After decades of pompously persecuting and prosecuting various business interests throughout the county for mere accidents and happenstance, Santa Barbara County itself is finding out the hard way that what goes around comes around.
While county supervisors have historically liked to claim the moral high ground as protectors of the environment, via sanctimonious proclamations at press conferences, and litigation, now it is the county that is lawyering up for their own misfortune.
This time around, because there was no press conference, we must surmise the details of two incidents that have prompted the county to hire the law firm of Perkins Coie. (Yes, that is the same firm that Hillary Clinton used to launch her dirty tricks campaign against Donald Trump ala the fake Russian dossier!) The lawyers from Perkins Coie are trying to get the county out of hot water as it affects two cases of hazardous chemical contamination.
The first case has to do with a somewhat natural oil seep in Toro Canyon that has been leaking for decades. Years ago, the federal government came in and cleaned up a huge mess in the canyon and then handed responsibility for future seeps to the very reluctant county of Santa Barbara. Due to the happenstance of a wildland fire that burned through the area, the equipment the feds placed there got damaged while nobody from the county bothered to monitor and maintain the equipment. As a result, hundreds of gallons of oil flowed freely down the canyon. The county is being prosecuted accordingly.
The second case is in Santa Maria where there is alleged contamination of the aquifer at the site of the former Semco company.
Albeit most people believe that most of the contamination originated long before Semco located there by way of a Department of Defense World War 2 air training base that had no less than 250 tanks of all sorts of bad stuff including, of course, various aviation fluids. In this case, the Regional Water Quality Control Board is trying to force Santa Barbara County, the city of Santa Maria and the Santa Maria Airport to fork out tens of millions of dollars via a cleanup and abatement order. This, despite the fact that nobody, including the water board, has any reason to believe these three local government entities had anything whatsoever to do with the contamination!
This is par for the course for the tyrannical and abusive water board, which answers to no one. Whereas a sympathetic audience might feel sorry for Santa Barbara County for finding itself in the middle of lawsuits for pollution it did not technically create, in my opinion, the county deserves the karma because it has done similar things to countless others in the past.
The county has been oh so happy in numerous times past to turn businesses in to the water board (and other agencies) for matters that were legacy issues from long ago that the current owner had nothing to do with. In one instance, the county went after a fuel distributor for ground contamination, whereupon further investigation the contamination had come from a county operation!
The most infamous case of abuse ever? Instead of building houses on ground that had been slated for development, Peter Adam (years before he became a county supervisor) and family instead purchased the land to farm it. The county subsequently fabricated a wetland designation on the property and got caught red-handed doing it! The county was fined by a jury for $7 million as a result, because the land was never a wetland to begin with. The fine got thrown out on a technicality, but the finding of “fraud, malice and oppression” stands.
“Fraud, malice and oppression” sounds like somebody’s de facto mission statement, if you ask me!
Andy Caldwell is the COLAB executive director and host of “The Andy Caldwell Show,” airing 3 to 5 p.m. weekdays on KZSB AM 1290, the News-Press radio station.