Thursday, May 31, 2012

What is an Environmental Impact Report (EIR)?

Hermosa Beach is about to begin the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) process and its important that you know what it is, the timing, costs, players, politics & process.  An EIR is the planning document which describes the environmental impacts associated with a oil drilling project.

17 Environmental Impacts

The EIR will analyze 17 different environmental impacts and will determine which ones are significant. Aesthetics, Agricultural resources, Air Quality, Biological resources, Geology and Soils, Greenhouse Gases, Hazards, Hazardous Materials, Hydrology and Water Quality, Land use and Planning, Mineral Resources, NoisePopulation, Real Estate, Public Services, Recreation, Transportation and Traffic, Utilities, Mandatory Findings.  It also describes mitigation measures to reduce the impacts to an appropriate or acceptable level.

Planning Commission & City Council

The information within an EIR allows the decision-makers (the Planning Commission and/or the City Council) to make an informed decision when considering whether or not to approve a project. The report also assists with deciding if approval conditions (entitlements) are necessary. The ultimate decision to approve a project, however, remains with the decision-makers. When the Planning Commmission or City Council approves an EIR, it is simply an acknowledgement that the EIR is true and accurate. It is only a step towards project approval, not a guarantee. The Planning Commmission or City Council may decide to instead decide to approve or deny the project based on overriding considerations. For example, the Planning Commission may find that a proposed project may provide monetary benefits to a community that don't outweigh a problems identified in the EIR, such as unsafe air quality, heavy truck traffic & real estate price decline that will negatively impact property tax revenue.

Public Review

There may also be one or more meetings about the report, either as a separate meeting or as an item in a Planning Commission agenda. Note that approval of the environmental impact report does not mean that the project is approved. Once the report is approved, decision-makers review the project, taking into account the information in the report and other considerations. The public has an opportunity to review and provide comments on a draft of an EIR by contacting, in writing, the planner listed on the EIR. Public input is then included in the EIR, and considered by the decision-makers along with other aspects of the report.

EIR Project Managers

The Hermoa Beach City Council approved a contract with Ed Almanza & Associates, a Laguna Beach firm, to serve as the project manager.  However, there is no public information on this firm available on the internet as of today which is concerning.  The firm will oversee the city’s review of the proposed project at large. The Council also approved a consulting contract with former City Manager Stephen R. Burrell.

Opinion:  "Can Voters Rely on an EIR to Make a Voting Decision?"

It is important for the entire South Bay to understand this will be the 4th time in 80 years that Hermosa Beach has been faced with an oil drilling ballot measure. Hermosa Beach overwhelmingly banned oil drilling in public votes in 1932, 1958 and 1995. An Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will address many aspects of this process, but it will never fully disclose all the damage that oil drilling will bring about in a town 1.3 miles square. Our position as a great area to live will be severely tarnished. These safety and environmental damage resulting from oil drilling will effect generations to come.

An EIR is supposed to be a thorough analysis of: Air quality, Biological resources, Geology and soils, Greenhouse gases, Hazards and hazardous materials, Hydrology and water quality, Land use and planning, Mineral resources, Noise impact, Population and housing, Public services, Recreation, Transportation and traffic, Utilities & any other Mandatory findings of significance like real estate values. Upon the completion of the EIR, a thorough examination of the safety risks will be necessary as it was in the previous MacPhearson oil drilling project. A report like Bircher Report (safety study), which was done in relation to the MacPhearson project, will need to be done.

Its too complicated for the voters to rely on an EIR alone.  Its too complicated and does not address safety to the residents.  An EIR is meant to simply figure out how a project could get approved. Don't be surprised to see this EIR analyzed and separated by parts to make the environmental impacts appear smaller and insignificant to residents. It’s very important that the City Council get a report similar to the Bircher Report to fully understand the risks these kind of project present.

Hermosa Beach has been down this road before and completed an Environmental Impact Report for Macpherson Oil in the 1990's at this exact location. The City Council elected at that time showed great care and diligence in their decision making. They commissioned the Bircher Report and reviewed the EIR and concluded that it was unsafe and the air quality impact would have been too harmful on residents. Three City Council members Sam Edgerton, Julie Oakes and John Bowler unanimously agreed that to not proceed with oil drilling after reviewing all the findings. They felt that the safety risks were too great to allow the oil drilling project to proceed.

We need the EIR to be interpreted by professionals who will take into account the same safety issues our 1990 City Council had to. Our current council chooses not to heed this previous unanimous vote of their predecessors. It is unknown if they even read the prior EIR and related safety reports before agreeing to this settlement arrangement. The current city council viewed the outcome of a jury trail too risky and unlike our 1998 city council they put the citizens at risk, or in this case obviated the due diligence of a complicated project into a political vote where safety arguments and facts might get lost in the rhetoric..
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