Controversy at the old Petrochem site continues



A long-standing concern for Climate First: Replacing Oil & Gas has been the issue of what to do with land which has been contaminated with the remnants of oil and gas infrastructure. It's a problem we will need to tackle as we transition away from fossil fuels.

The motley history of the now abandoned Petrochem site just north of Ventura has for decades given city and county officials pause when mulling future uses. From its inception in the 1950s as a fertilizer manufacturer, to a later use as a refinery for crude oil which processed 20,000 barrels a day and stored hundreds of thousands more in tanks, the property has been controversial.

An industrial accident at the site in 1978 killed one worker and injured four others. According to a letter written to the Planning Commission in 1983 by a worker, “Spills and mechanical breakdowns were so common that we employees would play games to see who could predict the next one.”

The site was finally shuttered in 1984 after Citizens to Preserve the Ojai stopped plans for an expansion claiming it was an environmental hazard. The Environmental Protection Agency ordered a cleanup which was largely completed in 2014, but questions remain on the thoroughness of the effort. 

CFROG is encouraged when we see projects like Cenergy’s proposal for a solar farm on a former Superfund site near Fillmore. The area was once home to a Texaco refinery. We also applaud a proposal just north of the Petrochem site by the Trust for Public Land for a restoration of native riparian habitat.

But the Montecito owner of this property has proposed housing, which was shot down by the Board of Supervisors in 2018, and now an auto and contractor equipment storage yard.

Activists, including CFROG, packed a small conference room on Oct. 14 to protest the latest proposal during its first hearing. Not only is this a site of questionable environmental safety but it has the compounding problem of its location in a floodplain in the delicate ecosystem of the Ventura River.

Moreover, emissions from the new vehicle trips proposed would lead straight into the sensitive Ojai Valley, which has its own strict rules for pollution sources due to the unique geological vulnerability of the area.

Speakers also noted its location just over a mile away from an area listed by CalEnviro Screen as an Environmental Justice Community, already overburdened by pollution. The largest oil field in the county also surrounds the site.

Another wrinkle appeared at the hearing. Although the new proposal was touted by the owner's land-use consulting firm as the potential site for new cars shipped in from the Port of Hueneme to be stored and prepped, it was apparently just a pipe dream. Officials from the port attended the hearing to also protest the new use and relayed that they had surveyed all their auto customers and not one had expressed interest in storing cars at this remote and controversial site.

The many objections raised made it clear there was not enough information to make any kind of a decision on the proposal. Much more environmental review is needed and questions answered. Ventura County Planning Director Dave Ward took in all the oral and written commentary and promised to respond within 30-40 days.

We believe it is time for the ecologically sensitive area north of Ventura to move from polluting uses of the land to those which contribute to sustainable practices and preservation of this valuable natural area.