Supes cave to political pressure, while others show some grit

Ten months ago I wrote in this space how pleasantly surprised I was that the conservative-majority Butte County Board of Supervisors voted to have its attorney draft an ordinance banning hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—in the county. I thought it was a gutsy move made for the greater good of the community, considering fracking waste has been tied to aquifer contamination.

Scratch that. Last week, the board inexplicably changed course. Though it had taken many months of research by county counsel to come up with a solid, lawsuit-proof ordinance, three of the four supes who’d initially voted yay—Doug Teeter, Steve Lambert and Bill Connelly—caved to their right-wing political interests. Maureen Kirk, the left-leaning moderate, made a motion to approve the local law. It never got a second. Perhaps it goes without saying that the dogmatic Larry Wahl was against the ban from the start.

Some of the arguments against such a law include one about how Butte County has few frackable wells. That may be true, but it only takes one catastrophe to foul our water source. Moreover, if there aren’t that many, then what’s the harm? I mean, it’s not as though prohibiting the practice will rid the county of some giant economic driver.

Nope, this comes down to politicking. But here’s the rub. It’s extremely likely that county residents will prohibit fracking in the spring of 2016. That’s when grassroots group Frack-Free Butte County’s referendum—the one they gathered signatures for last year—will be on the ballot. The problem is that the language contained therein is not sufficient to stave off legal challenges. And there will be legal challenges. Locals with ties to Big Oil said as much during previous meetings, outright charging that the citizen-drafted law was “bankruptcy language” for the county.

In other words, the supervisors opened the county up to costly litigation by choosing to not support its staff’s fracking ordinance. Way to go!

Sound familiar? It should. It’s similar to what happened last November, when the then-liberal-majority Chico City Council voted against the plan to annex Chapmantown and the Mulberry district, a move that opened up the city to litigation by LAFCo, the Butte County Local Agency Formation Commission. Fortunately, Councilman Randall Stone, as a nay voter, had the ability to bring the issue back to the table. Tuesday evening, the now-conservative-majority council voted in favor of bringing those neighborhoods into the city (see more on page 10). Though the conservatives had the votes to approve annexation, Stone broke from the other two liberal members and voted wisely.

While I’m talking about City Council, I want to give props to regular attendee Stephanie Taber for keeping the issue of contract negotiations with the Chico Police Officers’ Association in the public eye. Taber came to the defense of other citizens who’ve been critical of the CPOA’s initial proposal, noting they’ve been chastised. Taber called the union’s offer “outrageously expensive.” She’s right.