Can the county oppose a business ownership change? 

It seems pretty standard: One business buys another business’s property and becomes the new owner of said property. 

But I guess if you’re an oil corporation buying a pipeline that spilled oil all over a beloved piece of the Santa Barbara County coastline, things become a little less standard. ExxonMobil and associates recently filed an application to do just that.

The county Planning Commission barely approved the application—even though ExxonMobil already owns the pipeline in the real world—and that 3-1 approval will likely get appealed to the Board of Supervisors. I would bet money on it. Why?

Ye ol’ slippery slope argument. A go-to in lots of political arguments. 

If the county approves the ownership change, ExxonMobil will start the pipeline back up.

Linda Krop from the Environmental Defense Center—which was founded as a direct result of the infamous oil spill along the Santa Barbara Coastline in the 1960s (See what happens when you don’t take care of your infrastructure, oil companies? Not only do you destroy the environment, you also fuel the opposition. Pun intended.)—believes it’s “an issue in context” because the company has shown interest in restarting the pipeline.

That isn’t enough to deny the application, according to a very smart planning commissioner from the county’s 2nd District, Laura Bridley.

“This is a business transaction,” Bridley stated during the June 14 hearing. “This isn’t about starting the line, and as much as opponents today want to extend the logic … a lot of things have to happen before the lines will start.” 

ExxonMobil is becoming a regular at Planning Commission meetings. The June 14 application hearing was the third in four months about the pipelines. The other visits involved a series of state-required safety valves ExxonMobil wanted to install on the pipelines in question, another environmentalist-opposed proposal buoyed by the slippery slope argument. It’s a good argument! And it works.

Planning Commissioner Larry Ferini, from the 4th District, agreed with Bridley. The application is all business—but he added a little extra, hinting at the future and a potential restart. 

“This is to get a very strong company in place who has the financial wherewithal to check, double check, to fix, double fix, to make sure everything is done to the best of their human capacity,” Ferini said. 

And the only reason to put all the things in all the right places is to … you got it: Get the oil in. 

So is it just a business decision? The slippery slope argument does work, but a lot of things need to happen before anything flows through the pipelines again. 

Bridley opposed the safety valves-installation request due to the slope being slippery—although she said she struggled with the decision. Krop called Bridley out, saying that her yes vote on the ownership change was inconsistent with previous votes. And it was. 

But are they the same? 

According to Krop, yes, because none of it deals with the permit conditions that say the pipeline has to be protected from corrosion. Can you put conditions on an ownership change application? Seems like a little bit of a slippery slope.

The Canary wants a Slip ‘N’ Slide. Send comments to [email protected].

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