Sunday, February 21, 2010

Corporate Law Makers

This is what happens when corporations start making laws. They exempt themselves.

In his Sunday column, Michael Hiltzik discusses how Venoco Inc. is pouring money into a ballot initiative that would exempt it from Carpenteria's industrial development and environmental rules.

Carpenteria is a small California coastal city a little north of Los Angeles. It has a city-owned coastal preserve and one of the four remaining seal rookeries in Southern California.

Venoco Inc. is an independent oil company which owns an oil storage facility in Carpinteria. They are "spending lavishly to pass a ballot initiative specifically exempting itself from the city's industrial development and environmental rules". They want to operate a 10-story oil derrick round the clock on its property next to a 225-home residential neighborhood and on the edge of the ecologically sensitive coastal bluffs.

They are afraid that the city won't allow them to do so. Under existing municipal code, this project is illegal. The city and the company have been negotiating for four years. Last year an environmental review identified 11 significant and unavoidable impacts from this project. At that point, Venoco withdrew from the negotiations and started proceeding to put an initiative on the June ballot to exempt themselves from public planning and land-use review.

It is not unusual from corporations to pour money into statewide politicians and political causes. But Carpinteria is a small local town. There are about 6000 voters in Carpinteria. This is a municipal ballot issue. Venoco hired a firm to send paid signature gatherers into the city. They had spent over $155,000 at the end of last year. And the spending continues. This is in a town where it costs about $3500 to run for mayor.

This is the beginning of what can happen as a result of the recent Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited political spending by corporations. You will see them coming into local elections and trying to buy politicians and create laws that unfairly favor them. They have been doing it for a while at the state and federal level. Now they are starting to do it at the local level.

They are trying to use the law to place themselves above the law. And that is not right!


  1. Carpenteria IS a lovely town--I've stopped there on my way to Santa Barbara and back to SoCal many a time to have lunch. It overlooks the Pacific, and is charming.

    This is a depressing report, and enforces what we all feared in the SCOTUS's recent ruling allowing corporations to retain their "personhood" status.


  2. That should have read "REinforces."

    Sorry about that.