Hermosa Beach Voters Face Tough Choice: Allow Drilling or Pay Oil Company $17.5 Million

Retired postman Robert Sonchik worries oil drilling could harm his property value. "Hermosa means beautiful," he says.

Retired postman Robert Sonchik worries oil drilling could harm his property value. "Hermosa means beautiful," he says. (Molly Peterson/KPCC)

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.

Read the full story via KPCC

Hermosa Beach Voters Face Tough Choice: Allow Drilling or Pay Oil Company $17.5 Million 3 March,2015David Marks

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