GO WITH THE FLOW
That’s what the County of Santa Barbara has decided to do in the wake of the 1/9 Debris Flow. (Yes…our very own Montecito disaster has a name.) The new evacuation maps produced by the County Office of Emergency Services (OES) show Mandatory Evacuation Zones that are within the hardest hit areas from that fateful day. Makes sense, in a way. But isn’t planning supposed to happen before an event?
We were talking about flows. So, this being an SOS California blog, I want to talk about the constant, currently unchecked flow of oil and gas into the Santa Barbara Channel from natural oil seeps. But the context in which I want to discuss this today has to do with another type of flow…the flow of money.
In the first few weeks after the 1/9 Debris Flow, the talk centered on the devastation: the impacts of the loss of life and the loss of property, the sense of community and how to help. Local author TC Boyle’s New Yorker article, The Absence in Montecito, describes the setting perfectly. While we try to wrap our heads around that reality we’re beginning to hear more every day about the economic impacts. Here are just some of the details:
- As early as January 14, five days after the flow, the NBC affiliate in Los Angeles reported that the event “is causing distress miles from where the torrent of muck and boulders stopped, as a local economy that thrives on tourism and the lure of sun-soaked beaches was left reeling…the economic damage ranged up and down the coast, far from where the mudslide ravaged the celebrity getaway of Montecito.”
- On January 18, KQED reported that “Some local business owners say the prolonged shutdown of the 101 Freeway has led to missed shipments and lost revenues.” Local agriculture provides one example – growers need to get their shipments out. I noticed the reduced stock at clothing and grocery stores that were impacted by this collateral economic effect.
- The Santa Barbara Independent reported on the February 5 Community Tourism Recovery Forum hosted by Visit California and Visit Santa Barbara. According to Visit California, “every week Highway 101 was closed resulted in a loss of an estimated $6.6 million of visitor spending in Santa Barbara County. On a per-day basis, the loss was $949,000.” In fact, tourism impacts had started as soon as the ash from the Thomas Fire wafted here from Ventura. Our county “took a massive fiscal hit when the fire began to descend on the community in early December and burned through the holiday season until January 12. Even in non-evacuation zones, the toxic air led businesses that often rely on the holiday season for income to close temporarily or cut staff to reduce costs.” Internet pictures, such as the one to the left, of smoke-filled air and residents wearing gas masks didn’t help. In fact, the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara had closed during the fires, opened for 1 day, and now their website states, “As a result of the January 9 flooding and mudslides, the Resort will be closed until June 1, 2018.” Montecito Inn sustained significant damage during the 1/9 Debris Flow. The hotel’s planned re-opening on February 16, its 90th anniversary, has been postponed.
- On January 26, John Palminteri with KEYT reported that, “There will be a significant drop in property tax income from the Montecito area in the months ahead after urgent reassessments take place due to the recent mudflow catastrophe. The total cost of the damage has yet to be calculated but officials say it will be the costliest disaster in county history based on property values in the area…In addition to the mudflow calculations going on, the assessor’s office has already removed $163-million in fire impacts from the tax rolls based on damage or losses last December in the Thomas fire when it came through Santa Barbara County.“
- And what service can be heavily impacted by a drop in tax revenue? Public schools. On February 15, KCLU’s Lance Orozco reported that, “Santa Barbara’s Cold Spring School survived the January disaster, but many of the homes in the one school-school district didn’t. It’s estimated the 170 student school could lose close to 10% of its budget because of decreased property tax revenue as a result of the destructive debris flows… The loss of revenue could mean massive cuts, or potentially even closing its doors. “ Of course there is talk of fundraising efforts, but how can this be enough to save a school, considering all the other demands on corporate and personal funding? And it’s certain that other County schools will feel the pinch as well.
Sharon Byrne, executive director of the Coast Village Association, in her comments during the Community Tourism Recovery Forum, emphasized the effect the natural disasters have had on business owners and employees. “Think about what a month of reduced income looks like, and then another 20 days of no income, and ask how your budget would do under those kind of circumstances.”
That’s exactly what we at SOS are thinking about.
SOS has a solution. The first step – we’d would like to ask the community members whose automatic response any offshore oil project is “NO!!!” to consider the following:
- The economic resources we’ve lost
- The economic resource we have
Anyone who knows SOS understands that we’ve been educating the public on the economic advantages of producing oil and gas from our natural seeps. We are just surprised that, especially in the face of difficult times being made more so by natural factors that are out of our control, more of the public does not understand that we can exercise some control. We all, as taxpayers, are the owners of the offshore oil and gas leases, not the oil companies. The oil companies lease the opportunity to develop the resources for us. So we control the resource – and we can win economically as well through the leasing process.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) develops the Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (National OCS Program) for oil and gas development in accordance with the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCS Lands Act). This National OCS Program establishes a five-year schedule of oil and gas lease sales proposed for the U.S. OCS: it specifies the size, timing, and location of potential leasing activity that the Secretary of the Interior determines will best meet national energy needs for the five-year period under consideration. BOEM is initiating a process to develop a new National OCS Program for 2019–2024, which would include California offshore areas. Santa Barbara, of course, plans to rally in opposition to the plan. And, while we may own the resource, many local politicians are opposed to any increase in oil and gas production. As reported in the Santa Maria Sun, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, at their January 30 regular meeting, passed a resolution (3 votes to 2) formally opposing new offshore oil leases in federal waters along the California coast.
Just think about it. Santa Barbara County would benefit should offshore leasing be approved. As discussed in the Draft Proposed Program 2019 – 2024, OCS oil and gas production increases the economic contribution to local economies through spending and investment, and provides a meaningful contribution to state and local tax revenues. Also, revenue sharing is a method of providing economic benefit to those regions that bear the environmental risks of proximate OCS oil and gas activities, and is implemented in accordance with Section 8(g) of the OCS Lands Act. In 2016, California received $1,648,042 in 8(g) revenues.
It will take years to rebuild Montecito. Don’t we need to find a way to support that effort?
Just think about it. Maybe take a walk on the beach and think about it – the ebb…and the flow.