VENTURA, CA — After a 14-hour final hearing on the Ventura County General Plan yesterday, the Board of Supervisors took historic steps to protect vulnerable frontline communities by establishing buffer zones separating oil wells from homes and schools.

Residents, advocates and community leaders offered public comment urging the board to adopt a 2,500-foot setback, the minimum recommended by public health professionals and scientists. The General Plan previously included a 2,500-foot setback from schools and a 1,500-foot setback from homes. After hearing hours of testimony the Board tentatively voted to pass the 2,500-foot buffer for schools and study increasing setbacks to 2,500-foot from all sensitive receptors by 2022. The final vote on the final General Plan will be on Sept 15, at 3pm.

“My family and our two young children live within one mile of hundreds of oil wells on Ventura’s Westside. Our community is over 70% latino and we have organized for years to ensure our voices are heard and oil drilling is stopped next to our homes,” said Food & Water Action Central Coast Organizing Manager Tomas Morales Rebecchi. “Today’s vote is a testament to people power beating oil industry money, and it’s a positive first step in undoing the legacy of environmental racism in Ventura County.”

More than 8,000 Ventura County residents live within 2,500 feet of an oil well and 60% of them are Latinx. Across the state, the vast majority of Californians who live in close proximity to oil drilling are from communities of color, already severely overburdened with other forms of pollution—from ports, freeways, oil refineries, and other industrial polluters.

Oil production sites use and emit known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors like benzene, formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide, in addition to releasing fine and ultra-fine particulate matter. All of these chemicals and emissions have proven records of toxicity and are known to cause health problems ranging from nosebleeds to chronic headaches, increased risks of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, and increased risk of cancer. Two different studies released earlier this year confirmed that living near oil wells also has significant adverse effects on pregnant mothers and newborn babies in California.

“Ventura County’s general plan represents one of the nation’s most ambitious and comprehensive plans to protect communities from the dangers of oil and gas pollution,” said Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter Director Jonathan Ullman. “It’s long been known that living within 2,500 feet of an oil well threatens the health and safety of our communities, and creating a buffer zone between oil drills and the places our families live and go to school is an important step forward for Ventura County’s public health.”

Ventura County’s decision to establish safety buffer zones between communities and oil operations comes after state senators in the Natural Resources and Water Committee rejected a bill last month that would have mandated a 2,500-foot setback at the state level. Even though the state’s own independent scientific analysis back in 2015 found that proximity to oil production sites increases exposure to toxic chemicals, and recommended science-based setbacks, state legislators and the Newsom administration have yet to implement these recommendations.

“This is an important first step toward protecting communities from oil and gas pollution, and it shows that local governments can fight back against the oil industry and win,” said Theo LeQuesne, a climate campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Now we need Gov. Newsom to adopt a statewide setback of at least 2,500 feet and begin a just transition away from dirty fossil fuels.”

Other oil-producing counties in California, including Los Angeles, have explored enacting setbacks to protect community health, but have not yet taken action. Initial proposals by Los Angeles regulators have fallen woefully short of protecting human health and safety, with a mere 500-ft setback recommended by L.A. County and 600-foot setback for existing wells and 1,500-foot for new wells by L.A. City. In contrast, last month Culver City councilmembers took the first necessary steps to phase out oil extraction in the city’s 78-acre portion of the Inglewood Oil Field, unanimously directing staff to develop a framework and timeline to phase out active oil wells.

“This victory for frontline communities in Ventura should remind L.A. City Council what leadership looks like and that there should be no drilling where we live, work and learn,” said Martha Dina Argüello, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles and co-chair of STAND-L.A., a coalition of community groups who oppose neighborhood drilling.

“The 2500-ft setback ruling in Ventura county confirms what we’ve known all along – the majority of Californians are waking up to the dangers of fossil fuel extraction in our backyards and playgrounds and demanding protections. The Ventura County decision is a bright example of justice for the more than 5 million Californians statewide who live, work, and learn within 1 mile of an oil and gas site, the majority of which are a part of BIPOC communities,” said Kobi Naseck, VISIÓN (Voices in Solidarity Against Oil in Neighborhoods) Coalition Coordinator. “Everyone who sees the commonsense 2,500 setback ruling in Ventura County will ask themselves – why isn’t this a statewide policy? Unfortunately, that’s a question frontline residents are still waiting for state legislators and administrators to answer.”