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Lomcoc City Councilmember Ashley Costa (05/03/11)

Mark Brown/Santa Maria Times

Lomcoc City Councilmember Ashley Costa (05/03/11)


Conflict of Interest Charges Roil Air Pollution Board

Lompoc City Councilmember Ashley Costa Denies Allegations From County Supervisors


Wednesday, June 26, 2013
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Last year, Santa Barbara’s air quality violated one of California’s benchmark standards only five times. In 1991, the number was closer to 100. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the agency responsible for overseeing Santa Barbara’s air quality — the Air Pollution Control District (APCD) — has been rocked in recent weeks by conflict of interest allegations. County supervisors Salud Carbajal and Janet Wolfe, who serve on the APCD board, just learned that fellow Boardmember Ashley Costa — also a Lompoc City Councilmember — works for Santa Maria Energy, a North County oil company with a major project now pending before the County Planning Commission. They contend that Costa has been pushing a proposal that could enable Santa Maria Energy to pollute more. Costa, not surprisingly, denies the charge and insists no conflict of interest exists.

While the actual facts are anything but clear, tensions surrounding this controversy bubbled over at last week’s APCD meeting and, at least for the time being, deep-sixed the district’s proposed Clean Air Plan, which by law must be updated every three years. Normally such documents are ratified with little or no controversy. But lurking in the draft plan is language that would create a “growth allowance” of 500 tons a year of air pollution. “There’s no explanation of how this would be allocated,” complained Supervisor Carbajal. “We’ve given out allowances in the past, but never this much, and we’ve always known who was going to use them and what for. I’ve got a lot of questions but no answers.” Half of the county’s ozone pollution is generated by marine tankers heading through the channel.

Carbajal is suspicious that the 500-ton pollution credit will get used up by oil companies like Santa Maria Energy, which employs his board colleague Costa when she’s not representing the residents of Lompoc. (The APCD is a super-bureaucracy made up of all five county supervisors and elected representatives from each of the county’s seven cities.) And Carbajal is not alone. “When I heard she worked for Santa Maria Energy, that raised a red flag with me,” said Wolf.

Wolf, it turns out, heard Costa worked for the energy company from Carbajal, who found out by reading an article published on the new online news site, Mission and State. APCD director Dave Van Mullem said he didn’t know until Carbajal told him as well. While Van Mullen said he could not discuss potential conflicts of interest, Wolf and Carbajal expressed concern that Santa Maria Energy might need pollution credits in order to offset much of the air pollution the oil company will generate by pumping hot reclaimed water deep into the ground to separate the oil reserves from the diatomaceous earth in which it’s deposited.

They claim Costa’s support for the 500-ton allowance is tainted by this conflict, as was her vigorous support for a draft plan to create a new countywide repository of pollution offsets. Last month, when Wolf expressed concern that this draft plan had not been adequately vetted by enough stakeholders and sought to table the matter until a later date, Costa vigorously led the charge to keep it on track and ultimately prevailed by a 6-4 vote.

Carbajal asked a lot of vague questions about potential conflicts of interest at last week’s APCD meeting without ever specifying whom he was talking about. Costa, for her part, never said anything. But responding to questions via email, she emphatically denied any conflict existed. “I am confident I have not had a conflict of interest with any of the matters that I have voted on as an APCD board member,” she wrote. She said she thought Van Mullem knew she provided “contract services” to Santa Maria Energy “for a matter of months” and that she’d included such information in her financial disclosure statements.

Costa acknowledged that Santa Maria Energy will need pollution offsets to operate, but for greenhouse gases. The offsets that are included in the proposed “growth allowance” and itemized in the proposed county inventory are for ozone precursor pollutants, not greenhouse gases. “It appears the issues are being confused,” she stated. Lastly, she insisted that the study of possible county-generated pollution offsets was just that — a study — and nothing specific enough from which she or her company could materially benefit.

That this controversy could generate so much heat reflects the fact that the Planning Commission is scheduled to decide the fate of Santa Maria Energy’s proposal this August. And that body is almost perfectly split with two commissioners for, two against, and one somewhere in the middle. It remains to be seen whether the 500-ton annual pollution credit will remain unscathed. Last week, the APCD board found itself so conflicted and contorted over the issue that even people in the room had a hard time saying what the vote was.

Van Mullem said the cushion was necessary so that “essential public programs” are not prevented for lack of air pollution credits. He noted that UCSB, for example, is currently on the cusp of needing pollution offsets to continue growing. But right now, he said, no such offsets exist anywhere on the South Coast. “None. Nada. Zip. Zero,” he said.

The good news, however, remains that there’s considerably less ozone-causing pollution in the county’s air. Part of that’s because there were 3,000 fewer tanker trips through the channel a year as a result of the recession. As the economy improves, the number of such trips will increase. So too will the amount of pollution generated. Making matters worse, the international agency governing tanker conduct announced recently it would not be requiring the installation of new less-polluting technology on new tankers for another five years. For APCD members like Carbajal and Wolf, that’s not good news. And for them, it further calls into question the advisability of the district’s proposal to establish a 500-ton pollution allowance.

Comments

Independent Discussion Guidelines

Another Tea Partier tanks from melding private corporate interests to be subsidized by the public.

Tell it to the FPPC, Council Member, the California Fair Political Practices Commission. Joni Gray can refer you to their phone number and website.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
June 26, 2013 at 8:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Busted.

Looks like Mission and State has gotten off to a good start. I like the look of their website:

http://www.missionandstate.org/

And kudos to the Indy for the attribution to M&S.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
June 26, 2013 at 9:15 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The law is very clear. Ms. Costa must recuse herself from any deliberations on any item that may affect he financial interests of herself or her employer. The APCD plan contains many things that could affect Santa Maria Energy. That means that when that plan is discussed by the APCD Board of Directors, Ms. Costa must declare her employer's interest and recuse herself and leave the room while the item is discussed. If she wants to advocate for her employer, she should resign from the Board. It is going to be hard for her to participate as a Board member since most of the actions of the Board could potentially affect Santa Maria Energy.

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
June 26, 2013 at 11:42 a.m. (Suggest removal)

she is a double agent.

spacey (anonymous profile)
June 26, 2013 at 1:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

What about that big gas works that was just approved in Goleta?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 26, 2013 at 1:43 p.m. (Suggest removal)

all that talk at the meeting and Costa didn't have the ethics to admit where she gets some of her money?! And she didn't recuse herself! AND she still doesn't get it?!! She needs to talk to Joni Gray, then resign. I hope she is fined, at least.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 26, 2013 at 2:56 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Perhaps in her eagerness to run for office right out of college, she neglected to study FPPC rules- and the concept of "appearance of conflict". She is doing a disservice to the City of Lompoc through her aggressive and persistent pursuit of the right of companies to pollute at a greater rate than the emission standards would allow for.

whosecityisthis2012 (anonymous profile)
June 26, 2013 at 3:56 p.m. (Suggest removal)

When I heard Wolf and Carbajal are in the tank with the county employee unions, a conflicts of interest red flag went off for me too. Nice posturing, Janet and Salud. Academy award stuff.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
June 26, 2013 at 10:42 p.m. (Suggest removal)

When I heard foofighter is in the tank with the Chamber of Commerce, a conflict of interest red flag went off for me too.

See how easy slander and innuendo is?

SezMe (anonymous profile)
June 28, 2013 at 1:03 a.m. (Suggest removal)

It's especially despicable when the slanderer hides under a pseudonym and insists on "full disclosure" from everyone else.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 28, 2013 at 1:07 a.m. (Suggest removal)

and NEVER responds to requests for a bit of "disclosure" about him/herself.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 28, 2013 at 10:04 a.m. (Suggest removal)

But DD, I did disclose my only interest in the banking industry was having an ATM card.

No, I am also not a member of the Chamber of Commerce -- -as if this would be a bad thing anyway? Business does need to be good for Santa Barbara if we insist upon handing out all these free government perks.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
June 28, 2013 at 10:33 a.m. (Suggest removal)

foofighter, that roar you just heard was the whole point of my post and the two that followed going completely over your head.

SezMe (anonymous profile)
June 28, 2013 at 3:10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Willfully over his head, as in chose to ignore in hopes of distraction.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 28, 2013 at 3:30 p.m. (Suggest removal)

indeed, it's a zany world packed with iDistractions, iAnxieties, small-screen format thinking, free-market fundamentalists,...it's all Prezi now...

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 28, 2013 at 3:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Good one sezme, yup just write me off as a clueless dufus. Your sarcasm was so oblique. What a pro. Nothing to see here folks, just move along. Talk among yourselves.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
June 28, 2013 at 10:42 p.m. (Suggest removal)

She's a Young Republican darling, Darrell Issa fan.

They corrupt'em early nowadays.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 30, 2013 at 5:50 p.m. (Suggest removal)

whosecityisthis2012: Possibly she acquired her knowledge of FPPC conflicts of interest though observation of the Santa Barbara City Council.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
June 30, 2013 at 6:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Do you mean councilmembers with 15 cars?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 30, 2013 at 6:45 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Randy!!!

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 30, 2013 at 7:26 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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