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San Benito County Supervisors on Oct. 7 approved a resolution designed to codify the process if land owners seek exemptions from the provisions of Measure J if the anti-fracking measure passes in November. The resolution, approved 4-1 with Margie Barrios opposed, will allow the county to evaluate and act on exemption claims expected to arise. 

County Counsel Barbara Thompson said the resolution was being introduced ahead of the vote on Measure J so that rules would be in place if it is approved. She said it would reduce the risk of litigation against the county, while acknowledging that it was “highly likely” that Measure J would be challenged in court if voters approve it.

“If this passes,” Barrios said before she and her colleagues voted on the resolution, “the county is responsible for the defense of the initiative, so get ready folks.”

People on both sides of the oil extraction issue spoke during the public comment, including Margaret Rebecchi of the Yes on J campaign. She called Measure J “the most important measure that’s been on the ballot” in her 40 years living in the county and pointed out that while she owns 20 acres in Hernandez Valley south of Tres Pinos, she doesn’t own the mineral rights beneath her property.

“They could go in my property and drill baby drill,” Rebecchi said.

Kristina Chavez-Wyatt, a consultant to San Benito United for Energy Independence, said the passage of Measure J would bring an “immediate” end to oil exploration investment locally and would “open a Pandora’s box of uncertainty and litigation.”

After the public comment section, Barrios read from a prepared statement, which said that she found it “amazing that 80 percent of farmers and ranchers in San Benito County are not supporting Measure J. She said supporters of the measure are using “scare tactics” before warning that Measure J “will go down in history as the biggest mistake this county has ever made.” She said putting Measure J on the ballot was an “extreme risk.”

Supervisor Robert Rivas called his colleague’s comments “extremely off base” and said that farms and ranches that have “succommed to oil development” don’t look like farms or ranches any more. ‘It’s disgusting,” he said.

Rivas said that while opponents of Measure J are saying that fracking has been done in California for a century, he said the extraction technique has become controversial recently because oil producers have “found a formula that works” by using water, chemicals and sand to access deposits that previously were unreachable.

“For me, this is all about risk,” Rivas said. “I could care less about the few people that will have their pockets lined by high-intensity oil operations. Are we really going to risk the threat of potential contamination that will ruin” crops?