“The death of beautiful Monterey County has begun.”
Dr. and Mrs. Russell Pratt
The people who stumbled out of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors chambers just before 3 a.m. were too tired to cheer, or jeer, or express much emotion at all. In a way, it was not surprising — they had just come out of a marathon special meeting that dragged on with a few breaks for 17-plus hours, since 10:00 a.m. the previous day. It was the longest meeting in county history, and everyone, opponents and supporters alike, was dead on their feet.
Or maybe they were in shock that the measure to approve an oil refinery on the edge of Monterey Bay had actually passed. Fears of widespread air and water pollution and the detrimental health consequences surely dragged some into gloom. Others dreaded the addition of a multi-smokestack monstrosity destined to blight the local landscape. For many, the blot of a refinery meant the slow demise of one of Monterey County’s top industries: tourism. Some farmers of the fertile Salinas Valley, known as the Salad Bowl of the World, winced at the thought of forthcoming crop damage. And perhaps others were already grieving for a beautiful yet fragile bay ecosystem that now surely seemed doomed.
Joining in that early morning procession from the supervisors’ chambers were supporters of Humble Oil’s refinery project. They saw an opportunity for jobs and a larger tax base for schools, fire districts and other government services. Most of these people also feared the impact of pollution, but felt that controls could manage any possible damage. The people of North Monterey County, where the refinery was planned, represented a working-class community often orphaned from the prosperity of agriculture in the Salinas Valley or the tourist dollars pouring into the Monterey Peninsula.
“When the vote was over … there were no cries of elation, no applause, no demonstrations of glee,” reported the Monterey Peninsula Herald of Humble supporters, describing them as “drained of their energy by the rigors of combat.” It was September 3, 1965, and Humble Oil and Refining Co. had won, despite the emotional objections of environmentalists, farmers, tourism boosters and those who simply objected to the foul sight of a 50,000-barrel-a-day refinery being established near the tiny fishing village of Moss Landing, halfway between Monterey and Santa Cruz. The bitter fight had been raging since February and was being closely watched, not just by county residents, but also by neighboring counties that had no voice in the matter.
“Death brings grief,” said an open letter to the board of supervisors, submitted by Dr. and Mrs. Russell Pratt of Carmel. “This grief is ours to share today. The death of beautiful Monterey County has begun.”
The stakes were as high as they get. Humble Oil had submitted its application seven months earlier to build a refinery at Moss Landing. The company was expanding rapidly as demand for petroleum products continued to grow in the United States. The postwar economic boom had continued, people were buying automobiles in ever-increasing numbers, and now it was expected that even teenagers would have their own wheels. And all those Ford Mustangs, Chevy Impalas and Cadillacs needed fuel.
Humble Oil, a powerful affiliate of Standard Oil of New Jersey, had cast its corporate eye on the West Coast market. In particular, it wanted California, which then had the fastest-growing market for gasoline in the country. Humble had started as a crude oil producer in Texas in the early 1900s, but then expanded into refining as well as oil delivery and transportation, a massive system that included more than 12,000 miles of pipeline, 19 ocean-going tankers, and numerous barges and tows. In addition, by the 1960s, it had retail outlets across the country under the names Humble, Esso and Enco. In a few years, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Humble and the other affiliates would merge and rebrand under the now familiar name of Exxon.
Adding a refinery in California would allow Humble to supply gas stations on the West Coast at a reduced cost. The company had done its homework, looking at various sites between Seattle to San Diego. Moss Landing emerged as its first choice — the site, already earmarked for industrial use and located near a deepwater port, seemed perfect.
Monterey County — which relied on agriculture and tourism as two pillars of its economy — was divided against itself. On the Monterey Peninsula, well-to-do residents of Carmel and Monterey took up the environmental banner against the project. In the Salinas Valley, farmers were split on the matter: some saw it as another step in the march of progress, while others feared the impact of air pollution on their crops. In Salinas and North Monterey County, support for the refinery was strong, as many residents looked to the jobs and economic benefits of a thriving industrial center in Moss Landing.
“Long-time students of county politics say they cannot remember an issue in the past which divided the county so completely and was so fraught with political, economic and sociological implications,” wrote Stanley Cloud in The Herald, adding that unconventional alliances of Democrats and Republicans joined forces both for and against the Humble Oil project.
Emotions were running at a fever pitch in the supervisors’ chambers on Thursday, September 2. At this point, there had already been a lengthy series of meetings regarding the project, culminating in this special meeting to vote on Humble’s refinery permit.
Media from all over the Monterey Bay area and beyond were on hand. Reporters crammed in, jostling for a free table to write upon, television stations focused on a multitude of speakers, and local radio station KIDD ran on-air coverage from gavel to gavel as if it was a championship sporting event.
Board Chair Thomson J. Hudson of Monterey, supported by Beauford T. “Andy” Anderson of Seaside, at first proposed to hold the vote until another day, but three supervisors insisted on proceeding —Warren Church, whose district included the Humble project, Harold G. Henry of South Monterey County, and Arthur C. Atteridge of Salinas.
Hudson, the flamboyant, bowtie-wearing senior member of the board, had staked his opposition to the project early on. Hudson’s dark good looks and charisma elevated him to the center of attention in any gathering. A pro-business Republican with a strong conservationist streak, he had developed a reputation promoting scenic views and abhorring billboards as the county’s population grew, and industry drew nearer. He even proposed removing Highway 68 between Salinas and Monterey from the state highway system and incorporating it into the county road system so as to better preserve its beauty. In this epic meeting over Humble, Hudson was relentless as he tried to pull every trick that he could out of his political hat to halt the project. His district was the heart of the opposition, and they supported Hudson wholeheartedly.
Joining with Hudson in opposition to Humble was Anderson, a former mayor of Seaside, whose mild, balding appearance hinted little at his heroic past. Anderson was a man of enormous courage. As a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient in World War II at the Battle of Okinawa, Anderson risked his life to save the men under his command. Although his district split over the Humble issue, polls showed most of his constituents favored the refinery. But Anderson personally felt the project was wrong, and his determination never wavered. Even as a new supervisor who took office just months earlier, he courageously defied a majority of his constituents’ wishes. Anderson’s reasoning was out of the ordinary for his district too. Despite representing a largely urban, working class area that would benefit from more industry, Anderson was concerned that the refinery was “the first step” in changing the region from an agricultural region to an industrial one.
Representing South Monterey County was stout, bespectacled Harold Henry, a staunch conservative, who had thrown his lot into backing Humble early on when his district overwhelmingly supported it. In the last few weeks before this meeting, that support had cracked as many leaders in the agricultural community developed second thoughts over fears of pollution damage to their crops. Henry strongly backed expanding the county’s tax base, and that appeared to guide him as agriculture grew increasingly divided. Although it was briefly thought that Henry might change his vote in the weeks leading up to the meeting, he stuck to his support.
From Salinas, the largest city in the county, was its former mayor, Arthur Atteridge. Towering over the other board members at 6’4”, Atteridge was a serious, soft-spoken man with a friendly demeanor. Salinas had long sought to bring in industry to diversify its agricultural heritage, and with Humble’s project just a few miles away to the north, the residents of Salinas envisioned a growing economic boom. Whether Atteridge personally favored the project or not, his constituents supported it overwhelmingly. While there was some talk that Atteridge’s vote might also sway to a no in the weeks prior to the meeting, his allegiance to his constituents’ wishes was never in doubt.
In the northernmost district sat newly elected Warren Church, the youngest member of the board, although already showing a touch of gray hair. Like the other supervisors, Church had publicly declared that he had made up his mind in May. Unlike the other four supervisors, Church refused to divulge his decision. This made Church the swing vote on a 2-2 deadlocked board. While his constituents expressed strong support for Humble’s refinery, those people also held deep concerns about pollution. Church had run the year before in a six-man race where he pulled an upset victory over three-term incumbent Chester Deaver, one of the county’s key architects in the plan to industrialize Moss Landing.
Church was the only candidate in that race who openly opposed the incorporation of North Monterey County, one of the divisive issues of the election. He also campaigned on the promise of kickstarting the county’s parks program, seeing as Monterey County was one of the few counties in the state without a park system. Those conservationist positions seemed counter to supporting the industrial plans of Humble. As Ray March of The Salinas Californian reported in a pre-vote analysis of the supervisors’ positions on Humble: “An oil refinery just does not match a park.”
The board sat through three and a half hours of statements by refinery supporters, and then more than nine hours of public testimony with some breaks in between. “The lengthy parade of speakers opposing the refinery fermented audience charges that Chairman Hudson was trying to stall the hearing into a torpor,” reported the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, the town’s newspaper. Although Watsonville was in Santa Cruz County, it was just a few miles north of Moss Landing, and residents there had been following the Humble hubbub closely, with hopes that the town would become a bedroom community for future refinery workers.
Hudson angrily denied that he was deliberately delaying the vote: “There’s no intention on my part to do anything but give everybody a chance to be heard,” he told the audience in the Salinas supervisors’ chambers. Yet Hudson tried four times to continue the hearing to a future date, but he was overruled by a majority of the board at each attempt. Although tempers thinned to the breaking point for some, for others the length of the proceedings was simply too much. Some audience members collapsed into cat naps; several attendees fell asleep.
At one point, Atteridge, an avid baseball fan, kept an ear toward a radio at the press desk tuned to a doubleheader that the San Francisco Giants were playing. Periodically, Atteridge would lean over and inquire about the score. With the score tied in the second game of the doubleheader, Atteridge turned, scooped up the radio and disappeared into a back room behind the board chambers. He returned a few minutes later handing the radio back to its owner and announcing that the Giants were ahead. The doubleheader ended before the supervisors’ meeting was half over.
At another point, a doctor rose to talk about air pollution, and glanced at William J. O’Connell, an expert on refinery pollution that the county had hired who was smoking a cigar. The doctor made a derogatory comment about the cigar and air pollution, but was quickly interrupted by Hudson, who usually smoked three cigars a meeting.
“Let’s have no comments about cigars before this board,” Hudson said.
A rancher from King City in South Monterey County, sitting through 15 hours of testimony, finally rose to talk and complained of saddle sores.
As the meeting progressed into the afternoon, it was easy to read most of the board members. Hudson and Anderson posed critical questions to Humble officials; Henry and Atteridge offered up more friendly inquiries. All the while, Church sat poker-faced, never revealing his inclinations and hardly asking a question. As evening approached, the board remained deadlocked at 2-2.
Comments by the public ranged from adamant arguments for or against the Humble project to personal recollections. The speakers included representatives from local business and agriculture in addition to concerned members of the public.
Humble officials tried to reassure the standing-room-only crowd that the refinery would be efficient and clean, and unlikely to cause either air or water pollution. Said Humble executive Jack Gardner of oil spills, “The record of oil industry and our company in particular is that such accidents are rare.” Humble scientist Dr. George Swisher weighed in as well: “… a modern, well-controlled refinery can definitely be classed as a clean industry and would pose no threat to Monterey County.”
“There’s no need whatsoever to be scared about a refinery in Monterey County,” stated Humble Vice President J. Prince Warner. Warner went on to call the conditions recommended by the county’s Planning Commission as “more restrictive and more complete” than those at either Los Angeles or San Francisco “or in the entire United States.”
“We feel strongly that agriculture and industry can live together in this valley,” said Rod Ferguson, chair of the Committee for Planned Growth in Monterey County.
Tom Dunne, city manager of Salinas, stated, “assuming the plant will continue operating in such a manner as will avoid damage to the agriculture industry in the county … the city council restates its unanimous support for the Humble Oil development.”
Douglass Allmond, who ran a strong third in the primary of the 1964 supervisorial race where Church would later defeat Deaver in November, also expressed his support of Humble. Allmond pointed out that disagreeable industries had existed for a long time, including the “smelly sardine canneries in Monterey” and the old whaling station at Moss Landing. Challenging Hudson’s many critical comments towards Humble, Allmond responded, “I don’t remember any of the Salinas residents or those from North County trying to come and close down your canneries, Tom.”
Speaking in favor of Humble was former Monterey County Supervisor Chester Deaver. Deaver had emerged as a strong advocate of Humble in North County, signing petitions and declaring that if he were still on the board, he would vote in favor of it. Deaver saw industry as the future of Monterey County.
“We’re now talking about an industry (agriculture) that has reached its climax. In Monterey County, we have just about expanded agriculture to its limits. Most of the good usable land is now in agriculture production,” Deaver declared. Deaver, who had also backed the development of the Firestone Tire and Rubber plant south of Salinas a few years earlier, said Humble would provide more taxes than Firestone and help draw more industry into Monterey County.
“You can’t sit idly by and see opportunity pass you up,” exclaimed Deaver.
Also in favor of Humble’s project was Kenneth Davis, a vice president of Bechtel Corp. who touted himself as a Sierra Club member. “I’m here to just express the confidence … that such a (clean) refinery can be built today.” Unbeknown to many, Bechtel was a prominent background player in Humble’s search and ultimate decision for a West Coast refinery.
Most Peninsula residents were much less confident that pollution could be avoided. Merchants and officials who wanted to promote the Monterey Peninsula as an ideal vacation destination did not want to see any more eyesores on the bay. It was bad enough that smokestacks at PG&E’s Moss Landing power plant were there in plain view and at that very time being constructed to a height of 500 feet. Plans for the further expansion of the “Mighty Moss” were underway, including a nuclear power plant. Monterey, which was just starting to talk about how to turn disreputable Cannery Row into a tourist spot, did not want unsightly industry sprouting along the water’s edge.
The threat of air pollution was what really galvanized ordinary citizens in the matter. Smog had become an enormous problem in California, particularly in the Los Angeles basin to the south and in the San Francisco Bay Area to the north. Due to the California highway system, residents were dependent on their cars for transportation, and although fledgling air pollution control districts had been established in several regions around the state, there was no way to control automobile emissions without the cooperation of car manufacturers. Los Angeles, in particular, had some of the dirtiest air in the world then, and activist groups like Stamp Out Smog were demanding that something be done. Anyone who traveled to L.A. during this period was well aware of the lung-burning, eye-watering effects of air pollution, and Monterey County residents feared it as well.
However, the view on pollution was not unanimous by any stretch. The county-hired pollution consultant, O’Connell, said, “I don’t believe a 50,000-barrel-a-day refinery will create a smog condition.” Adding to the conflicting testimony was John Maga, chief of the Air Sanitation Bureau for the State Department of Public Health, who stressed that Monterey County did not have an air pollution problem and there were no clear-cut trends to one developing.
Of the people who got up to speak at the meeting, it was obvious that those in agriculture were particularly at odds over the Humble project. Some, like George Hobbs of Bud Antle Inc., gave it a big thumb’s up: “We sincerely feel, as agriculture, that we can live with this industry in the Valley,” he told the county supervisors.
But others, like Dave Williams, farm superintendent for Bruce Church Inc., were adamantly against anything that could harm the county’s $160 million agriculture business. Williams, also chair of the group Individuals for Clean Industry, cited statistics and reports regarding weather patterns in the Salinas Valley, how inversion layers could trap pollutants above local farmland, and the damage these contaminants could inflict on plant life. “The decision you gentlemen make can have an effect on tens of thousands of acres, and millions of dollars worth of crops,” Williams testified.
The farming community had been relatively silent for months over the Humble controversy. It was only in the last few weeks that organized opposition, including by the county Farm Bureau, which in itself was split, emerged to question the wisdom of allowing industry that might negatively impact agriculture. However, this opposition appeared to come too late to make any significant difference.
Arnold Frew of King City, a member of the King City Citizens for Clear Air Committee: “I don’t believe there’s a place in the world where you have the agricultural growth, the agricultural wealth and production that we have here. I am very skeptical about this type of industry.”
The burgeoning flower industry in North Monterey County and Watsonville expressed considerable concern about Humble. Many of the growers, like Mits Nakashima, had left the San Francisco Bay area to escape the pollution damaging their crops and now feared the same issues here. Nakashima appealed to the supervisors’ sensibilities and to the flags of the United States and California hanging behind Hudson, as well as to a non-existent Monterey County flag.
In Castroville, near the proposed Humble site, agriculture’s position was one of concern. Primarily an artichoke-growing region, most of the farmers opposed Humble, but there were exceptions. Don Barsotti, speaking for the California Vegetable and Artichoke Growers Association, expressed support. “We feel that we have more at stake than most of the people, and we wholeheartedly support the Humble application.” A few years earlier, Humble, keeping its name and intent secret from Barsotti, purchased the land from him.
Monterey Peninsula residents like Charles Kramer, leader of the group Citizens for Clean Air, did their best to dissuade the board. “We are fighting to preserve one of the most beautiful and unique areas in the nation … An oil refinery will endanger that environment.”
“This (plan for a refinery) is called progress,” said Salinas pediatrician Dr. Rex Whitworth. “This is avarice. This is greedy … if life and death is emotional, then I’m emotional.”
State Senator Fred Farr, a resident of Carmel, took his place speaking before the supervisors. Farr, had endured a nightmare year. In January, his wife passed away. Then, just a little over a week before the September 2 meeting, he had been vacationing in Colombia with his two daughters while visiting his son, Sam, who was working as a Peace Corps volunteer there. Farr’s youngest daughter, Nancy, was thrown from a horse and died. Yet Farr, the statesman that he was, suppressed the pain and tragedy encompassing him and rose in defense of his constituents and the Monterey Bay that he loved to plead with the supervisors to deny Humble’s permit.
“If there is a conflict in the testimony of the experts,” Farr said, “I say why take a chance.”
Altogether, 23 speakers spoke in favor of the refinery, while 28 spoke against. The speakers were not limited to the time limit of three minutes as is now the custom. Many also rose to speak repeated times to reiterate a favorite point, inject a new emphasis or counter an opposing viewpoint. Much if not all of the discussion was to no avail as it seemed the supervisors had already made up their minds. As one of Henry’s constituents spoke against Humble, Henry decided that he had heard enough. He spun around in his chair and began reading a newspaper.
As the meeting drew toward midnight, Hudson made repeated calls for breaks, which were rebutted by other supervisors, and caused further mumblings that he was stalling. That prompted Hudson to push the meeting on into the early morning hours.
“I suggested adjournment to the other supervisors, and they wanted to go ahead. Now they have to take the penalty,” declared Hudson.
Hudson questioned the premise of state pollution official John Maga, that Humble would not add appreciably to air pollution. When Hudson stated that Humble’s refinery would not help air quality, an “Aww” murmured through the crowd. Hudson angrily insisted, “I have the right to ask questions” and threatened to clear the chambers if further heckling continued.
The clock ticked past midnight, and groans and murmurs of “no” rose in the audience from the anti-Humble crowd as the board discussion began to turn favorably toward Humble. Hudson banged his gavel numerous times to bring order.
By the early morning hours, it was clear from the questions being asked that Church had thrown in his lot with the pro-Humble Henry and Atteridge. The discussion shifted to conditions with Anderson saying that he wanted more information before voting.
“Let’s vote on the decision now. We can take the regulations later,” Atteridge responded.
Church jumped on Atteridge’s suggestion. He spoke that he was supporting Humble’s application because the taxes would provide for needed services. He continued that the refinery would add less pollution and impose fewer burdens on county services than more labor-intensive industries. Church then moved to approve the Humble proposal with the conditions for the permit to be added at a later date.
Each of the supervisors then took their turn to explain their vote. Atteridge asserted that Humble would provide needed taxes for the Flood Control and Water Conservation District. Henry backed Atteridge and added that the district was a crucial water resource for agriculture. Anderson, expressing his opposition, emphasized that Monterey County now had “good, clean growth,” and he did not want Humble to interfere with that. Then a sharp verbal squabble between Hudson and Henry arose as Hudson began speaking.
“It’s a little bit hard for me, as the senior member of this board … to see the silver dollar guiding the destiny of this county, and that’s what it is. It’s tampering with the soul of Monterey County. This application was dropped on us like a match … and it went up like a fire. Humble came in saying, ‘We want to put in an oil refinery at Moss Landing.’ Out of that approach came one of the most bitter … strongest controversies of opinion this county has seen in some time. It’s rather tragic to allow something like that to come in. The board turned its back on agriculture. Some of my fellow supervisors from the agricultural belt seem to be lacking,” said Hudson.
“Just a minute, Mr. Hudson,” interjected Henry.
“Let me finish,” responded Hudson.
“If you keep that up, you won’t be able to finish,” Henry bounced back.
“There is the integrity of this county, the soul of this county,” Hudson continued, “It got its leadership from the soil. So our loyalty to agriculture just wasn’t there when it needed it … I kind of like to make some of my decisions on what would happen … if we made a mistake here. It would be a pretty substantial one.”
“Clerk, call the roll,” requested Hudson.
So it was. The longest meeting ended with a 3-2 vote to grant a special permit to Humble.
As both shocked and elated residents were reading the headlines in the local newspapers a few hours later on September 3, there seemed to be no hope for those who opposed Humble.
Now only the setting of conditions stood in the way of Humble’s permit. Humble had grudgingly gone along with the 36 conditions that the Planning Commission had recommended for the project, but Humble was banking on the thought that with a favorable majority on the Board of Supervisors, some of those conditions might be lessened. Humble officials were on record as saying they would comply with any conditions that were “reasonable and justified.”
In an editorial, Ted Durien, managing editor of The Herald, castigated the supervisors who had cast “yes” votes: Atteridge, Henry and Church.
“Humble Oil, our new neighbor, had three supervisors in their pocket when the hearing started. They were still there when the vote was taken,” said The Herald, long suspecting that Church was a pro-Humble vote.
“Don’t get us wrong,” the editorial continued. “We have nothing against this company, or heavy industry for that matter. We simply feel Monterey County is no place for an oil refinery, and all the refineries that will follow as night follows day.”