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Initial election results point to Measure G defeat

Greta Mart/KCBX
The No on G campaign claimed Measure G would "shut down" current operations at the Arroyo Grande oil field, pictured here.

As of Wednesday afternoon, it appears unlikely Measure G, aiming to curb future oil extraction and fracking in San Luis Obispo County, will pass.

Supporters of the measure gathered Tuesday night to wait for the first rounds of election returns. Many of those in attendance had been involved in the ‘Yes on G’ campaign, knocking on doors together and making phone calls. Some also wondered why they hadn’t met anyone from the ‘No on G’ campaign.

Nan Albee of Cayucos sat with a group of her friends at a table in the back of Libertine Brewing Company in San Luis Obispo Tuesday night, where the ‘Yes on G’ campaign gathered for what they were hoping would be a victory party.

“Today off my front patio, I could see whales out in the ocean,” Albee said. “One breached and you could see the others blowing as the sun set. I felt like that was a good omen for ‘Yes on G’ tonight.”

But when the first election results were released, Charles Varni, one the key proponents of Measure G, addressed the crowd, and the first words out of his mouth were, “it’s not good.”

“The no vote is 57 percent, the yes vote is 43 percent,” Varni said.

The crowd, still excited by news coming from the wall-mounted televisions that Democrats were now the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, didn’t seem to grasp, or hear, what Varni had just said. Someone in the crowd excitedly screamed, “Woooo!” But Varni clearly understood that these first numbers weren’t a good sign.

“It’s a pretty big gap,” Varni said. “But I’m still optimistic.”

Varni said the first round of votes in elections can tend to skew conservative and said he expected the gap shrink in the coming hours, which it did a little. But Varni said even if his measure did not pass, he and his crew would remain optimistic.

“The last 15 months of this campaign has brought together and activated people who have never been involved in politics before,” Varni said. “People who took a risk, pushed themselves, and went out there and started collecting signatures. We have a really committed band of people in the coalition to protect San Luis Obispo County. So whatever the outcome, we are not going away.”

Back at the tables of supporters, people discussed their views on oil extraction and fracking.

“I’m wondering where the ‘No on Measure G’ people are tonight,” Nana Albee said.

“I haven’t met anyone on the ‘No’ campaign,” Kathy Teufle said. “This last week, though, every day I got a mailer. One day, I got two mailers in the mail.”

According to the most recent campaign finance records, the No on G spent received just under $8 million in contributions from large oil companies to fight the citizen’s initiative. KCBX News attempted to contact the ‘No on G’ campaign repeatedly; there’s been no response during the entire campaign season. And outside YouTube and television advertisements, flyers and mailers, nobody KCBX News spoke with in San Luis Obispo County had interacted with anyone from the ‘No’ campaign. 

“Most of our interactions with ‘No on G’ people have been online,” Varni said. “Because that is really the only way they will encounter us. We’ve asked them to debate us numerous times. Other community organizations have asked them to come to public forums. They won’t do that. They hid behind their big bucks and big ads.”

For ‘Yes on G’ volunteers like student Candice Leung, the campaign was an opportunity to get out in her community and talk to people.

“I was really inspired because I really want to protect this area,” Leung said. “I did a lot of phone banking and canvassing; I ran around doing a bunch of literature drops.”

Leung said on the Cal Poly campus, and around downtown San Luis Obispo, she got a lot of support.

“Though the farther away we got from the center of town, [we heard] confusion and some support for no on Measure G,” Leung said. “You can’t do much about that, but you have to do your best to convince them.”

Which is what Varni said he plans to do moving forward.

“We came together to challenge the expansion of oil drilling and extraction in our county and protect our groundwater,” Varni said. “That’s what our mission is. That’s what we will continue to work towards.”

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, the votes tallied in the Measure G race in San Luis Obispo County this far have the ‘no’ vote at 56 percent and the ‘yes’ vote at 44 percent.

[Editor's note: One day after the election, KCBX News was able to reach the communications director for the 'No on G' campaign, Matt Cunningham. When asked why he hadn't responded to KCBX News' earlier requests for comment or a studio visit, Cunningham said, "we were engaged in multiple efforts to inform the voters of San Luis Obispo about Measure G and its impacts. We did that through our own direct voter communication and also did with the media in San Luis Obispo County, like the Tribune and New Times SLO, so I don't think we...we did our best to ensure the voters had a full grasp of what the initiative did, and we think they heard what we had to say."

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