Two banners hanging over Michael Collins’ home, which protest the project, can be seen across the street from the city yard, the proposed location for the oil drilling project in Hermosa Beach. Photo by Isaac Arjonilla, staff photographer.
E&B Natural Resources told the Hermosa Beach City Council Tuesday that sometime around June 2015 would be ideal to hold the election on the proposed oil drilling project.
The oil company and the city are currently at odds over when to hold the election. Mayor Michael DiVirgilio has previously said that getting oil on the November ballot is a top priority for the city. E&B however, holds the view that only they have the legal right to determine the timing of the election and that more time is needed to ensure quality reports relating to the project.
Michael Finch, vice president of health, safety and environmental affairs for E&B, said that the oil company is open to having a discussion with the city about setting an election date.
Last week, Nicki Carlsen, of Alston & Bird LLP, said in a letter to City Attorney Michael Jenkins that “E&B has the right to determine the precise project that is to be presented to the voters — It is E&B’s project, not the City’s project.” The letter also states that an oil election not approved by E&B would be meaningless.
The city and E&B Natural Resources signed a settlement agreement in 2012 that would allow E&B to call for an election to lift Hermosa’s ban on oil drilling. If successful, the ballot measure would allow E&B to install 30 oil wells at the city’s 1.3-acre maintenance yard.
The agreement calls for the city to repay E&B $17.5 million if the ballot measure fails. E&B loaned the money to the city to help settle a lawsuit with Macpherson Oil. At the time, the city was facing up to $500 million in damages for having restored a ban on oil drilling in 1995 after entering into a lease agreement with Macpherson to allow oil drilling from the city maintenance yard in 1992.
If the project is approved, the city could receive $118 million to $270 million over the 35 years of the project’s life, and Hermosa Beach schools would receive $1.2 million to $2.2 million, according to the cost benefit analysis prepared for the city by Kosmont Cos.
The settlement agreement states that the city has an obligation to “Place on the ballot at a special municipal election in a manner that comports with all applicable law within six 6 months of a request to do so by E&B or as soon thereafter as is permitted by the California Elections Code.” City Attorney Michael Jenkins has previously said that nothing in the settlement agreement precludes a November election.
City staff have said that the Environmental Impact Report, Cost Benefit Analysis and Health Impact Assessment are all on track to be finalized in time for a November election. The EIR is the only report of the three that is legally required to be done before an election can occur. City staff have said that the EIR is on track to be certified by the July 22 deadline.
Hermosa Beach residents voiced their opposition to the oil election being pushed back at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
Hermosa Beach resident George Smeltzer said that a June 2015 election would attract fewer voters than the general election this November would.
“In my mind it’s a blatant attempt to disenfranchise a large number of voters,” Smeltzer said.
Dency Nelson, a Hermosa Beach resident and environmental activist, said that the city had spent enough time on the oil issue.
“We’ve got to get on with this… And let our city staff get back to work with all the other things we have to do,” Nelson said.
Mayor Pro Tem Peter Tucker said that E&B has probably realized that there are a lot of flaws in its proposed project.
“I don’t think we’ve rushed this process whatsoever,” Tucker said. “I feel we need to move on with the process we started.”