A host of local restoration projects spearheaded by the Sierra Club won’t be affected following the suspension last week of the group’s Los Padres chapter, according to one of its members.

Al Sanders, a long-time member of the Ventura County branch of the environmental nonprofit, says Sierra Club members will continue to pursue at least a half dozen different conservation projects even though the local group was overtaken by its national affiliate.

“All of this has left us in a considerably worse position,” Sanders says. “The project that is of most concern to all of the people in the Sespe group is, of course, Ormond Beach.”

Ormond Beach in Oxnard has been the focal point for the Los Padres chapter, where its Sespe and Conejo group members have worked for the past several years in a cleanup effort of the abandoned Halaco industrial plant and a restoration of neighboring wetlands.

The Sierra Club’s national office announced last Friday that it was intervening as authority of Los Padres after two failed executive committee elections caused an irreparable rift within the ranks of the group’s members.

An initial election late last year was dashed when errors in vote counting, including some cast with expired membership codes, resulted in 40 percent of the club’s ballots being invalidated. The Los Padres chapter, with supervision from the club’s San Francisco national arm, tried again early this summer for a re-election of new executive committee members, but it was also thrown out when infighting between members persisted.

As a consequence, the Los Padres chapter, according to the announcement, is suspended for the next four years and must devise a steering committee of local volunteers to make decisions formerly handled by the executive committee.

In the meantime, Sanders said that no Los Padres memberships would be violated by the national intervention, and that conservation projects on the club’s to-do list won’t go ignored.

Those, Sanders said, include work to halt construction of a peaker plant in Oxnard, stoppage of LNG floating terminals off the county coast, preservation of the Los Padres National Forest, and protection of farmland under the SOAR (Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources) act.

“Those will be the big issues in the future,” he noted, “all of those and many others in the area.”

But the group’s compass keeps pointing back to Ormond Beach. Earlier this year, members of the Sierra Club and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) organized a tour of the site, another attempt at pressuring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for an overhaul and cleanup of the site.

Sierra Club member Jim Hensley, LULAC’s deputy district director in Ventura, said he stands behind the Sierra Club and supports their reorganization efforts.

“I’m really saddened to see what’s happened with it,” he said.

According to Sanders, a subgroup of the club, the Ormond Beach Observers, also will not be affected by results of the suspension.

Kathy Long and John Zaragoza, Ventura County’s District 3 and District 5 supervisors, respectively, released a joint statement endorsing cleanup of the Halaco site last week. Long could not be reached for comment.

“Because of the Sierra Club (suspension), I hope that it does not hurt us at all,” Zaragoza said. “We need to remove those structures ASAP.”

Paul Jenkin, director of the ocean conservation group Surfrider, said the Sierra Club issue has an impact in the local nonprofit community.

“It’s unfortunate this happened with the Sierra Club because, in general, we have a relatively small capacity of environmental groups in Ventura County,” he said. “We’re all stretched pretty thin.”

Joy Kobayashi, a former leader in the Los Padres group, who for a time had been erroneously under investigation during the election invalidation, expressed her dismay over the club’s suspension and believes it could negatively impact the club’s environmental endeavors.

“I think the suspension’s really sad,” she said. “The people who win are the other side. We’re squabbling among ourselves and spending energy. When people’s energies are misdirected towards each other instead of the issues at hand, the issues at hand lose and the other side wins.”

Since the election fallout, Kobayashi has removed the Sierra Club from her will, and said this week she was unsure if she’d be renewing her membership with the club when it expires in November.

Sanders said a meeting to begin selecting members of the mandated steering committee will be held Aug. 22.

“Sespe group members want to move to get to some new officers in place so we’re better positioned to deal with issues,” he said. “In the meantime, we’re not completely free.”   

paul@vcreporter.com