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How One California City Is Sending a Message of Environmental Resistance to Trump

Santa Barbara, a coastal city all too familiar with dangers of offshore drilling, calls for a ban on new federal leases to oil and gas companies.
Oil and gas platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Oil and gas platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Three months after President Donald Trump issued an executive order calling for the expansion of offshore drilling in federal waters, California's coastal communities have launched a statewide effort to protect the golden coast.

Having played host to the first offshore drilling platforms in the nation—and, subsequently, the first major oil spill, in 1969—Californians have long been skeptical of the oil industry. While Trump's executive order did not explicitly mention California or the Pacific Ocean, it could open up the region to the sort of oil development that hasn't been seen for decades; no new drilling leases have been granted in state waters since the massive 1969 oil spill, or in federal waters since 1984.

California state officials quickly acted against Trump's executive order at the time, crafting legislation that would block the State Lands Commissions from approving leases for new pipelines needed to carry any oil from new federal leases back ashore.

On Tuesday, the Santa Barbara City Council went a step further, voting to pass a resolution calling for a ban on offshore drilling and new federal oil and gas leases in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic oceans and the Gulf of Mexico—making the city the first in California to come out against Trump's push to re-open the region to offshore leasing.

"It's easier for us to exploit than other communities, so it's important that we keep pushing the bar."

Councilmember Jason Dominguez, who co-sponsored the resolution, says the measure came out of a "realization that we were not living up to our potential as a community."

"Santa Barbara has the unique feature of having created Earth Day, and has a reputation of being an environmentally friendly city," he says. "It's easier for us to exploit than other communities, so it's important that we keep pushing the bar."

Standing on the steps of city hall, clinging to a copy of Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything, Dominguez stressed the economics of climate change. "In the '70s there were 660 reported climate disasters; in the 2000s there were 3,322, so we had a five-fold increase," he said to the small crowd of supporters, who were brandishing anti-oil and anti-fracking signs (plus a lone blow-up whale). "In 2011, [climate-related] disasters worldwide cost the global economy $380 billion, so we may end up having to put a little money into research and development and paying a little more for alternative energy at the beginning, but it's a resource that after you make those initial costs becomes much cheaper than traditional sources of energy." He was joined on the City Hall steps by representatives from environmental organizations such as the Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Defense Center, and the Sierra Club, which helped to develop the resolution.

Jason Dominguez.

Jason Dominguez.

Dominguez hopes the resolution will serve as motivation for community members to switch to more environmentally friendly behaviors, and act as an invitation to industry leaders to come to Santa Barbara and invest in green and blue tech—like wave energy, or kelp beds.

The Center for Biological Diversity's Blake Kopcho noted in his public address that the passage of the resolution "marks the start of a statewide campaign that will pass similar resolutions up and down the coast, from San Diego to the Oregon border." Other California cities including Los Angeles, Oakland, Berkley, and Goleta have also committed to passing a similar resolution.

"Today we send a message to the Trump administration, a message that says the California coast is not for sale," Kopcho added.