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The Big Picture Aug 13, 2020

Local services will become collateral damage as Ventura County General Plan takes aim at the petroleum industry

Critics say the long-range plan fails to address the county’s budget shortfall from COVID-19 and will hurt its vulnerable population most

A proposed general plan for Ventura County has drawn strong opposition from the business community both for its failure to address the negative fiscal impacts of COVID-19 and for its anti-oil measures.

Ventura County’s proposed general plan risks impacts at every level of county services, including public health response, say local business leaders.

Ventura County’s proposed general plan risks impacts at every level of county services, including public health response, say local business leaders.

Critics say the County of Ventura 2040 General Plan, which includes some $36 million in program costs, hasn’t adequately accounted for the county’s revenue losses from the pandemic.

The Ventura County Economic Development Association (VCEDA), in a July 27 letter to County Supervisor Kelly Long, requested a delay in approving the plan until the County of Ventura completes a thorough financial review.

Long chairs the County of Ventura Board of Supervisors, which will vote on the plan Sept. 1.

VCEDA chair Michele Newell signed the letter on behalf of more than 30 board members representing a broad spectrum of county businesses and industries. Newell also serves as Aera’s public affairs representative in Ventura.

The general plan includes goals, policies and programs that guide Ventura County’s land use, resource protection and development through 2040. In the works since 2015, it focuses heavily on land-use issues and addressing California’s aggressive climate goals. The Ventura County Planning Commission has recommended the draft plan to the board of supervisors.

Big budget shortfall

VCEDA’s letter referred to economic impact findings from a recent study by Capitol Matrix Consulting. Those show the current health crisis will reduce Ventura County’s revenues by $80 million in 2019-20 and 2020-21 combined. Revenue losses will increase to $100 million a year starting in 2021-22.

That’s significantly greater than the county’s own assessment in June, when it projected a $40 million shortfall in its budget. VCEDA said the county’s deficit doesn’t include the costs the county hospital will incur due to the pandemic.

“We believe it is the Board’s responsibility and duty to consider and investigate the disparity between these estimates,” VCEDA noted in the letter. By not doing so, “we risk impacts at every level of county services, on local businesses and on every resident of Ventura County.”

The Ventura County Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business agrees.

“The county has not even done a cursory economic impact analysis to figure out how these policies will impact jobs, tax revenue and our cost of living,” Louise Lampara, the coalition’s executive director, told the VCReporter July 22.

“Our primary concern needs to be the public health response and economic recovery from the COVID pandemic,” added Lampara. “We are not in the same world that we were a year ago, when these policies were first proposed.”

Women and workers of color are among those hardest hit by the pandemic’s impact in Ventura County.

Women and workers of color are among those hardest hit by the pandemic’s impact in Ventura County.

Proposed plan hurts women, workers of color

COVID-19 has hit Ventura County’s economy hard. VCEDA shared that:

  • More than 25% of those working in Ventura County have either lost their jobs or suffered significantly reduced hours, according to the Ventura County Workforce Development Board;
  • The average wages of the workers in the highly impacted sectors are dramatically lower than the average for all jobs in Ventura County;
  • PolicyLink says the steepest decline in employment opportunities has been in jobs that pay less than $35,000 per year;
  • Women and workers of color have been three times more likely than white men to lose employment, according to California Budget and Policy Center.

At the planning commission’s July 13 meeting, VCEDA referred to state law, which requires a review of social equity impacts in policy planning.  

“The policies proposed within this general plan will have dramatic impacts on our local economy, again without study, and disproportionally impact communities of color,” noted the VCEDA letter.

Threatening the future of local oil and gas

Further, the long-range planning document “significantly restricts any new oil and gas production in Ventura County,” said Ben Oakley, coastal region manager for Western States Petroleum Association. “It will devastate the industry over time, despite claims to the contrary.”

The plan puts onerous restrictions on oil development. It calls for “arbitrary setbacks” between new wells and “sensitive receptors” such as schools and homes, Oakley said. It bans “natural gas” flaring, which is the managed burning of natural gas to control emissions from oil and gas production and refining.

“The plan will devastate the local oil and gas industry over time, despite claims to the contrary.”

The plan stipulates that oil can only be transported via pipeline, not by trucks. It also increases property taxes on oil and gas production in unincorporated areas of Ventura County.

“The community provided information and feedback throughout the process,” Oakley added. “But at the 11th hour, activists influenced the county to include anti-oil measures in the draft plan.”

More than a dozen local, state and federal agencies already regulate Ventura County’s petroleum industry, making further oversight “an unnecessary redundancy,” he said.

The loss of the local oil industry would cripple Ventura County’s economy.

Oil and gas production contributes $50 million to Ventura County each year and accounts for 2,000 jobs in the county. In all, the industry annually generates $700 million in economic output.

Without tax revenues from oil and gas production, Ventura County would be forced to cut spending for services such as law enforcement, fire prevention, social programs and schools. Shutting down the industry would remove employment opportunities for the County’s ethnically diverse population and hurt low-income families.

“In addition, any effort to restrict production in this state results in more oil and gas imports from foreign sources,” said Oakley. “We are already producing energy in California under the strictest environmental regulations in the world.”

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