Will a controversy more associated with Oxnard and Malibu become an election topic for this year’s crop of city council candidates in Ventura?
At an Oct. 10 forum at the Ventura Marina Mobile Home Park, near the Ventura Harbor, all nine candidates seeking one of three seats on the council weighed in — albeit to varying degrees — against the second proposal in a year to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility off the Ventura County coastline.
The event marks the first time any politician from the city of Ventura has spoken publicly in the long simmering debate over the construction of LNG facilities in coastal waters. Houston-based NorthernStar Natural Gas hopes to win approval by next May from state and federal officials for its Clearwater Port project, which would convert an offshore oil pumping facility known as Platform Grace into an LNG import terminal.
The event took place in the midst of a two-week flurry of debates and policy forums surrounding the city Nov. 6 election. Voters will choose from nine candidates, including incumbents Bill Fulton, Carl Morehouse and Christy Weir, and challengers Lou Cunningham, Doug Halter, Mike Gibson, Jerry Martin, Brian Lee Rencher and Carroll Dean Williams.
In a city that fashions itself California’s New Art City, the candidates were set to discuss arts advocacy in Ventura after this edition of the Reporter went to press, during an election forum Oct. 17 at the Bell Arts Factory. The previous evening candidates squared off on issues facing the city’s oldest neighborhoods at an event sponsored by the Downtown Ventura Organization, the Westside Community Council, and the VC Reporter (for a look at detailed responses from the candidates to questions asked during that forum, visit www.downtownventura.org/forum-answers.html.) Other events included debates at Ventura College, the historic Dudley House and Midtown Ventura’s Cooper Hall.
Municipal government mainstays such as the cost of police and fire services and how to incentive economic development have been at the heart of each forum, but the candidates waded into the offshore LNG platform debate after an audience question at the Oct. 10 forum.
“My current knowledge and understanding is the Ventura City Council has no authority over that,” Williams said.
Morehouse agreed with Williams, but suggested there still may be a role for the city in the debate.
“We do have a right to weigh in on this as a neighboring jurisdiction just as Oxnard and Port Hueneme did over the BHP Billiton issue,” he said. “The state has yet to prove to me that we need LNG as a bridge fuel [to non-fossil fuel energy sources] … There are so many other ways besides bringing in LNG which also adds further air pollution.”
Martin said he didn’t see a need for an LNG terminal off Ventura’s coast, as did Gibson, who said his interest in protecting the physical beauty of Ventura meant if he were faced with taking a position as a city councilman he would look at an LNG proposal with a “jaundiced” eye.
“I would, on the surface, oppose it because I don’t think this is the right place for it,” Gibson said. “Having said that, I think we also need to strive for finding renewable and alternative sources of energy.”
Halter’s opposition, meanwhile, was less definitive. He said California has one of the most entrepreneurial, creative cultures the world has ever seen, so its citizenry should be able to develop non-polluting, renewable alternatives to LNG.
“I would like to do everything possible to encourage that, but to simply stand here and say LNG is more polluting than oil or gas or other natural gas is tough to do until you see all of it stacked up,” he said. “You have to know which of them is the best of all evils, so you have to understand they all have downfalls. My inclination is not to support LNG for pollution reasons.”
Before answering the question, Rencher took the audience to task, asking how many people used natural gas on a regular basis. He pointed out that natural gas is a cleaner fuel than other fossil fuels, but he also said California hasn’t proven there is a demand for more natural gas (in fact, a bill supported by Clearwater requiring a needs assesment study before new LNG facilities are built is stalled in the state legislature).
“Until the state has shown its citizens that we need more for good reasons, then at that point I think it is a little bit premature to even be making these proposals,” Rencher said. “They might want to flesh them out in their boardrooms and their engineering labs, but to be hassling us for them when they have yet to prove that there’s a need and a market — that’s just silly. At this point I think everyone’s ahead of the gun.”
Weir said she wouldn’t support it, although she doubted she would have a chance to oppose the project in an offical capacity on the city council, and Fulton agreed with Rencher that it was too early to know what need there is for LNG. Cunningham vociferously opposed any LNG facility off the coast. Recently retired from his role as the director of facilities for the Oxnard Union High School District, he said he has been against LNG since BHP’s proposal, when he learned pipelines running near schools in the district could be at risk for explosions.
But whether any of the challengers are elected or if each incumbent returns for another four years in office, they will have at least one colleague with a vastly different perspective on the LNG issue. On Oct. 14, Jim Monahan — the longest-serving member of the council — wrote in an op-ed published by the Ventura County Star that he supports the Clearwater Port project as a way to meet California’s energy needs and benefit the economy of Ventura County. Monahan did not explain in the piece what role he thought the Ventura City Council would play in the discussion.