By Malia McPherson
Malia McPherson is a 3L at Stanford Law School.
On November 4, 2014, the voters of San Benito County passed Measure J, a voter initiative banning hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) and all other high-intensity petroleum operations within county lines. Under California law, only a subsequent voter initiative can overrule this fracking ban. While it is not the first county or city within California to take a stand against fracking, San Benito’s path to a successful ballot initiative was unique. Despite being dramatically outspent in the run-up to the election, the San Benito anti-fracking coalition San Benito Rising defeated industry interests through a simple strategy of basic grassroots organization. The movement was largely leaderless, it was community focused, and it represented both minority and majority interests. How did it succeed? Given the potential risks posed by fracking, and the legal context that left a regulatory ‘gap’ for Measure J to fill, the San Benito experience shows that it is indeed possible for community-centered lawyering and the voter initiative process to protect community environmental integrity on a precautionary basis against encroachment from outside interests.
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