A joint meeting between the Hermosa Beach City Council and the Hermosa Beach City School District Wednesday saw unintended lively discussion on the hot topic of a proposed oil drilling project within Hermosa Beach city limits.
The meeting marked the first time official public discussion has occurred since E&B Natural Resources Management, Inc. filed an application to drill for oil at the city's maintenance yard in November.
Before opening public participation on the agenda item titled "report on information sharing on E&B oil project," Hermosa Beach Mayor Kit Bobko told the packed council chambers that no action would be taken on the project Wednesday night.
"We are not going to talk about money; We are not going to talk about oil; We are not going to talk about pollution; We are not going to talk about drilling; We are not going to talk about fires, disaster, the four riders of the apocalypse," Bobko told the standing room only crowd. "All we are going to talk about right now is where we are in the process and how we can facilitate information flow between the city council and the school board."
But while the two organizations only hoped to discuss how to share information on the oil project, discussion was anything but that as many residents used the opportunity to publicly express their strong opposition to oil drilling and frustrations over the lack of information that has come out since November.
"I don't know anything about what is going on... Did I get an update on this (meeting) tonight? No," said resident George Smeltzer, who expressed frustration that the city sent out advance email notification about a casino trip to Palm Springs but did not send an email about Wednesday's meeting.
"Not notifying people about this...is a misplacement of priorities," Smeltzer said. "This was important and I think you failed the first test of getting people out there."
Others, including new Hermosa Beach resident Stacey Armato, expressed outrage that oil drilling was even being considered in a beach town like Hermosa Beach
"When I heard this was coming into our backyard, I was shocked," Armato said. "It is deplorable; it is disgusting... All of your names will be behind it," she said, pointing to the councilmembers.
South Bay resident Chris Miller also expressed her strong opposition to the drilling project and called it dangerous to the health of Hermosa Beach residents and the environment.
"What lies below the ocean out there has some value," Miller said, referring to the oil E&B would drill for. "But what lies above is priceless and if it endangers any one of us, I don't see why we are going down this road."
In response to public comments – all of which were against the oil project – Mayor Pro Tem Michael DiVirgilio acknowledged that the city could have done a better job of getting word out about Wednesday's meeting and the oil project information sharing agenda item.
"This is the first time we are trying to start talking about it," DiVirgilio said. "Your point that we did not do a sufficient job letting folks know that this item was available – even if just for process – is duly noted and you have my promise that we will get it better the next time."
Although some thought the city could have done a better job getting word out about the meeting, city manger Tom Bakaly confirmed that the meeting was fully noticed in compliance with the Brown Act.
Councilman Jeff Duclos added that because there has been a lack of information coming out about the oil project, residents have been left to draw their own conclusions about the project.
"Obviously when there is a void of concrete information, that void will be filled," Duclos said. "I just want to let everyone here tonight know that this was not an intended conversation, but it was a needed one... We are here to listen and we do."
Currently, the city has received E&B's application and has requested additional information from the company on the project. Once the city deems the application complete, it will work on finding a consulting firm to perform the environmental impact review on the project required by the California Environmental Quality Act.
"The earliest that we would see a vote of the people would be spring of 2014," Bakaly said.
As promised, neither the school board nor city council took any action or official stance in regards to the oil project during Wednesdays meeting. However, both promised an open and transparent process in the coming months.
Moving forward, Bobko proposed that the city council receive monthly updates during meetings on the status of the oil project application. Bobko also promised the city council would remain neutral and promote plenty of dialogue in the months ahead.
"I want to make sure that this city council does everything in its power to facilitate your ability to make an informed decision," Bobko said. "We want to be the unbiased clearinghouse of fact for this project... When you come looking for something, you know that you are getting straight information from us."