Hermosa Beach Votes No on Oil

On Tuesday night, voters in Hermosa Beach resoundingly rejected a project that would drill for oil into the Santa Monica Bay. In a long-awaited special election that drew a record turnout, unofficial results are showing that 78.9 percent of ballots cast voted against Measure O--leading to a margin of defeat of more than 3-to-1 for proponent E&B Natural Resources Management Corp. and its plan to directionally drill 34 wells into the Bay from city property. The vote caps off a decades-long dispute and provides the strongest authority to block this project once and for all.

It was the residents of Hermosa Beach who mobilized, voted, and secured this victory, but the local election is nonetheless a big win for the entire region. There is no oil drilling anywhere in the Santa Monica Bay at present, and allowing this project to move forward would have set a dangerous precedent, jeopardizing an irreplaceable natural resource that also supports the multibillion dollar coastal economy in Southern California and property values throughout the area. It is this regional significance that drew opposition to the project from around the Bay, including resolutions from Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach, and the Del Rey neighborhood council. We owe a debt of gratitude to voters in Hermosa Beach for protecting a resource for both themselves and their neighbors.

The victory in Hermosa Beach is all the more impressive against the broader trend of oil industry involvement in local elections. As my colleague Jamie Friedland has pointed out, oil companies have spent more than $70 million lobbying in California since just 2009, and they have begun to invest heavily in local elections--on a scale that communities cannot hope to match. In Hermosa Beach, E&B invested more than $1 million to try to win over voters in a town of just 20,000. That's at least $50 per person and much more than that per registered voter. Nonetheless, community activists launched an efficient and effective campaign, and were still able to protect their community at the polls by a commanding margin despite being outspent 5-to-1.

Yet not every community is able to withstand that financial onslaught. In fact, on the same night as Hermosa's win, another local oil initiative failed in La Habra Heights, where the oil industry spent more than $400,000 compared to $28,000 spent by community activists. La Habra Heights and Hermosa Beach are different places facing different issues, but such a disparity in resources is always a major hurdle for local residents attempting to have a say in their neighborhood's future.

This is by no means the end of the battle between communities and the oil industry, but today we can at least celebrate an undeniable victory in Hermosa Beach.