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Coastal cities declare local emergency with respect to oil spill

A beach closure sign at Rockpile Beach was in place Tuesday due to the recent oil spill off the Orange County coastline.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Laguna Beach has declared a local emergency with respect to the offshore oil spill that occurred over the weekend, providing a path for emergency orders to be implemented.

The Laguna Beach City Council voted unanimously in favor of the associated resolution Tuesday night, taking the step two days after Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Orange County regarding the incident.

Reports had 144,000 gallons of crude oil spilling into the Pacific Ocean off the county’s coastline, resulting in beach closures as far south as Dana Point as of Tuesday.

In passing the resolution, the council bestowed upon City Manager Shohreh Dupuis the power to issue and enforce policy related to the containment, cleanup and remediation of the oil spill, as well as to create regulations that limit public exposure to crude oil.

The city manager may also negotiate and enter into contracts that do not exceed $500,000 for services related to the oil spill, and Dupuis is authorized to send letters on the city’s behalf in support of recovery efforts.

In a report to the council on Tuesday, Marine Safety Chief Kevin Snow said that the city first saw oil come ashore on some of its beaches on Sunday. Oil had been spotted using drones on Monday, too, but Snow said no additional oil had been seen in Laguna Beach on Tuesday.

“Knowing that we have that volume of oil off our coast, the potential for it to come ashore still exists, especially since we’re going to have a change of weather with our normal prevailing northwest winds, where the wind is blowing toward the shore,” Snow said. “Some of that storm activity turned out to be beneficial because of the wind direction, at least beneficial to Laguna.”

Snow also indicated that three large cleanup vessels had been operating between Dana Point and Newport Harbor to focus on containment and recovery of the oil.

“Even though we’ve been minimally impacted [at our beaches], there’s still a lot of oil out there,” Mayor Bob Whalen said. “That’s why we just have to take this thing day to day.”

City officials stated that now is not the time for volunteers to help with the cleanup effort, but Dupuis said that several opportunities would become available eventually to provide future assistance, including through the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, the Surfrider Foundation and California Volunteers.

The impact on the tourist industry was a concern for members of the council. Ashley Johnson, the president and CEO of Visit Laguna Beach, addressed the matter, saying that there had been an “influx of cancellations” for the hotel industry as the public became increasingly aware of beach closures due to the oil spill.

“I just wanted to let you know that our organization is tracking lost tourism revenues as best as possible due to hotel cancellations related to lack of beach access,” Johnson said. “I have been in constant contact with our hotel partners, and they are tracking those cancellations from Sunday morning on as they’re related to the spill, and we’ll update you later this week.”

Some members of the public called for an end to offshore oil drilling, including Judie Mancuso, who identified herself as the founder of the political nonprofit Social Compassion in Legislation.

“The residents of Laguna Beach and all our coastal towns, our animals, our ocean, our beaches, and our local economy are victims of corporate negligence and greed, ushered in by those politicians who are beholden to big oil and have weakened environmental regulations,” Mancuso said in remarks at Tuesday’s meeting.

Huntington Beach and Newport Beach have also declared local emergencies related to the oil spill.

Newport Beach declared a local emergency Wednesday in response to the oil spill that’s affected much of Orange County’s coastline. The declaration was signed off on by City Manager Grace Leung, but city officials will ratify it at the city’s next council meeting on Oct. 12.

Mayor Brad Avery said in a call that the emergency declaration allows the city to get more resources to help mitigate the financial impacts of the oil spill for the city and provide aid to private business owners throughout Newport Beach. It also cuts through some of the legislative red tape.

Avery said the oil slick appears to have mostly moved south of the city‘s beaches, but their soft closure will remain to keep people out of the water and away from the high tide line.

“There’s still oil out there, bits and pieces that will go on for a while. I think we’re getting toward a steady state. Oil is still emerging but not huge amounts,” said Avery.

The city is currently working with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to see if there’s any way to reopen the harbor, which temporarily closed earlier this week, for maritime businesses to continue operating.

“Our first priority is to protect the environment, but we don’t want the harbor to be closed any longer than it has to be,” said Avery.

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