Arvin city officials voted in July to tighten regulations on the oil and gas industry but that effort could come undone in November as several candidates vying for the three open seats on city council are being financially backed by an oil interest group.
The new ordinance that was voted in over the summer cracked down on new oil and gas operations by prohibiting sites within residential and commercial zones, requiring sites to be located more than 300 ft. from homes, schools, parks and hospitals and requiring new operation to comply with noise, odor and air monitoring requirements within 600 ft. of sensitive uses.
"I don't understand what is so controversial about now allowing oil drilling close to our backyards," said Arvin mayor Jose Gurrola. "Reasonable regulations that protect the health and safety of the community."
In the running for the three open seats on Arvin City Council:
- Abdo Algabyali, business owner
- Jazmin Robles, incumbent
- Matt Look, homemaker
- Mark Franetovich, system support technician
- Olivia Trujillo, retail salesperson
- Jess Ortiz, incumbent
Erika Madrigal is not seeking re-election.
The California Independent Petroleum Association contributing $20,000 combined to 'Citizens for Borreli, Algabyali and Franetovich.'
"Their money should not be in our politics," said Gurrola. "We don’t want them to pollute our water and we definitely don’t want them to pollute our politics and our local democracy.”
But candidate Mark Franetovich says the money speaks to something different.
"It says that they care about Arvin,” he said.
Franetovich says it's no secret to voters that he's opposed to the regulations and in support of oil production in Arvin.
"They know that I stand for oil and I stand for jobs," said Franetovich.
Mayor Gurrola stood by the oil rig on Nelson Ct., his own neighborhood, as he recalled the 2014 gas leak on that street that required families to evacuate their homes for months. He says that's where the ordinance stemmed from.
“I would have to come home everyday from work or school, seeing their houses empty,” said Gurrola.
"What can we do to prevent this from happening again? What are the regulatory gaps that exist that we can close within our authority? And that’s what we did with the oil and gas ordinance.”
Meanwhile Franetovich says turning away much needed industry is not the safety solution.
"Look at Arvin’s entire existence. That’s only happened once. I mean accidents do happen. That’s what they are called accidents," said Franetovich. “If you look at Taft, Wasco, Delano, all these other places in Kern County, they pretty much follow the Kern county regulations and they don't have any issues."
He says as he's knocked on doors, he says he's heard entirely different concerns.
“Every door I have gone to, they are pro oil and against drugs,” said Franetovich.
This year, Arvin's council voting to legalize commercial recreational marijuana cultivation. City officials are hopeful it will be a new avenue for revenue for the city that's less dependent on oil.
“Getting rid of oil and bringing in marijuana. And everyone who I have talked to they are complete opposite on that," said Franetovich.
“We can have protections for the health and safety of the community and be pro business and pro economic development," said Gurrola.