Released June 1, 1998



Oil Spill Wreaks Havoc on Coast

(The Environmental Defender Vol. 19 No.4, Winter 1997-98)




On October 7, 1997 the Grand Jury was made aware of a Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisorsí concern that during the Torch Oil Spill of September 8, 1997, the County Office of Emergency Services was not allowed to participate, support, nor input decision making regarding response and clean-up. In fact, during the early crucial hours of the spill the County Emergency Operations Center Representative was actually compelled to leave the room and excluded from any further participation in the Unified Command Structure.


The Grand Jury learned the following:




September 1997. On October 7, 1997, the Energy Division and OES briefed the Board of Supervisors on what had happened in the first eight days of the oil spill. On January 20, 1998, Energy Division and OES again provided the Board with a summary of events that occurred after the release.









There is neither legislation, nor a memorandum of understanding that allows the County of Santa Barbara to be represented in the Unified Command Structure during emergency responses to oil spill incidents.




The Board of Supervisors should immediately follow-up on the offer of the Acting Deputy Administrator Office of Spill Prevention and Response to convene a meeting to resolve the issue and insure that the County of Santa Barbara is properly represented in the MOU.


Oil covered bird




The Grand Jury is disappointed to find that this critical aspect of environmental safety and response has been delayed so long by agencies of the state and the Governor. Particularly, since Santa Barbara is recognized nationally as the home of the environmental movement, to exclude county professionals and experts in this area from responding is inexcusable.


Had legislation AB3124 been adopted on this matter in 1992, and/or SB 872 in 1995, this issue would be moot. The much sought after MOU would have been a matter of policy and standard operating procedure, recognized by all agencies in the State prior to the Torch Oil Spill of September 1997. It seems to this Grand Jury that political bureaucracy and inter-departmental posturing for control and position has affected the well-being and safety of our community.


It is a sad commentary that this grand jury has to report that nine months after the Torch Oil Spill, there is still no agreement nor accepted MOU regarding local jurisdictional management of disasters and major emergencies concerning oil spills.


AFFECTED AGENCIES (Party or entity required to respond):

Santa Barbara County Department of Planning and Development


Santa Barbara County Counsel

Office of Emergency Services/Santa Barbara County Fire Department

Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors

Santa Barbara County Energy Division





 1- Planning and Development memorandum , 11/25/97, page 8

2- IBID. - page 10

3- December 14, 1997, letter from Santa Barbara Fire Chief

4- Chair of the BOS letter to the Governor, January 14, 1998

5- Letter from the office of the County Counsel to the Special Legal Counsel, State Department of Fish and Game, March 2, 1998

6- Letter addressed to County Counsel from the Acting Deputy Administrator Office of Spill Prevention and Response, State of California Department of Fish and Game,, April 4, 1998