“It’s something that we’re taking very seriously,” she said when asked if she’s seen evidence of criminality on the part of Plains All-American Pipeline, the Texas-company that owns and operates a 24-inch pipeline that ruptured on May 19, spewing more than 100,000 gallons of 120-degree oil into the sea.

“And we’ve got boots on the ground, and in terms of my office, I’ve got almost a dozen attorneys combined with folks who are helping with our investigation to work with the local and state and federal agencies and to do our independent investigation,” she added.

Boots on the ground? A dozen attorneys? Goddam, boys, let’s get our asses headed back to Houston pronto!

So much for the official business.

raw-2A staff of four press aides from the AG’s office kept reporters penned up in a corner of the parking lot at Refugio State Beach, far away from Kamala’s private meeting with Plains officials and the inter-agency group conducting the clean-up and far away from her inspection of the actual oil-rinsed beach.

By the time she finally stood up before the cameras and consented to just over five minutes with TV types, the thought occurred that perhaps she had just come for pretty pictures, not for a substantive colloquy on the Man vs. Mother Earth conflict.

Kamala speaks! For what it’s worth, Calbuzz did get to advance a few quick questions in the 2:42 minutes it took to walk with her to her waiting car:

Coastal Commission: Harris, noting that she’s the governor’s lawyer, refused to be drawn into the controversy created when Gandalf suspended the authority of the Coastal Commission in dealing with the environmental impacts of spill: “I can’t talk about my relationship with my client, so I’m not going to answer but I do know the governor is taking this spill very seriously.” Clearly.

Trade: Harris said if she was in the Senate today, she would vote with organized labor and against President Obama, her erstwhile ally, and oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal: “Basically the way I feel about it is, we’ve got to be able to protect American workers and balance, also talk about this issue (pointing to the aforementioned Channel), talk about what we need to do about having environmental standards around those trade agreements and I haven’t been satisfied that it meets those concerns.”

FullSizeRender-2Iran: On the other hand, she said she would stand in the Senate with Obama on his efforts to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran: “The point he’s making is, he’s trying to strike a balance around between creating a dialogue and an opportunity for a dialogue in that region and I support what he’s doing. And I’ll also say that we’ve got to, basically have some time period and some restraint on the use of force authorization and I support that the three year term that he has proposed is right.” Please diagram this sentence.

A final word on stagecraft: It’s hard to mess up a shot with the Santa Barbara coastline, but whoever did the advance for this trip did their best.

Instead of having the cameras set up to shoot her at an angle, Queen Kamala stood with her back directly to the sun and the wind, leaving her to struggle vainly with her hair, her hands in almost every shot, and her skinny little mic looking sad and lonely standing next to a big stout palm.

Grade: C-

Photo credits: Paul Wellman and Barney Brantingham, Santa Barbara Independent.


We Are the Seven Percent: Drought, What Drought?

Thursday, June 4th, 2015


The big news in the just-out PPIC poll is that Californians now consider the drought the most important issue facing the state. The most fascinating data point, however, is this: seven percent of state residents say their neighbors are doing too much to combat the drought.

For those keeping score at home, that makes for 1.7 million Californians who worry Bob next door doesn’t wash his car enough, Blanche across the street only waters her lawn once a day while Mona and Fred haven’t topped off the pool in a week.

Doing too much? Really? Who are these people?

With a strong heart and an optimistic spirit, we committed to finding out, and began by demanding PPIC fork over their crosstabs.

(A brief digression: Right about now we’re picturing Mark Baldassare, PPIC’s CEO and chief polltaker, going all red in the face, clutching his chest and collapsing flat on the floor in his high-end. S.F. Financial District office digs. So for the record: seven percent – about 120 people of the 1,706 surveyed – is way too small a sample size to ascertain anything whatsoever, and what you’re about to read is completely unscientific and has a margin of error of plus or minus 86 gazillion percent. Your mileage may vary).

To resume: these are some of the characteristics of what we quickly labeled “the knucklehead cohort” in the poll. Among the 7 percent:

-35% lives in the Central Valley, more than L.A. and the Bay Area combined.

-57% describes themselves as conservatives.

-55% has only a high school education.

-65% has incomes of $40K or less.

-25% thinks Gov. Gandalf’s mandatory water conservation is too much.

tricorneSo: whining farmers in tricorne hats who can’t afford to pay their water bill, despise Jerry Brown’s social engineering and plan to vote for fellow H.S. grad President Scott Walker.

But how many acre-feet is that? Oddly enough, more than two-thirds of this group – about 80 actual adults in our utterly unrepresentative sample – say the drought is a big problem, while just 17 percent say it’s “not much of a problem.” Go figure.

According to the latest figures from the USGS, the average Californian uses 181 gallons of water a day, which means this bunch sucks up 7,927,800 gallons a year.

That’s enough to produce 12,891 Quarter-Pounder combos supersized, which is probably what these people normally eat. (You can duplicate our findings using information found here, here, here, here and here. We dare you).

In large part because we didn’t try, Calbuzz was unable to reach any of these survey respondents, sources said. However, well-informed speculation suggests the 7 percent, if asked, would explain their blind ignorance optimism thusly:

-I’ll give you my hose when you pry it from my hot, dead hands (49%).

-Can’t hear ya, got the tub runnin,’ call back later. (18%)

-Haven’t seen a thing about it on Snapchat (14%)

-Just got back from Uranus (10%)

-We don’t take calls from telemarketers (8%).

(May not sum to total due to rounding).

knuckleheads-always-welcomeAll of which, for some reason, puts us in mind of that great line from the Southern novelist Charles Martin:

“It’s so dry, the trees are bribing the dogs.”

No animals were harmed during the writing of this post.

P.S. The new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California really does have some an interesting stuff in it. You can find it here.

Brown Rolls Back Coastal Act Suspension Order

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

Jerry BrownUpdate June 6: Gov. Brown reversed his order suspending the power of the Coastal Commission late Friday, a classic move of dumping disagreeable news at the end of the week, timed to land in the dead zone between when reporters have left for the weekend and before everyone’s on to something new on Monday.

Calbuzz gets results. His new proclamation is here.

Pick up earlier story: California environmental advocates were pleased when Jerry Brown moved swiftly on an emergency proclamation to expedite clean up of the Refugio Oil Spill in Santa Barbara.

Then they read the fine print.

In a precedent-setting move, the governor in his order quietly suspended the landmark California Coastal Act. With the action, Brown crippled the authority of the Coastal Commission to ensure that Plains All-American Pipeline meets the coastal law’s toughest-in-the-nation environmental standards in cleaning up and restoring damaged beaches and nearby habitat. Plains is the company that owns the pipeline which ruptured and spilled more than 100,000 gallons of oil into the ocean on May 19.

“It makes no sense to suspend the very law that was created by a citizen initiative, in response to the massive 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, to address situations like this,” Susan Jordan, director of the California Coastal Protection Network, said of Brown’s order,

susan“If anything, this is the time to make certain the Coastal Act’s protective policies are administered and enforced,” she added.

So far, the spill had damaged about 40 miles of coastline, killed more than 100 birds and mammals and closed more than 100 square miles of fishing area and two state beaches.

Late Tuesday, a coalition of more than two dozen environmental organizations statewide called upon the governor to rescind the suspension of the Coastal Act.

In a letter to Brown, the groups said restoring the authority of the Coastal Commission  in connection with the spill, is necessary in order to ensure clean up is “undertaken with environmental sensitivity and with the guarantee of full restoration and mitigation once the emergency has passed.”

linda-krop“The oil spill resulted from a weakening of oversight of the pipeline,” said Linda Krop, chief counsel of the Environmental Defense Center and one of the state’s most experienced and respected lawyers in dealing with coastal issues.  “Now is not the time to exacerbate the damage by weakening the Coastal Act requirements for mitigation and restoration.”

Low-ball red tape: In announcing his May 20 order, Brown declared that it “cuts red tape.” It was telling that his announcement didn’t highlight the suspension; he low-balled his undercutting of the commission, tucking that language into section 5 of the document — below eight “whereas” clauses and one “therefore.”

Evan Westrup, Brown’s press secretary, referred questions about the proclamation to the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, one of several state agencies within the so-called “Unified Command” which is overseeing operations at Refugio beach.

Deputy Director Kelly Huston of that office said the Coastal Commission is being “notified” about the work being done under the order, adding that Brown’s exemption action was necessary “in enabling the most effective response by those responsible for emergency response.”

“It’s the intent of the administration to ensure the Coastal Commission is actively involved when and where necessary,” he said.

Melissa Boggs, senior environmental scientist with the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response, also has been working with the inter-governmental spill team. She said that the clean up is being carried out carefully and with full consideration for “preserving important resources.”

spillWithin the environmental community, however, the Coastal Commission’s robust and rigorous regulations long have been recognized as the gold standard.

Moreover, the environmental coalition in its letter notes that the commission already has a process for verbally and immediately granting emergency waivers and permits, although the need to move with great dispatch was a purported raison d’être for the governor’s suspension order.

Had the commission led the process, Plains eventually would have had to comply with the state’s most stringent regulations for marine, beach, wetlands and other habitat restoration; now the company possibly could elude them.

“This is the first time in history that the Coastal Act and the authority of the Coastal Commission has been suspended,” said Jordan, whose organization is based in Santa Barbara.

“Given the provisions in the Act to act expeditiously in the event of the emergency, this suspension was ill-advised, unnecessary and has set a significant adverse statewide precedent that should not be underestimated.”

Oil-Spill-Bird-lc-630x420Sand and cobble: At first glance, the dispute might seem mere political wrangling, but there is considerable substance to it.

Clean-up and healing of the extensive environmental damage Plains inflicted requires management of a maddeningly complex process, which includes interlocking systems and sciences, from biology, geology and administrative permit law to metallurgy, pipeline engineering and an array of health and safety regulations.

The size and shape of berms, the amount of beach kelp available to arthropods that feed baby plovers, even the granularity of sand and cobble, are a few of thousands of factors involved in restoring the coastline and nearby areas.

Who controls that process is significant, because it determines what environmental standards Plains must meet; California’s broadest, deepest, most specific and time-tested benchmarks and guidelines derive from the Coastal Act, administered by its commission.

“With all due respect to the good work of the other state agencies in addressing this oil spill, the Coastal Act is not ‘red tape,’” said Jordan, “and no other state agency is empowered to enforce its legal mandate and protective policies.”

125_jerry_brown_toutQuick history lesson: As every school child knows, the law was spawned by passage of Proposition 20, a 1972 initiative that, for the first time, treated California’s 1,057-mile coastline as a system, not a patchwork of stretches governed and shaped by the whims of local politicians.

It passed 55-to-45 percent, following a series of events that threatened the coast: the disastrous 1969 Santa Barbara spill, energy company efforts to pack the coastline with nuclear plants and development proposals for hoards of houses, hotels and condos.

(Irony worth noting: then-Secretary of State Jerry Brown put the measure on the ballot despite the threat of litigation by major corporations that opposed it; he later boosted Prop. 20 by publicizing major campaign contributions against the measure from special interests; in 1976, a young Governor Brown signed the legislation that permanently enshrined the initiative as the California Coastal Act. But we digress).

This just in: Of course this is not the first time Brown in recent years has pushed major environmental law aside by executive action.

He recently suspended the keystone California Environmental Quality Act in his emergency proclamation on the drought; several years ago, he famously suspended CEQA on behalf of developers of a proposed NFL stadium in L.A.

14.4-Million-Elegant-Mediterranean-Mansion-in-Santa-Barbara-California“The governor has a penchant for putting loopholes into important environmental laws,” said Patrick Sullivan, climate media director of the Oakland-based Biological Diversity Center. “He’s not respectful of the Coastal Act, the Coastal Commission or CEQA.”

Secret Calbuzz bottom line memo to Gandalf: Hey man, the value of our Santa Barbara-based World Marketing Headquarters and Calbuzzard Retirement Bungalow could plunge if this mess isn’t cleaned up right. Let’s get our best team on the field, okay?

A version of this column will publish in the Santa Barbara Independent edition of June 4.