Gov. Pete Wilson on Wednesday signed into law a bill that for the first time extends state protections against offshore oil drilling to waters off Ventura County.
The new law, called the California Coastal Sanctuary Act of 1994, permanently bans offshore drilling along California's 1,100-mile coastline and replaces a hodgepodge of prohibitions already in effect for most of the state's shoreline.
The bill's author, Assemblyman Jack O'Connell (D-Carpinteria), said he and others had fought for eight years for legislation to permanently protect the state's fragile shoreline.
While noting that the uniform ban will protect the entire coastline, O'Connell singled out Ventura County as a main beneficiary because it was the only one left unprotected by the patchwork of previously adopted coastal sanctuary laws.
"This will have a positive impact on Ventura County's tourism and fishing industries, and will further enhance the quality of life--with less air pollution, fewer spills and less blight on the coastline," O'Connell said.
"I'm pleased that Gov. Wilson signed this legislation. It sends a signal that our coastline is not for sale."
State waters stretch out to sea for three miles until federal jurisdiction takes over.
In Ventura County, O'Connell said, most oil drilling takes place on dry land. The drilling that does take place is in federal waters more than three miles from the coastline, he said, where other prohibitions against new drilling are in effect.
O'Connell put the blame for Ventura County's exclusion from previous bans on former Assemblyman Tom McClintock, a conservative who routinely battles government regulation.
"Tom McClintock had always managed to craft an exemption for Ventura County," he said. "He was protecting the oil companies--to the detriment of tourism and commercial fishing."
Rob Stutzman, a spokesman for McClintock in his campaign for state controller, confirmed that his boss blocked inclusion of Ventura County in previous coastal sanctuary measures.
In addition to its impact on Ventura County, the new law is particularly timely in three other Southern California coastal counties--Los Angeles, Orange and Santa Barbara--where current drilling bans were set to expire Jan. 1.
In 11 other counties ranging from Del Norte at the Oregon border to San Mateo, drilling could have resumed when existing pacts ran out in less than 10 years.
Wilson trumpeted the measure's benefits to the tourism and recreation industries, which depend upon unspoiled beaches to draw millions of visitors each year.
"California's coast is a treasure that attracts people from around the globe," Wilson said in a statement. "Its beauty . . . deserves protection from possible damage associated with future offshore oil and gas activities."
Under the measure, existing oil and gas drilling may continue. But new ventures are banned permanently--barring future changes in the law.
Wilson's announcement came as a coalition of environmental groups blasted the governor for a record it said favored oil companies, campaign contributors and developers over the interests of the public.
"He is trying to do some damage control here," said Michael Paparian, state director of the Sierra Club. "His environmental record for the past four years has been horrible."
In particular, the coalition--called Californians for Environmental Common Sense--cited the Wilson Administration's response in cleaning up the massive Guadalupe oil spill by Unocal in San Luis Obispo County. Local officials complain the cleanup is inadequate and in itself harmful to the environment.
Opposing the offshore drilling ban was the Western States Petroleum Assn., whose spokesman, Bill Duke, warned that the new law will have a chilling effect on the oil industry.
"We're unhappy to see the bill get signed," Duke said. "We think it's bad legislation to lock up any natural resource in perpetuity. Because nobody can say whether there will be a future shortage."