Larry Rebecchi believes something monumental happened last week for supporters of a San Benito County fracking ban.
County supervisors agreed to send the initiative to the ballot – a formality considering the measure’s supporters gathered more than the needed number of signatures – but they also sided with the San Benito Rising group on two related matters.
Supervisors voted 4-1 to adjust the ballot summary in a fashion acceptable to San Benito Rising and agreed to publish the proposed initiative in its entirety on the sample ballot. Supervisor Margie Barrios dissented, pointing to her opposition of the proposal itself and a lacking fiscal analysis on the measure.
Rebecchi said in particular, the change in the summary statement reflects “the content of the initiative itself.” He contended the county counsel’s version of the summary was prejudice against the proposal. The county counsel, Matthew Granger, responded Monday.
"The discussion on the ballot language happened entirely in open session," said Granger, adding that the board sided with San Benito Rising on the language.
Along with the more amenable summary, the group wanted the entire measure on the sample ballot – six pages – to offer voters a chance to dissect it. They got their wish on that as well.
“If people are on the fence and they really want to do their homework, they can,” Rebecchi said.
He and other San Benito Rising advocates are pushing to ban fracking and other forms of high-intensity energy extraction – such as steam injections at the Project Indian site in the Bitterwater area – throughout the county while prohibiting all petroleum activities in rural residential zones.
They want to clear up what they call misconceptions about the proposal. One of those has to do with the areas of the county where all petroleum activities would be banned completely under the initiative. For the most part, those "rural" designations largely surround Hollister and other residential areas, while much of the south county region is enveloped in agricultural rangeland zoning where traditional oil activities could still happen.
"We’re going to try and encourage people to read the initiative," said Andy Hsia-Coron, one of the leaders in the San Benito Rising campaign. "To really understand it, you almost have to look at existing regulations."
San Benito Rising has made the argument that fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, contaminates water supplies and causes earth tremors. Opponents have argued in favor of waiting to hear more about the science, how there aren't any existing fracking projects here and that the local proposal is overreaching as it pertains to all petroleum.
With the entire proposal on the sample ballot, voters will have all the details at their fingertips. Printing the whole measure, though, will add several thousand dollars in costs to the November election as well.
“It really depends on the jurisdiction,” said Angela Curro, assistant clerk-recorder-registrar, regarding the choice to print the whole initiative. “San Benito High School was very adamant about doing the complete text (of its recent bond).”
It was the overall cost – and a lack of examination on the potential fiscal impact – which led Barrios to oppose last week's moves. She was the lone supervisor who had pushed for a fiscal analysis of the proposal before adding it to the ballot.
Barrios on Monday underscored that she is actually against fracking, but also opposed to the initiative on the ballot due to its proposed restrictions on all oil activities in certain parts of the county.
"Anytime you take a big step like this, you need to know how it's going to affect the county," she said.
County Counsel's proposed ballot question:
Shall San Benito County’s General Plan be amended to ban High-Intensity Petroleum Operations (such as hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, acid well stimulation, and cyclic steam injection, but not Low-Intensity Petroleum Operations) throughout all unincorporated areas, and all Petroleum Operations in residential general plan designations of Rural, Rural Transitional, Rural Residential, Rural/Urban, and Sphere of Influence Rural/Urban, with related zoning changes to implement the new General Plan policies?