Opponents of a proposed oil-drilling project in Hermosa Beach filed a lawsuit Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging that city officials violated the California Environmental Quality Act by approving the plan.
The lawsuit, the second filed against the project by the Hermosa Beach Stop Oil Coalition, seeks to block the drilling, contending that city officials approved the plan without an adequate environmental review and in violation of city zoning codes and state fire codes.
"It's going to be a huge eyesore for the community and pose significant safety hazards," said attorney Jan Chatten-Brown, who is representing the plan's opponents. "We think this is an extremely inappropriate development."
Attorneys for the city and the oil drilling company insist that the project is safe and that landscaping and other measures will ease residents' aesthetic concerns. They point out that Hermosa Beach voters approved oil drilling by a large majority in 1984.
"This group will say anything to try to kill the project and they're trying to do that over the majority vote of the city," said Donald Macpherson Jr., president of Macpherson Oil Co., which holds the oil-drilling lease.
Under terms of the lease, Macpherson Oil will drill 35 wells in a city yard at 6th Street and Valley Drive. Thirty of the wells would be drilled at an angle to reach oil reserves beneath the city and the ocean floor. The company also plans to drill five water wells that are needed for the project.
Oil company executives expect the wells to produce up to 30 million barrels of oil over the next 25 years, generating as much as $126 million in royalties for the city, which would be required by law to spend a portion on beach or tideland projects.
The lawsuit accuses the city of violating the California Environmental Quality Act by allowing Macpherson to change the scope of the project without requiring a new environmental impact report.
The revised project, it alleges, is larger than what was originally proposed, contains more wells, extends the time allowed for exploration and drilling, and allows the use of a chain-link fence instead of a masonry wall.
The lawsuit alleges that the environmental report is woefully inadequate, failing to address everything from earthquakes to the risk of oil spilling into Santa Monica Bay. It also contends that city officials violated provisions of their own zoning codes by allowing the drilling site to be larger than originally planned and violated state fire codes by permitting the drilling to take place too close to surrounding buildings.
Assistant City Atty. Edward Lee denies that the city has violated any local or state codes. The state environmental act, he contends, does not require the city to file a new environmental report because revisions to the project were relatively minor. Rather than file a new report, city officials adopted an addendum to the original report, which Lee says was both legally appropriate and proper.
"The environmental report is eight or nine inches thick, in four separate volumes," Lee said. "It's not a scant review. It's a very comprehensive review of all the issues that could be raised about oil drilling."
Agreed Macpherson: "There's no substantial changes to the original project."
The lawsuit marks the second time oil opponents have taken their cause to court.
In August, the Hermosa Beach Stop Oil Coalition sued the State Lands Commission, which had approved the project in June, 1992. The lawsuit, scheduled to be heard Nov. 30, asks a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to overturn the commission's conclusion that Hermosa Beach's oil supply is seeping south toward Redondo Beach. Although Redondo Beach stopped pumping oil in 1991, previous pumping there created a pressure vacuum that has drawn Hermosa's oil south, attorneys for Hermosa Beach said.
By law, the lands commission cannot allow drilling in Santa Monica Bay, a gas and oil sanctuary, unless there is evidence that valuable underground oil reserves are being lost to a neighboring jurisdiction. In approving the project, the commission noted that oil revenues would help finance the construction of bike paths and other improvements to the coastline.