At Least For Now
The idea of a citizens’ advisory committee on fracking-the controversial technique of accessing oil from rock via water pressure-was discussed by the City Council at its Monday night meeting-but the Council declined at this time to create such a committee.
Meghan Sahli-Wells was the sole Council member in favor of forming a citizens’ committee. Noting that she had served on several similar committees and found them to be useful tools for getting information on issues, she stated: “An ad hoc fracking committee could do many things….There is a tremendous amount of information—the committee could help our staff [by looking] at the regulations and laws that are being created as we speak.”
Sahli-Wells also observed that the committee need not be a permanent fixture. The Council is preparing an oil drilling ordinance and could use the information gathered by a citizens’ committee toward the creation of the ordinance.
Most of the 14 speakers in public comment urged the Council to create a citizens’ committee. Several of them volunteered to be on the committee.
Stephen Murray, former City Council candidate, and an energy and sustainability consultant, told the Council that he believed the committee should have a broader focus than just fracking. Ejection wells, for example, were an issue to research. He suggested that the committee be focused on oil drilling issues and “all heavy industry.”
Dr. Tom Williams of the Sierra Club stated that although the Sierra Club is located in Los Angeles rather than Culver City, “We’re here to help.”
Dr. Suzanne DeBenedittis agreed that the committee should have a broad focus. “By having this inclusive committee, it will give the work citizens are doing much more clout.”
One naysayer to the idea was Goran Eriksson, chair of the Culver City Chamber of Commerce.
“The issue should be dealt with by the City Council,” said Eriksson. He was concerned that a committee would create another “layer” that would have to be gone through in order to expedite action on the fracking issue. He also thought that fracking was “just one technology” among many that could be discussed in environmental terms.
The Council members, apart from Sahli-Wells, expressed doubts about process and protocol regarding a citizens’ committee.
Mehaul O’Leary wondered about the format under which such a committee might meet. Would it be subject to Brown Act rules?
City Attorney Carol Schwab said the committee would of course follow the Brown Act. This however, concerned Jim Clarke, who told the committee advocates “You are going to be frustrated.” He reminded them that they would be limited by the rules regarding agendas, limitations on how much information members can give to other members, and limitations on how many members there can be on a committee.
Furthermore, a committee would have to be “unbiased.” It seemed to most of the Council that a citizens’ committee would end up being composed entirely of anti-fracking activists.
Council members debated whether the committee would be simply an advisory group to the Council (in which case it could be established independently of the City and report back to the Council on its findings) or be a group that would report to the subcommittee on oil drilling that already exists (consisting of Sahli-Wells and Mayor Andrew Weissman).
Weissman noted that he had been on the Oil Drilling Committee since he arrived on the Council in 2008. “We have the committee. We have environmental consultants. We have a law firm. We get correspondence all the time from you.
“I don’t believe an advisory committee is necessary,” Weissman concluded. “Groups currently involved [in gathering information] are all we need.”
O’Leary added that Council members read the correspondence sent to them and they comment on it before forwarding it to staff. He wanted anti-fracking activists to know that they were being heard.
“I hope you don’t walk out of here thinking it’s not going to happen. You have to create it without us.”