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Public participation is a key element in any County hearing process, and in the Phillips 66 Company case, an extraordinary number of interested parties and members of the public were involved.

In 2016, the County held eight Planning Commission hearings on this topic that had the community buzzing. Those hearings lasted from February to October.

fremot theatre
The County reserved the Fremont Theatre to accommodate the large crowds that attended the hearings.

The County Planning Commission hearings considered an application from oil company Phillips 66 for a permit to build and operate a 6,915-foot-long rail spur, or track, and oil-offloading facility on the company’s existing Santa Maria refinery property. This would have allowed the company to import and unload crude oil at the refinery via up to three trains per week. Each train would be approximately 5,190 feet long, consisting of up to 85 cars transporting a total of approximately 2,190,000 gallons of crude oil.

While these hearings garnered significant public interest, a lot happened behind the scenes to ensure that the hearings went as smoothly as possible.

Anticipating hundreds of people, the County wanted to give everyone a chance to express their thoughts, despite the occupancy limitations in the County Board Chambers.

The County created a logistics team made up of staff from various departments to ensure an efficient, fair, and respectful hearing process that could accommodate the large number of attendees and public speakers.

The logistics team developed specialized speaker slips, public testimony procedures, and overflow accommodations in the County Government Center conference rooms and the nearby Fremont Theatre. Both facilities were equipped with live broadcasts of the hearing, traffic control measures, and online information to ensure that all available information was easily accessible to the Planning Commissioners and the public.

In the end, more than 500 people spoke at the Planning Commission meetings during multiple days of public testimony. The specialized speaker slips and overflow accommodations allowed for an efficient public hearing process.

On October 5, 2016, the Planning Commission denied the project, but that decision has since been appealed. The Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing to consider the appeal in March 2017. Many of the logistics developed, coordinated, and tested as part of the Planning Commission meetings will be used again for the Board of Supervisors. The project (even if denied locally) can also be appealed to the Coastal Commission because the project meets the definition of a “Major Energy Facility”.

The County Department of Planning and Building wishes to thank the members of the public for their cooperation and patience throughout the hearing process, as well as the many County employees from various departments for their exceptional effort and collaboration.