Council Delays Fracking Symposium
At its meeting Monday night the Culver City Council rejected a request to endorse a symposium on the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) that would have been scheduled for August 4.
However, the Council did not rule out approval of a symposium for a future date after PXP (Plains Exploration and Production) Oil Company completes its promised study of fracking.
The request was made by anti-fracking activist Tom Camarella, who was seeking Council endorsement as well as use of the Mike Balkman Council Chambers for the symposium and that the symposium be broadcast live and recorded.
Camarella’s concept for the symposium was that it would feature up to eight panelists, including representatives from PXP, discussing and clarifying issues that came up at the July 2 City Council meeting. At that time, a large number of community members spoke out against the practice of fracking and Council members admitted that they had questions that PXP had not answered.
The Council endorsed a ban on fracking in Culver City at the July 2 meeting and endorsement of the symposium seemed a logical next step.
However, PXP’s refusal to attend the event as planned for August 4 prevented the Council from endorsing the event for the date planned---because the lack of PXP involvement would result in a “one-sided” discussion.
Camarella spoke to the Council during public comment and pressed his request.
“PXP was cordially invited and respectfully declined,” said Camarella. “But we still have the questions you asked on July 2 and I have people ready and able to answer them.”
He stated that he had sent PXP a letter asking them to reconsider and “they still declined. But you have the authority and the power to ask them to come.”
Camarella cited a section of the Municipal Code as his source of information on the Council’s power to “compel” PXP. But city attorney Carol Schwab explained that the language of the Code was reserved for situations of a particular seriousness that would preclude events on the level of an informational discussion such as the symposium being suggested.
While Meghan Sahli-Wells said she would endorse the symposium as requested, the other three council members in attendance ( Mehaul O’ Leary was absent) thought that a delay was appropriate because they wanted the assurance of PXP’s involvement, which they believed would happen after the completion of the study.
“Once the study has been delivered (from late August to the beginning of October), that would be the appropriate time,” said Jim Clarke. ”Also we are looking at our oil drilling regulations.” He wanted time for the city to revise its regulations and be able to vet the study.
Camarella spoke with press after the meeting and expressed his disappointment with the Council. In effect, he said, PXP “will have momentum” when the study is delivered because “they’re being rewarded for not giving information.”
Camarella believes a symposium where PXP has to answer the tough questions (as for example, what happens to the water used in fracking) would better inform the decisions the city will be making on its oil drilling regulations. He said he intended to meet with each Council member and lobby for them to use their power to obtain the necessary information.
In other actions, the Council held a public hearing on the appeal of a decision by the Municipal Code Appeals Committee to require removal of kitchen cabinets in an illegal garage conversion.
Sabrina Jones, the appellant, explained that her family had converted the garage in their home into a living space with bedroom, bathroom, living room, sleeping area, dining area, and full kitchen facilities. She needed the space to live in with her son, as she took care of her husband and later, her mother, both of whom had cancer.
She told the Council she was renting the front of the house and was intending to move out of the second unit and rent it as a storage area.
Over a period of six years the city had made inspections of the property and had requested that the unit be brought into compliance with city code. Jones maintained that she had made modifications according to the city’s requests, via a period of deferred maintenance scheduled to end on November 30.
She was only appealing the portion of the committee’s decision that involved removal of the kitchen cabinets. Her concern was the materials from the cabinets (including a granite counter top) were valuable to her and she did not want to lose them.
Jeff Cooper suggested a compromise—removing the complete lower cabinets and appliances but leaving the upper cabinets. (The committee wanted removal of all the cabinets because leaving them might allow for easy conversion to a full kitchen [and illegal unit] in the future).
The Council unanimously approved Cooper’s compromise of saving the upper cabinets.