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Despite the promise of millions, Hermosa Beach rejects oil drilling

Hermosa Beach fight of money vs. quality of life ends in a loss for oil drilling

Two years ago, when Mike Collins looked out of his Hermosa Beach window -- a mere 50 yards from a proposed oil-drilling operation --  he said the world felt like it was closing in on him.

If a ballot measure passed allowing oil drilling to return to the city after an 80-year absence, bringing a 34-well production project to the city, he feared he would have to leave the beach town. 

The day after the city election, the world looks a little brighter to Collins.

City voters overwhelmingly rejected Measure O, which would have lifted the city's current ban and permitted E&B Natural Resources to drill for oil.

Had voters signed off on the project, E&P said the city stood to make hundreds of millions over the life of project.

For some, the ballot posed a daunting question  -- money vs. quality of life.

"It still hasn’t completely sunk in. I’m feeling a lot of relief this morning," said Collins, who sits on the steering committee of a coalition called Stop Hermosa Beach Oil. "I believe that there is a place to drill for oil and there are places to not drill for oil ... the middle of somebody's neighborhood is not a place for a new oil exploration."

Claudia Berman, a 20-year resident of Hermosa Beach, said she felt "elated" by the results. Berman has been active in the anti-drilling effort -- canvassing, going door-to-door and maintaining a blog on keeping Hermosa Beach oil-free.

"I was just really concerned all the way around," Berman said. "It's been a really long, exhausting fight."

A 1932 vote banned new drilling within the city, but when the ban was lifted in the 1990s the city entered into an agreement with Santa Monica-based Macpherson Oil.

But in 1995, backlash from anti-oil activists changed voters' minds and the project was halted, but the settlement of a subsequent lawsuit now means that the city owes E&P $17.5 million.

The city will meet with E&B regarding repayment of the loan and once the results are certified and final, the City Council will review financing options, said Tom Bakaly, Hermosa Beach city manager. 

Jim Sullivan, a 34-year resident of Hermosa Beach, said he supported Measure O and worked hard to get it passed.

"The city needed the money, it still needs the money and the revenue from Measure O would have met those needs for years to come," Sullivan said.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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