Hermosa Beach voters are being asked to greenlight new oil drilling or pay a penalty to settle a decades-long legal fight. It's a cautionary tale about the high stakes for land use in California cities, particularly when oil companies get involved.
A "yes" vote on the only measure on Tuesday's ballot would approve a plan brought forward by a company called E&B Natural Resources to erect an 87-foot oil rig on what is now the city’s maintenance yard, about six blocks from the beach, and pump as much as 8,000 barrels a day from dozens of wells. If voters turn back Measure O, Hermosa Beach is on the hook for $17.5 million, payable to E&B.
To understand how the city got here, let’s start with a little history.
Oil companies have eyed Hermosa as an access point since a well of petroleum was discovered offshore almost a century ago. But the town first banned drilling in 1932, and for most of its history, city leaders said "no thanks."
But when the city was too broke to buy a greenway property in 1984, voters reconsidered a pitch from McPherson oil to stick a straw into an oil reservoir just offshore.
“Hermosa had, during a very short period of time, made oil drilling legal. And during the window when the activity was allowed, signed a contract McPherson oil,” says Kit Bobko, a lawyer, resident and former city councilman.
In 1996, residents galvanized by environmental activists voted to overturn the deal.