A couple of weeks after an oil spill off the Orange County coast, City Councilmembers in Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach passed resolutions supporting a ban on offshore oil drilling at their meetings on Tuesday night.
“In a lot of ways we dodged a bullet with this one but we can’t be naive and think that this won’t happen again,” said Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr during the meeting.
The Huntington Beach City Council members voted 5-1 to approve a resolution supporting a ban on new offshore oil and gas drilling, fracking and other well stimulation activities in federal and state waters in California.
The resolution also calls for a ban on new federal oil and gas leasing in U.S. waters.
Carr — who requested the resolution along with Councilwoman Natalie Moser — said she hopes the investigation examines the safety protocols surrounding the leak.
“It’s really disturbing to learn that there are a lot of safety precautions that were not taken, there were a lot of corners that appear to have been cut and a lot of the alarms that should have gone off, didn’t go off,” Carr said, thanking the council and city staff for being forward thinking.
She said there needs to be a reckoning on the importance of offshore oil drilling in the city.
“We currently get around $16 million a year in [Transient Occupancy Tax] taxes from our tourism activities with the hotels,” Carr said. “And if you look at what we get in revenue from the oil platforms that are off our beautiful coastline, it’s nothing, it’s goose egg and if you look at what we get from the other oil activity just in Huntington Beach, it’s less than $700,000 a year.”
The mayor acknowledged that oil still plays a role in the economy and said the city needs to look at alternative energy sources.
But not everyone backed the resolution.
Councilman Mike Posey was the dissenting vote and Councilman Erik Peterson was absent.
“We don’t have any jurisdiction. These leases are granted by the state or by the US government and not by Huntington Beach,” Posey said, adding the city is already engaged in alternative energy by being a part of the Orange County Power Authority.
“I think as technology evolves, the demand for fossil fuels will decline all on its own, driven by the marketplace,” he said.
Councilwoman Barbara Delgleize challenged that notion and said the environment is being damaged while everyone waits for the market to shift.
“It’s time we could do better now with the technology that we have in the world,” she said.
Posey also had concerns with acknowledging the economic impacts in the resolution for fear of potential lawsuit.
Other council members and residents brought up the economic impacts of the spill still being felt by some businesses.
“Huntington suffered a major economic loss from this oil spill,” said Grant Bixby, a real estate broker and member of the Business Alliance to Protect the Pacific Coast coalition.
“Already the Pasea Hotel, waterfront hotels on [Pacific Coast Highway] saw huge losses and vacancies, Pacific city and Main Street retailers suffered,” he said. “It will take time to recover and it will take time till we know really the full extent.”
Several residents at Tuesday’s meeting voiced their support for a permanent ban on new offshore drilling — some noted how lucky the city got avoiding a worse situation with greater devastation.
“We got lucky at the amount of oil released, we got lucky that the beaches were only closed for eight days, we got lucky that the oil did not cause as much damage as it could have. What we all saw could have been way worse,” said Richard Busch, a beach cleanup coordinator with the Surfrider Foundation.
People representing other environmental groups also spoke in support of a ban on offshore oil drilling.
“Offshore drilling is dirty and dangerous and when they drill they spill. After experiencing oil spill disaster after oil spill disaster there’s simply no excuse for our oceans to remain open to offshore oil drilling,” said Melissa Morris, a field representative for the nonprofit Oceana.
Officials in Laguna Beach are also taking a stand against offshore drilling.
On Tuesday night, city council members voted unanimously to approve a resolution opposing both current and future oil and gas drilling operations in federal and state waters off the California coast.
All five council members signed an Oct. 7 letter calling for an end to offshore oil drilling spearheaded by state lawmakers like Sen. Dave Min (D-Irvine) and Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton).
“This formalizes what we all have been talking about and agreed to in a letter that Sen. Min asked to have signed,” Mayor Bob Whalen said at the meeting.
Min and Newman are calling on Orange County’s Congressional delegation to completely end offshore drilling in federal waters.
The oil spill, which attracted more than 10,000 people to sign up to volunteer with the clean up effort, has sparked debate on the future of offshore drilling not just at the local level but at the state level as well.
In recent days, Congress members have been debating banning offshore drilling with some arguing that a ban will harm the environment and spike energy prices.
Others say offshore drilling is a ticking time bomb and spills are inevitable if the drilling doesn’t stop.
On Monday, a Congressional hearing on the spill was convened in Irvine, where Orange County’s Democratic Reps. Mike Levin and Katie Porter called for an end of drilling off the California coast and an end to taxpayer subsidies for offshore drilling.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC News Intern. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.