Alternative facts

Alternative facts spread to marine sanctuary debate


Clones of Kellyanne Conway seem to be popping up right here in San Luis Obispo County.

To wit, Conway is a “counselor” to the recently inaugurated chief executive (Donald Trump), and besides her skills at masterminding political spin, she is the architect of the concept of “alternative facts” — to the uninitiated, these are blatant untruths.

Supporters of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary hold signs during the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors meeting on Feb. 7. Joe Johnston

Supporters of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary hold signs during the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors meeting on Feb. 7. Joe Johnston

It’s like clockwork: Conway makes frequent utterances that are so far from genuine, veteran Washington-watchers (count me in as one) can’t recall ever seeing the counselor to a sitting (or standing) president spew forth Orwellian pap and propaganda as Conway does.

It’s troubling that this administration buries us in a blizzard of baloney, a landslide of lies.

But, let’s leave the dubious activities going on near the Potomac River and head west 2,820 miles to Cambria’s magnificent coastline, and zero in on honesty versus aternative facts.

Three members of the five-member San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted last week to officially oppose the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, a much-needed coastal preserve that would stretch 140 miles from where Santa Rosa Creek spills into the Pacific Ocean in Cambria to Gaviota Creek in Santa Barbara County.

Granted, the supervisors’ vote is nonbinding — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) makes the final decision — but why oppose a marine sanctuary that would protect water quality, prohibit the disturbance of cultural resources, and prevent any further exploration, development, seabed mining or the production of gas and oil?

Philippe Cousteau Jr.

North County Supervisor Debbie Arnold (District 5) objects to the loss of “local control,” and she joined with conservative Supervisors John Peschong (District 1) and Lynn Compton (District 4) to oppose the sanctuary by a 3-2 vote on Feb. 7.

“Local control” would be lost?

Hello, Debbie Arnold: You can’t lose what you don’t have. The county has no “local control” over the ocean. The federal government and the California Coastal Commission regulate coastal waters.

While this is not a flat-out lie in the Kellyanne Conway genre, it’s a false argument to suggest that the county would lose control it doesn’t have. It’s an “alternative fact” presented by Supervisor Arnold.

And as to Peschong, whose political consulting business (Meridian Pacific) serves corporations like Phillips 66, a big oil enterprise, he said he voted against the marine sanctuary because “the fishing industry has a right not to be run over.”

Hello, Supervisor Peschong: “The proposed sanctuary would not regulate fishing,” according to Supervisor Bruce Gibson’s recent Tribune op-ed column.

Gibson (District 2) points to the thriving commercial fishing activities in nearby sanctuaries (including the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary) as evidence in support of his contention.

Cambria attorney Margaret (P.J.) Webb, who serves on the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, and is a volunteer advocate for the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, said that “fishing is regulated by fisheries agencies. The National Marine Sanctuaries Act is an ecosystem management act that encourages sustainable uses of the ocean.

“National marine sanctuaries do not regulate fishing,” Webb emphasized. Opponents say that marine sanctuaries regulate fishing “so many times, they want to make it real. They keep saying things that are untrue so often, to them, it is the truth.”

Is Big Oil a threat to the coastline?

Meanwhile, Gibson asserts that by refusing to support protections against offshore oil development, the three “hard-right majority” supervisors are “laying down the welcome for Big Oil.”

The Trump Administration has pledged to eliminate “burdensome regulations on our energy industry,” and is expected to increase offshore drilling to exploit “the vast untapped domestic energy reserves right here in America.”

Does any well-informed person doubt that this administration — which has already threatened to withhold federal funds to California because of the existence of “sanctuary cities,” and has said California is “out of control” — could authorize and even encourage oil exploration in federal waters, 3 miles from Cambria’s coastline?

Speaking of oil exploration, it appears that the three supervisors against the sanctuary have opened the door to a draconian drilling future during which rigs could dot the horizon.

For her part, Supervisor Compton is close to passing muster as a charter member of the Kellyanne Conway alternative fact alliance.

“I can assure you, I don’t take any money from oil,” said Compton on Tuesday, Feb. 7, at the supervisors meeting. Statements linking her to contributions from oil interests are “lies,” said Compton.

However, New Times investigative reporter Peter Johnson dug up campaign finance disclosures that tell a more factual story. In her 2014 campaign, Compton received $4,600 from individuals or companies with direct ties to oil and gas industries. No one witnessed her nose growing on Feb. 7, but she was obviously not being wholly forthright.

Incidentally, those $4,600 campaign contributions for Compton are dwarfed by Peschong’s $12,654 campaign contributions from oil and gas interests — and Arnold has received $5,850 from oil and gas interests, according to Johnson’s research.

The next time you pull your car into the parking lot at the south end of Moonstone Beach Drive, walk the Bluff Trail at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, hang out on the Cayucos Pier, or climb on the jetty just south of Morro Rock, observe with wonder the stunningly superb and uncluttered Pacific Ocean horizon.

We aren’t going to despoil our pristine ocean environment just because three pro-oil county supervisors have their heads in the sand and their hearts in the oil industry. But if we fail to secure the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, we’re leaving ourselves open to the greedy corporate interests that always promise safety but too often end up causing catastrophic oil spills.

Google “Oil Spills Fast Facts” from CNN.

Freelance journalist and Cambria resident John FitzRandolph’s column appears biweekly and is special to The Cambrian. Email him at

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