An undated aerial photo taken from just north of the Hermosa Beach pier shows… (Hermosa Beach Historical…)
Hundreds of residents and community members packed the Hermosa Beach community theater Wednesday, the first of several planned meetings to discuss the possibility of reopening the city to oil drilling.
Many seemed skeptical of the project and the oil company, E&B Natural Resources, which wants to drill as many as 30 wells horizontally from a city maintenance yard just blocks from the beach.
The meeting, which stretched for four hours and drew more than 300 people, marks the beginning of a months-long environmental review of what could be the city’s first oil project in more than 80 years and was held to discuss what effects residents would like to see studied.
After the review is completed, residents will vote on whether they want to allow E&B to drill.
The election, which could be held as soon as next spring, is part of a complex settlement agreement in which E&B bought out another oil company that had sued the city for breach of contract after it reneged on an oil agreement.
If the drilling project is approved, E&B estimates the city stands to gain as much as $500 million over the 35 years of the project, after paying the oil company $3.5 million. If the drilling project is rejected, the city will have to pay the oil company $17.5 million.
For more than three hours, residents asked questions and made comments about the project.
Some came prepared with detailed bullet lists about the risk of toxic chemicals, radiation, light pollution, truck traffic and even the possible effect on the California legless lizard.
At times, emotions ran high, especially from residents who feel the project could threaten their way of life in the 1.3-square-mile beach town.
“I’ve worked my entire life to achieve the goal of buying a house in Hermosa Beach,” said Jani Lange, 36, who lives less than a mile from the proposed oil drilling site and is concerned about pollution and noise.
“There’s something you can’t measure. Nothing beats waking up in the morning and smelling the ocean, or … hearing the roar of the waves in your bedroom as you’re sleeping.” Lange says he’ll move his family out of Hermosa if the project goes through.
One Hermosa Beach business owner, whose daughters attend the city’s schools, urged residents to allow the process to unfold.
“Even though we may have emotions about whether we want oil here or not, a lot of us make decisions based on reviewing reports,” said Johnnie Morgan, 54, who owns a construction management business in the city.
The environmental impact report, often intended for policymakers and government officials, will have an added challenge of being comprehensible to Hermosa voters, who hold a unique power to approve oil projects because of the city's original 1932 ban.
Marine Research Specialists, consultants hired by the city and paid for by E&B, will conduct the studies. They expect to release a draft report this winter.