Gov. Pete Wilson on Wednesday signed into law a bill to permanently ban new offshore oil drilling along California's 1,100-mile coastline, for the first time extending protections to waters off Ventura County.
The new law, called the California Coastal Sanctuary Act of 1994, replaces a hodgepodge of current prohibitions for most of the state's shoreline.
The law is particularly timely in three Southern California coastal counties--Los Angeles, Orange and Santa Barbara--where 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 pacts ran out in less than 10 years.
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 shoreline.
State waters stretch out to sea for three miles until federal jurisdiction takes over.
Although 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 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."
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--unless the law is changed.
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 that the cleanup, which started this year, is inadequate and is 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."