Measure Z passed through the efforts of a broad coaliton
On November 8, after a grueling six-month ballot campaign, I celebrated with my colleagues in Protect Monterey County, as we beat back Big Oil and banned fracking in the county. As many of our friends tried to shake off their disbelief over the national election, we watched the returns roll in on Measure Z, which passed by 56 to 44 percent, despite the fact that the oil and gas industry outspent us by 30 to one.
Measure Z, which bans fracking and wastewater injection and phases out new drilling in Central California’s Monterey County, is a potential game changer in the state. Monterey, home to the San Ardo oil fields, is California’s first major oil-producing county to ban fracking, joining five other counties in the state with fracking bans. The victory is the culmination of a two-year battle against Chevron and Aera Energy, a joint venture of Exxon Mobil and Shell Oil.
Roots in an earlier, nearby fracking fight – Measure J
My path to this watershed victory began more than three years ago, when I walked into a meeting about fracking in my hometown library in Hollister. Little did I know that I would be joining forces with community members in an exhausting and epic environmental battle against oil companies. The group wanted my help strategizing to stop 1,000 proposed new fracking wells right next to Pinnacles National Park, a sanctuary for the endangered condor.
The industry pushed fracking permits through without proper review, and elected officials settled for “strong regulations” that were insufficient to protect residents and the environment from the effects of fracking. Fortunately, California’s initiative process allows ordinary residents the right to qualify and implement laws of their own, and we realized we needed to ban fracking ourselves before it started. Food & Water Watch—an organization that I hadn’t heard of until then—united with us to ban fracking in my home county.
Looking back, we were naive about the size of the fight we had just picked. Big Oil threw everything they had at us in an attempt to keep this local environmental movement from spreading throughout California. Despite their heavy spending and intimidation tactics, we passed Measure J in San Benito with a 60 percent majority in 2014. However, the fight in California was far from over.
The fight moves to Monterey – Measure Z
Monterey County, known as “the salad bowl of the nation,” grows more than half of the lettuce consumed in the U.S., and it’s home to beautiful landscapes and coastlines, and shares the Pinnacles National Park with San Benito County. It is also the fourth-largest oil-producing county in California. Many of its 1,500 oil wells are in South County, out of sight from the population centers of Salinas and the wealthier communities on the coast. There had been a movement for about six years in Monterey County to stop fracking and risky oil production, led by a few concerned residents who had witnessed the approval of the first fracking in 2008. The anti-fracking movement grew as the dangers of fracking became more widely known.
In 2015, county supervisors failed to protect their constituents, denying a fracking moratorium in a narrow 3-2 vote and ignoring the unanimous recommendation for a moratorium by the county planning commission. Emboldened by the victory in San Benito, citizens once again decided to take matters into their own hands.
After our win in San Benito, I joined the Food & Water Watch staff, giving me the opportunity to share my skills and the lessons I learned from that campaign. We know that water does not flow in respect to political boundaries drawn on maps: we are all connected through our aquifers, rivers and streams and coastal waters.
However, Monterey County was a whole different ball game. It’s seven times the size of San Benito and an area where fracking had already been taking place. Just a year earlier, the EPA discovered that oil companies were illegally injecting toxic wastewater into protected aquifers, contaminating the groundwater in violation of the federal Clean Drinking Water Act.
Broad issues, broad coalition
We realized that we needed to broaden our initiative to confront all of the environmental issues Monterey County was facing. We collected over 16,000 signatures in just a few weeks to qualify one of the most protective bans against fracking in the nation. Our comprehensive ballot measure would not only ban fracking and other dangerous drilling techniques, but would phase out wastewater injection as well.
Chevron and other oil giants spent more than $5.5 million, flooding the TV and radio airwaves, lobbying local officials and making large donations to groups and institutions to gain favors. We knew it would be an uphill battle against such well-funded opposition, but we put a winning game plan together and worked for another victory against Big Oil.
We built one of the most diverse coalitions in the history of Monterey County, bringing together environmentalists, labor, health professionals, ranchers, farmers, teachers, churches and students. Latino voters supported us overwhelmingly. We worked day and night reaching out to neighbors, educating them and bringing on any new supporters we could to help in the fight. We couldn’t go dollar-for-dollar against Big Oil on TV, but we knew we could beat them door-to-door in the field with our grassroots coalition.
So on Nov. 8th, we celebrated what we accomplished at the grassroots level. The battle is still not over, as Big Oil moves to challenge Measure Z in court. But my faith in community and the power of grassroots organizing is renewed. People from every walk of life came through our campaign office doors, even Trump supporters and Republicans. We all had a higher goal, to protect our communities and fight back against corporations that put their profits before our health. This victory has given me and our community the inspiration we need to keep fighting. We will continue to work hard to take back our democracy from corporations and politicians who try to undermine the will of the people, and Food & Water Watch will keep up its work to protect all communities from fracking.