Local chambers of commerce
Editor’s note: The News-Press received this commentary, which was signed by the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce, the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Buellton Chamber of Commerce, the Solvang Chamber of Commerce and the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The economic vitality of our county lost out to a vague worldview policy last month.
In early March, Santa Barbara County supervisors voted 3-2 to deny a temporary trucking permit to ExxonMobil, a legally permitted business that has been operating in our county since the 1980s.
County staff initially found that the project met the county’s requirements and recommended approval. However this recommendation was ultimately overturned by a narrow majority on the County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.
The vote to deny ExxonMobil a temporary trucking permit has broader implications for businesses throughout our county. Any business looking to add a trucking or transportation plan for their company could be impacted. Santa Barbara is known as a tough place to do business. This vote sends a message that any business can be denied a similar transportation permit.
At the hearing, Supervisors Joan Hartmann, Das Williams and Gregg Hart spoke volumes about the potential safety impact of nine trucks on our roads during the day as one of the most significant reasons for voting against the permit.
However, they are also known to speak to the need for economic development and living wage jobs.
We, the chambers of commerce in the county, are questioning the policy here: to deny the opportunity to bring back good-paying jobs and millions of dollars in economic activity, especially in the northern part of the county where both are desperately needed.
We thank Supervisors Steve Lavagnino and Bob Nelson for their votes in support of the permit, given all the meaningful benefits restarting operations would have brought. It will likely be years before this business can restart operations when a pipeline is available, after already being shut down for seven years.
Regardless of your feelings about oil or ExxonMobil, the reality is that we will need petroleum products for the foreseeable future. We are not yet technologically ready to fully transition to green energy.
As Supervisor Lavagnino pointed out, “The reality is: As much as we want that to happen, as much as I have voted for it to happen, it’s not there yet, and we have to continue to produce fossil fuels as we transition.”
We must learn to work together for many more years to ensure we maintain a reliable energy resource, good-paying jobs and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by producing the oil we use in the cleanest place possible for it to be produced.
Instead, the Board of Supervisors put our county in the position of having to rely heavily on oil shipped from countries overseas with fewer environmental standards, terrible human rights standards and possibly hostile relations with the West.
In this transition period, we supported a program that would have helped to increase California’s energy independence, brought back hundreds of local jobs, millions of dollars in tax revenues, and millions in economic input by restarting operations in Santa Ynez. The board did not. We believe that this decision does not show balance and reason for the economic vitality of our county, which they have been elected to uphold.
Our chambers collectively represent thousands of businesses struggling to keep their doors open and remain here in the county. Votes like this send a clear signal to business owners that no matter how many hoops they jump through, our county leadership will simply make it harder for them to do business here. On the heels of the pandemic, this is not a message we support.
We ask that county leadership take its responsibility for economic development more seriously. Ultimately, we ask that they balance the needs of those who work in our county, and those who are still seeking financial stability, against the desires of those who believe that any progress or business activity has a negative impact on their world view.