The Beverly Hills City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved an interim ordinance banning oil and gas drilling starting Jan. 1, 2017.
The oil well owned by Venoco Inc. and located on the Beverly Hills High School campus is the only facility within city limits that will be affected by the ordinance, City Attorney Laurence S. Wiener said.
Councilwoman Nancy Krasne said she has heard talk around town indicating that Venoco wants to resume drilling and is “enticing” the Beverly Hills Unified School District with offers for a new lease. Under the new ordinance, the oil company can operate in town until its present lease expires Dec. 31, 2016, coinciding with the new ordinance’s time frame.
The amendment to the municipal code bans oil, gas and hydrocarbon extraction from surface rigs, but not wells located beneath Beverly Hills that are connected to sites outside the city. The law also prevents the leasing and construction of new hydrocarbon sites effective immediately.
Because it isn’t a permanent ordinance, which requires public hearings and a staff study, another vote is required in 45 days. Subsequent yearly checks must take place if the policy is approved again in March. The council may also revisit the issue at the request of a property owner and rescind the ordinance at any time, according to Wiener.
“The real effort here is to determine a date for termination of current use,” said Wiener, who reported to the council just before the vote.
No one in attendance at the public meeting spoke in opposition to the local drilling ban, and a Venoco spokesman didn’t return calls for comment.
Council members used the legislative action as an opportunity to reaffirm a united, long-held stance that Beverly Hills is no place for surface oil rigs. Krasne chose to potentially “err on the side of caution” to protect children when she voted “happily, yes” on the ordinance.
“I’m going to say, right now, as I sit at home with a child [who] has lymphoma, that if there is just [a small] instance of cancer caused by an oil well on the school campus, then I’m going to err on the side of caution and put this ordinance in place,” Krasne said. “If it can be proved to me that this is not the case, then at that time I will gladly lift the ordinance and have no problem.”
Mayor Jimmy Delshad also reiterated his opposition to surface wells in Beverly Hills.
“It’s just not our brand. It’s not something that we would be very proud of, so for so many years I’ve been looking forward to this prohibition.”
The mayor also spoke about Measure O, an initiative on the March ballot that would raise taxes on drilling facilities. He assured residents that the tax bump does not mean the city is looking to drill more wells to make money.
“I’m always against having oil wells in our territories,” Delshad said.
The Venoco well was the subject of one of Beverly Hills’ greatest controversies. Environmental activist Erin Brockovich sued the city and oil company in 2003 because of its proximity to the high school and a spate of cancer cases that affected former students and residents over 30 years.
The lawsuit was dismissed four years later due to inaccurate measurements of toxins, which was the bulk of Brockovich’s case. The high-profile activist and her legal team had to reimburse defendants $450,000 to cover years of court costs and legal expenses.
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