On March 10, the SLO County Planning Commission held its third and final day of public comment on a controversial proposal by Phillips 66 to build a rail spur for shipments of oil-by-train at its Santa Maria Refinery on the Nipomo Mesa.
The last day of public comment featured a total of 96 speakers, several speaking in favor of the project. Many of those supporters traveled to the hearing from outside of SLO County, particularly from Southern California.
- PHOTO BY CHRIS MCGUINNESS
- NEW IN TOWN : Residents, Phillips 66 employees, and members of a labor union from the Southern California joined local members of Protect SLO Jobs to speak in support of a rail extension project proposed at a SLO County refinery.
That group included more than 100 individuals and was made up of representatives from a neighborhood nonprofit organization, Phillips 66 employees, and members of the United Steel Workers Union (USW) from the Southern California cities of Carson and Wilmington. Phillips 66 has refining operations in both cities, located in southwestern Los Angeles, according to the company’s website.
One speaker told commissioners that many in the group gathered at 4 a.m. to take a four-hour bus ride to SLO. Most of those who spoke argued that the rail spur at the Santa Maria Refinery would save jobs, characterizing Phillips 66 as a company that gives back to the community.
“We need to create jobs, not lose jobs,” Ed Astencio, a Phillips 66 employee and member of the USW, told the comissioners.
When they weren’t attending the hearing, many of the union’s members gathered at a vacant building at 1060 Osos St., a space also used by local pro-rail spur organization Protect SLO Jobs.
The hearing was the second time members of the USW Local 675, based in Carson, traveled to SLO to show their support for the rail spur. The first time they made the trip was March 8, the second of the three hearings on the project so far. According to the union’s website, the trip to SLO was a “mystery action,” an event where members gather to attend an event without knowing where they are going beforehand, according to David Campbell, secretary-treasurer for USW Local 675.
“When they show up, we tell them what it is,” Campbell said. “It generates excitement and interest.”
Campbell said the union got involved in the rail spur fight over worries that rejection of the project would jeopardize union jobs.
“ We were concerned that the [Santa Maria] refinery won’t get the crude that it needs,” Campbell said. “And that refinery feeds other refineries.”
The union’s members and others from the Los Angeles area weren’t the only out-of-towers to speak to the commission about the project. The first hearing, held Feb. 4, featured a large number of individuals speaking against the project, including residents and government representatives from Santa Barbara, Oxnard, Los Angeles, and Berkeley. Many of those speakers were concerned about the possibility of derailments and explosions of oil-carrying trains traveling through their towns to the Santa Maria Refinery.
“These trains will roll right through our community,” Ray Yep, a representative from the city of Berkeley, told the commissioners at the Feb. 4 hearing.
In total, more than 400 people signed up to make a public comment on the project over the three separate hearings. With public comment on the project finally complete, the commissioners will continue to discuss the rail project at a future hearing, currently scheduled for April 15.