Opinion » Shredder

Choo-choo!

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If Thomas the Oil Train leaves the filthy Canadian tar sands traveling south at 60 miles an hour toward the Phillips 66 rail spur project on the Nipomo Mesa, and the SLO County Planning Commission ignores enormous public outcry and potential catastrophic danger, how many jobs are created until a fiery crash destroys homes and businesses and kills innocent bystanders? 

Dontcha hate word problems? I know I do, and that one’s a real puzzler because the Planning Commission was against the project before it was for it, the big difference now being that instead of five potentially deadly, dirty oil trains rolling through residential areas in SLO County every week, there’ll be three, so that means it’ll be only three-fifths as dangerous and dirty, right?

I mean, is it like dice, where every roll has the same probability of getting, say, three of a kind? Or is it like earthquakes, where every year without one is another year closer to the big one? Any math whizzes out there?

I’m personally torn on the whole project. On the one hand, since SLO County shares in an oil economy, shouldn’t we share the risks that come with it? On the other, a very vocal segment of our population really doesn’t want oil trains here. Three years ago, an oil train in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, derailed and exploded, killing 47. It also destroyed 30 buildings and all but three of the remaining 39 downtown buildings have been or are scheduled for demolition thanks to oil contamination. The Stop the Oil Trains folks certainly have a point.

The problem is complex, but the politics are simple. The rail spur means money, tax revenue, and jobs, which is why SLO County 1st District Supervisor candidate John Peschong is for it! He likes money! He and his political consulting company Meridian Pacific are tied to the pro-Phillips 66 Protect Our Jobs campaign. Peschong and his consulting company also lobbied for the—a-hem—“much beloved” Atascadero Walmart project that residents are still squawking about even though its pending construction is a fait accompli. 

Got some super unpopular project you want shoved down people’s throats? Call Peschong and Meridian Pacific! They’ll shove it. … Shove it real good! Did I mention that Meridian Pacific also ran 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton’s campaign and is now running 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold’s re-election campaign? 

Here’s another puzzler for you: Since the next Planning Commission meeting to decide the fate of the Phillips 66 project is scheduled for Sept. 22, if they vote yes—which they seem likely to do thanks to SLO County Planning Commissioners Jim Harrison, Jim Irving, and Don Campbell—its final determination will likely be appealed to the SLO County Board of Supervisors and decided on in 2017 by whomever we elected to fill those seats. If Peschong happens to win the 1st District seat, will he recuse himself from the decision since he and his consulting company have a clear conflict of interest?

If this plays out anything like the proposed Las Pilitas Quarry project that was fiercely opposed by Santa Margarita residents, it will be a close decision. That time around, liberal-leaning supes—2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson and 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill—were with the people, and conservative-leaning supes—Compton and Arnold—were with big business and the quarry. That left perpetual fence sitter and 1st District Supervisor Frank Mecham to decide. I bet his ass is sore and full of splinters from riding the fence for most of his term. To Santa Margarita residents’ delight, he joined Gibson and Hill in denying the project, and he’s wisely not running for re-election because damn, those splinters smart!

Things are likely to get messy. The two seats not in contention this year will likely be split: Gibson against, Compton for. Of the three contested seats, two have incumbents who will likely be split: Hill against, Arnold for. 

So what if the incumbents’ opponents win? 

Fifth District candidate Eric Micheilssen is definitely anti oil train. 

And Hill’s opponents need to speak more clearly about where they stand. Well, how about it? SLO City Councilmember Dan Carpenter was once against it, but has he changed his mind, as he’s been wont to do? Debbie Peterson, do you have a voice? 

Hey candidates, forget your political wiggle room. We need some clarity, dammit. 

At least we know where Peschong stands. Protect our Jobs! Yay, oil trains! And that’s likely how he’ll vote, unless he recuses himself. And how likely is that? But Peschong’s 1st District opponent Paso Robles Mayor Steve Martin is definitely against the rail spur project. Right?

Well readers, I don’t think so, but I can’t for sure say one way or another. Maybe I’ll need to ask his mother.

Hey, you know who else may end up having a say in the Phillips 66 project? The California Coastal Commission! That’s good news for consultants like Peschong because it means there’s still plenty of time to make campaign contributions to Pismo Beach City Councilmember and Coastal Commissioner Erik Howell … well, unless he’s in jail for those other bribes, er, I mean totally legit campaign contributions he received from development lobbyists. All aboard!

The Shredder likes clean renewable power. Send ideas and comments to shredder@newtimesslo.com.

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