In between shouts of approval from a crowd gathered on Feb. 21 on Monterey Street in downtown San Luis Obispo to hear local officials advocate for action against offshore oil drilling, white signs glinted in the cool February sun. In all capital letters they shouted, "Ban Fracking." "Protect our Water ... Sign Here."
The signs were draped around some in the crowd like miniature sandwich boards, and their wearers also clasped clipboards between folded arms and their chests.
Judy West and her wife, Virgina Jensen, from Los Osos were there to cheer on Democratic political leaders such as SLO Mayor Heidi Harmon and U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) and gather signatures. Jensen said she was "new to the activist movement since the Trump administration."
West, a member of the Coalition to Protect San Luis Obispo County, nodded her head in agreement as she pointed to the signature form she had in her hands. The group was launching its petition to ban fracking and new oil and gas wells in unincorporated parts of the county. It needs to gather 13,000 signatures in nine weeks in order to qualify its initiative for the November 2018 ballot, according to Charlie Varni.
"We were inspired by the work that was done up in San Benito and Monterey counties," he told New Times. "Its mother was Price Canyon. Its father was the Phillips 66 oil terminal. ... Those are the threads that came together."
San Benito County passed Measure J banning fracking in 2014. Monterey County passed Measure Z to ban fracking and new oil and wastewater injection wells in 2016. Oil companies took the measure to court, and in December 2017, a Monterey judge ruled to uphold only the fracking ban portion of the measure. Protect Monterey County has appealed the judge's ruling.
"We know that we have a fight on our hands. We know that we're going to be outspent by millions and millions and millions of dollars," Varni said. "This is our little piece of the earth that we can control, here, San Luis Obispo County. We want to do what we can to make things right." Δ