Fight reignites against Big Oil’s neighborhood drilling

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La July 27, 2023
Presented by Dairy Cares, Southern California Gas Company, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership and Politifest 2023

Fight reignites against Big Oil’s neighborhood drilling

Recent California elections have imparted a valuable lesson to industries unable get their way with the Legislature: Stop a new law from taking effect by forcing it onto the ballot, and then convincing voters to reject it.

Defenders of those laws have learned a lesson, too: The best defense is a good offense.

So public health groups, environmentalists and community organizations just announced they’ve created a coalition to combat oil industry efforts to block a new law that would ban new oil and gas wells near homes and schools.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the law last year, but it’s been on hold since oil companies — pouring $20 million into the effort — qualified a measure for the November 2024 ballot to overturn it.

  • Sen. Lena Gonzalez, a Long Beach Democrat and the bill’s author: “The law passed with overwhelming support… And now, we are standing with the (campaign) to hold Big Oil accountable for the decades they’ve spent poisoning our neighborhoods for profit.”

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife contributed seed money to the campaign, and Gov. Newsom’s political consultant firm, Bearstar Strategies, is assisting with strategy, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Companies attempt referendums in hopes that voters wipe laws off the books, as they did in 2020 by siding with the bail bond industry over a ballot measure to repeal the end of cash bail

Even when referendums fail, they can still serve industry purposes. By spending $20 million to qualify a referendum, the tobacco industry bought itself a nearly two-year pause on a 2020 law banning flavored tobacco products. Voters ultimately upheld the ban, but not before the industry reaped what anti-smoking activists estimated was $830 million in revenues from menthol cigarettes alone. And a pending fast food industry referendum has stalled a law that would create a council to regulate fast food wages

Newsom has very publicly taken on oil companies before, such as when he called for a special legislative session to look into what he labeled “price gouging.” The result: a watered-down law authorizing a state commission to investigate and potentially cap oil industry profits — though that did not stop the governor from declaring “we can actually beat Big Oil.”

But he has remained relatively mum on oil’s current efforts to overturn the drilling setback law (his office did not respond to a request to comment). He also has been unwilling to use his authority to otherwise restrict drilling — much to the chagrin of environmentalists. He could have, for example, issued an emergency rule or a moratorium on approving new drilling permits before the 2024 election. 

Until then, however, oil companies are gearing up for a pricey campaign to convince voters to allow them to drill within 3,200 feet of their homes.

In a statement to CalMatters, California Independent Petroleum Association CEO Rock Zierman said that the contested law was originally “rushed through the legislature with no scientific justification.”

  • Zierman: “Millions of Californians continue to be frustrated by inflated prices at the pump and don’t want to be beholden to foreign oil…. We will continue to educate Californians about our industry that works under the strictest environmental standards in the world (and) produces thousands of high-paying jobs.”

Electric vehicle primer: New from our engagement team — a lesson-plan-ready version of our explainer on California’s electric vehicle transformation, especially made for teachers, libraries and community groups, as part of the CalMatters for Learning initiative. Topics already featured: wage theft, water and state government.


1 Low wages for undocumented women

Farm workers plant grapevines at a farm in Woodland on April 25, 2022. Photo by Fred Greaves, Reuters
Farm workers plant grapevines at a farm in Woodland on April 25, 2022. Photo by Fred Greaves, Reuters

More than 2 million undocumented immigrants call California home, including 900,000 women and girls. Many work in the fields or as housekeepers, cashiers or personal care aides.

And some, such as Beatriz Almazan, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, send money to relatives back home, writes Alejandra Reyes-Velarde of CalMatters’ California Divide team.

But a recent report by the nonprofit Gender Equity Policy Institute found that undocumented women workers make far less money than any other demographic group in the U.S.:

  • Undocumented women on average take home 58 cents for every dollar paid to all men and 67 cents compared to all women. 
  • Undocumented women make 87 cents for every dollar paid to undocumented men and 44 cents compared to white men.
  • Undocumented Latina women are the lowest earners compared to undocumented women of other ethnicities.

Education plays a role. Undocumented women are less likely to finish college than other groups. But the major reason they are paid less is the jobs they can get. Undocumented men typically work in construction, landscaping and truck driving, which pay better.

The report also found that nearly half of California’s undocumented women are mothers of school-aged children, and 1 million U.S. citizens in California are being raised by undocumented parents. The economic consequences ripple beyond immigrant communities. 

  • Almazan: “Our education tells us that men are providers, that they should earn more because they maintain the family, and that women have husbands who help them. That’s a lie. Women are heads of households. We have to earn the same.”

2 CA In-N-Out workers can still wear masks

Employees at an In-N-Out restaurant in San Francisco on March 20, 2023. Photo by Chin Hei Leung, SOPA Images/Sip USA via Reuters

If you’re ordering “Animal Style” fries the next time you’re at an In-N-Out, don’t be surprised if the cashier is wearing a mask.

California’s COVID-19 workplace regulations — including a guarantee that workers have a right to mask — are to remain in effect until at least February of 2025.

Until then, In-N-Out’s mask ban — which was announced last week and bars employees from masking unless they have a medical exemption — does not apply to California employees, explains CalMatters’ health reporter Ana B. Ibarra.

Because 70% of In-N-Out restaurants operate in California, that’s a large chunk of its workforce. The ban applies to workers in 116 other locations in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Texas and Utah.

In a memo, the Irvine-based company said it wanted to “emphasize the importance of customer service” and show the “smiles and other facial features” of its workers. 

California, however, has long taken a more cautious approach to the pandemic — it was the first state to enact shelter-in-place rules and shut down non-essential activity. And the state guarantees don’t just apply to workers at In-N-Outs.

  • Ingrid Vilorio, a Castro Valley Jack In the Box worker and SEIU member: “Keeping the right to mask is more about our freedom and power to make decisions that will keep us safe at work.”

Though COVID cases and hospitalizations are down from three years ago, there still have been recent outbreaks. Last week, Los Angeles County’s health department reported a rise in COVID infections, saying  it had opened 23 outbreak investigations in the last two weeks.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Jim Newton: Though Los Angeles’ homeless population keeps growing, that does not necessarily mean the mayor’s program is failing.

Have a question about California higher education? Fill out this form and it could be addressed in a future “Ask CJN” from our College Journalism Network. We now have a Spanish version of the form.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

LA failed to stop landlords renting low-cost housing to tourists // Capitol & Main

CA Dems ramp up pressure on Hollywood studios over actors’ strike // Los Angeles Times

CA Republicans want to tackle fentanyl. But some oppose a $5B bond to fight overdoses // The Sacramento Bee

SF slashes city’s affordable housing requirements. But will it spark new development? // San Francisco Chronicle

LA County says phone calls will be free in all its jails by Dec. 1 // Los Angeles Times

OC supes’ agree to $4.5M settlement in failure to report child abuse allegations // The Orange County Register

Shasta supes’ declare county a 2nd Amend. fortress in ‘war on guns’ // Los Angeles Times

CA’s population projected to remain the same through 2060 // The Mercury News

Madera County could commit $500K lifeline to bankrupt hospital // The Fresno Bee

Silicon Valley’s AI boom could widen disparities // San Jose Spotlight

Opinion: Los Angeles’ inhospitality union // The Wall Street Journal

See you tomorrow


Tips, insight or feedback? Email lynn@calmatters.org.

Subscribe to CalMatters newsletters here.

Follow CalMatters on Facebook and Twitter.

CalMatters is now available in Spanish on Twitter, Facebook and RSS.