Exxon pushes back: Oil giant seeks to depose Santa Cruz city, county officials


In this Dec. 20 file photo, Supervisor John Leopold and Santa Cruz Mayor David Terrazas announce the county and city of Santa Cruz are joining other cities in suing oil, gas and coal companies for contributing to rising sea levels, temperatures and forest fires. (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel file)

File photo, Supervisor John Leopold and Santa Cruz Mayor David Terrazas announce the county and city of Santa Cruz are joining other cities in suing oil, gas and coal companies for contributing to rising sea levels, temperatures and forest fires.

In December, the city and county of Santa Cruz joined a wave of coastal California communities suing fossil-fuel companies for climate-change related damages. On Monday, ExxonMobil pushed back against what it called “abusive law enforcement tactics and litigation,” threatening to file its own legal action and accusing the local jurisdictions of hypocritically omitting reference to climate change damages from their own bond disclosures.

“The stark and irreconcilable conflict between what these municipal governments alleged in their respective complaints and what they disclosed to investors in their bond offerings indicates that the allegations in the complaints are not honestly held and were not made in good faith,” reads the 60-page motion, which was filed Monday in a Texas court.

Officials named by Exxon include Santa Cruz City Manager Martín Bernal, City Attorney Anthony P. Condotti, Santa Cruz County Chief Administrative Officer Carlos Palacios and County Counsel Dana McRae. Exxon is seeking to depose — interview under oath — each official to investigate a potential lawsuit, taking advantage of a uniquely flexible Texan rule that allows pre-lawsuit depositions in certain cases. Officials from San Francisco, Oakland, San Mateo County, Marin and Imperial Beach are also named.

Condotti called the move by Exxon “a sham” and “obviously a pretext for harassment.”

“The notion that the city provided some misleading information in its bond disclosures is preposterous,” Condotti told the Sentinel.

Exxon’s filing details a number of claims made in the respective complaints filed in Santa Cruz County Superior Court on Dec. 20. Among them are the county’s claim of a 98 percent likelihood of a three-foot flood by 2050, and its estimate that $742 million in property is at risk due to climate-change related storms, fires and floods.

“None of these dire and specific warnings of climate change-induced sea level rise or wildfires appear in the disclosures provided to investors in Santa Cruz City and County bond offerings,” Exxon’s attorneys wrote, referencing recent bond disclosures filed by each jurisdiction in 2016 and 2017, which detail relevant financial information and how the bonds will be repaid. “Indeed, their disclosures lack any express reference to climate change, global warming, or changes in Santa Cruz’s hydrologic regime.”


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