Ryah Cooley

Hermosa Beach, E&B compromise on March oil election

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Tom Stoy, a worker at the E&B oil site in Huntington Beach, walks down a line of pumps in a below-ground room. The site is tucked away behind cinder block walls and trees in two one-square-city-block lots in a residential area. A proposed oil-drilling site in Hermosa Beach would be similar, officials say. Photo by Sam Gangwer, staff photographer.

Tom Stoy, a worker at the E&B oil site in Huntington Beach, walks down a line of pumps in a below-ground room. The site is tucked away behind cinder block walls and trees in two one-square-city-block lots in a residential area. A proposed oil-drilling site in Hermosa Beach would be similar, officials say. Photo by Sam Gangwer, staff photographer.

Hermosa Beach residents will vote March 3 on whether or not to allow oil drilling in their city.

An agreement on the date was reached during Tuesday night’s city council meeting between the city council and Bakersfield energy company E&B Natural Resources, following hours of council discussion and public comments that pushed the meeting several hours past midnight.

Residents still in attendance broke into applause after the council voted 4-1 vote on the issue.

Councilman Peter Tucker, who cast the dissenting vote, argued that the oil proposal should go to voters this November.

“I think the city has done it’s due diligence,” Tucker said. “I feel we need to move forward and do the right thing. I will support putting this on the November ballot.”

The city and the E&B Natural Resources signed a settlement agreement in 2012 that allowed the company to ask voters 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.

Shortly before midnight, Mayor Michael DiVirgilio proposed an April date for the election, which he had negotiated for, over the phone, with E&B president Steve Layton just hours before the meeting. The proposal was not well received by the audience.

“I think this is absolute crap,” Hermosa Beach resident Barbara Ellman said of the last minute proposal for an April election. “This is my life and you’re asking us to give these people another five months.”

Divirgilio had previously said that getting oil on the November ballot was a top priority for the city. But E&B has maintained that the settlement agreement gives them the exclusive right to set the date of the election. The company had previously proposed a June election.

After DiVirgilio unveiled the April proposal, councilmembers Hany Fangary, Carolyn Petty and Tucker all expressed support for a November election. Councilmember Nannette Barragan said she could not support a November election due to concerns that E&B might sue the city, but that she was in favor of a March election, which the council had previously discussed.

E&B President Steve Layton. Photo by Ed Pilolla.

E&B President Steve Layton. Photo by Ed Pilolla.

After Layton and the city council briefly met in private, an agreement was reached.

“I just don’t want to be a part of a process where we create more litigation,” Layton said. “I guess I’m in a position as president to make a tough call, but we would agree to a March 3 election.”

Under the terms of the proposed agreement, the election may only be postponed past March 3, 2015 if both the city and E&B agreed to a postponement in writing. The oil company has also agreed not to file a lawsuit against Hermosa Beach challenging the city’s compliance with California Environmental Quality Act guidelines, the adequacy of the environmental impact report or the March oil election date.

Stacey Armato, committee chair for Stop Hermosa Beach Oil,  said her group was pleased with the March election date.

“We were pushing for the earliest possible election date,” Armato said. “We would not support subjecting the city to additional litigation and it looks like a March 3 election date has eliminated that threat.”

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.

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.

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