Constructing a successful oil train resistance movement, in three parts

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Part I: When Marty met Linda

In December 2013, a couple of neighbors from an upscale residential development on the Central Coast attended a community meeting at a middle school in Arroyo Grande. They had gone to learn about a new project proposed by oil giant Phillips 66 for its Santa Maria refinery, which sits near the ocean below the Nipomo Mesa, where they live.

What the neighbors, mostly retired professionals who had moved here from places such as Irvine and New Jersey, loved most about the area was its bucolic splendor, lower cost of living, and slower pace. Phillips 66 had always shipped oil to and from the Santa Maria refinery by pipeline. Now it was proposing a new way to deliver the crude: by train. And it would have to build a new rail spur at its refinery to accommodate mile-long oil trains, coming in on Union Pacific’s main line, at the rate of three a week, each carrying 2.2 million gallons of crude.

This did not sound entirely delightful to the neighbors. A 1.3-mile-long rail spur within sight of their homes would mean light pollution from nighttime operations, and plenty of noise. Also, diesel locomotives spew particulates, and the Nipomo area already has an air quality problem with wind-blown dust off nearby sand dunes.

But eight counties and 51 cities representing more than 15 million Californians up and down the coast have opposed the project. (Seriously, who wants potentially explosive, mile-long crude oil trains barreling through their towns?)

More than a year ago, after I met with the Mesa Refinery Watch Group for the first time, I was impressed by their savvy, commitment, honestly and dedication.

I predicted they would win this fight.

And so they have.

Twitter: @AbcarianLAT


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