Toward a better ban

Organization’s failed initiative will lead to a stronger no-fracking ordinance

The citizen activists in the group Frack-Free Butte County, who toiled for months to gather sufficient signatures to qualify a measure to ban hydraulic fracturing in Butte County, were understandably angry when, on July 29, the Board of Supervisors chose to delay approval.

Instead the board voted 4-1 to have county staff take 30 days to study the initiative to determine whether it might result in costly litigation, harm property values, have a negative impact on existing businesses or fail to prohibit other unwelcome uses of wells.

The decision meant the board couldn’t place the measure on the November ballot before the Aug. 8 deadline. It will appear instead on a 2016 ballot. Supporters were miffed; to them the decision was anti-democratic. (Chico-area Supervisor Maureen Kirk voted nay, saying she preferred to let the people vote.)

The supervisors were right to be concerned about the citizen measure, however, especially its vulnerability to litigation. County Counsel Bruce Alpert noted that the ordinance his staff is preparing would have “no confusion or ambiguity about what would be banned or what would be allowed.”

As the CN&R revealed last week (see “Fractured finances,” by Leslie Layton), deep-pocketed oil and natural-gas companies have spent more than $116,000 locally to block the ban. County officials need to bear this in mind as they prepare the new ordinance.

With the exception of the other Chico-area supervisor, Larry Wahl, the board is committed to drafting a strong and clear ordinance. The success of Frack-Free Butte County’s petition drive should harden that determination.

We don’t like it when democracy is delayed, but in this case we think it will result in a better ordinance. We fully expect county staff to come up with wording that is clearer and stronger than the citizen measure. And we expect them to do it quickly, so that voters will have plenty of time to decide which of the two they prefer.