By Cassandra Reinhart, Special to the Independent
The Laguna Beach City Council became the first in Orange County to unanimously renounce reopening oil and gas drilling off the California coast, renewing a decades long stance against the practice.
“The new federal administration signed an executive order opening the door to more offshore leasing, drilling and fracking,” reads the city’s resolution, adopted Tuesday, Nov. 7. “This would lead to a greater probability of spills along the California coastline.”
In April, President Trump signed an executive order to re-evaluate U.S. oceans for oil and gas potential, including waters off the Pacific Coast. Since then, 13 cities in the California have passed resolutions similar to Laguna’s, with over 135 on both coasts voicing opposition, according to a count compiled by ocean conservation group Oceana.
“This order goes directly against the actions taken by the city of Laguna Beach and the state of California to promote clean energy and a more sustainable way of life,” said Oceana campaign organizer Nancy Hastings at the hearing where about six people urged elected officials to oppose drilling. “Offshore drilling is a dirty and dangerous business that would threaten the ocean-dependent tourism, recreation and fishing industries of Laguna Beach.”
No new offshore oil leases have been granted in Pacific federal waters since 1984 or in California state waters since 1969, the year the Santa Barbara oil spill spewed 4.2 million gallons of crude oil into the Santa Barbara Channel, killing birds, animals and marine life. The Santa Barbara spill remains the largest oil spill in the waters off the California coast.
“We’re calling on leaders in Washington to listen to coastal communities that have the most to lose in this fight, and stand with them to protect our coast,” Hastings said.
“We are all together on this,” said Mayor Toni Iseman. “And hopefully we can make sure that all the other coastal cities in Orange County and inland go along with this, too.”
The city’s stance echoes its position of 35 years ago over a similar threat. In 1982, then-mayor Sally Bellerue appealed to President Reagan, reaffirming opposition to the proposed leasing of 10 offshore tracts between Newport Beach and Doheny State Beach that “pose a threat to economic and environmental resources.”
Three years later, local resident and former political fundraising consultant Denny Freidenrich coordinated the “No on Offshore Oil Drilling” coalition, gathering support from county mayors and supervisors, all Republicans, to oppose the administration’s plan to open up the coastline.
“Imagine that they were saying ‘no’ to the most popular Republican in their lifetime, Ronald Reagan. It was a tough fight, but there was a lot of support in Congress and it ended up as a 15 year moratorium on drilling in the state of California,” Freidenrich said.
Bob Gentry, Laguna’s mayor in 1985 and its representative on the coalition to oppose offshore drilling, took the fight to Washington, D.C.
To halt the Trump administration’s plan for offshore drilling, business leaders in the county will again need to work their back channels to get through to the White House, Freidenrich said, citing the Irvine Company’s eventual opposition to offshore drilling as a key corporate player that tipped the scales. The decision came more than a decade before the real estate investment company and state’s largest landowner began its transformation of former ranch land on the Newport Coast, now one of the priciest neighborhoods in the county.
“We got corporate support 32 years ago, and I think that is going to be what its going to take,” Freidenrich said.
Oceana estimates the West Coast ocean economy is worth $56 billion, contributing 500,000 jobs and nearly $12 billion in wages through fishing, recreation and other sectors.
Council members say the resolution is not only about protecting the ocean economy and safeguarding the environment, it is also to protest the federal government’s continued dependence on non-renewable energy sources and its failure to invest in renewable solutions.
“Instead of trying to do more drilling of our coast, why haven’t we done what we did with the Manhattan Project, and what we did with the man on the moon?” asked Council member Steve Dicterow. “Why haven’t we done something like that for energy? It just baffles me. We wouldn’t even be talking about drilling for oil.”
The city’s resolution will be sent to state and federal offices.