Last Monday night’s City Council discussion and vote on the future of the oil field was impassioned and challenging. Anyone who listened knows that my critique and questions, for the new oilfield operator Sentinel Peak, were incisive and exacting. The company’s presentation to Council and the public was not encouraging. Their responses to our questions were inadequate. There were compelling reasons to simply name Sentinel Peak an enemy, to go directly and immediately to antagonism, to refuse to engage in dialogue with a malevolent oil company.
But when it came to the vote, I realized that our best strategy is to engage in a limited, open, public dialogue with them, while continuing to develop our oilfield regulations and the EIR. We will develop our regulations. We will not let the oil company regulate itself. But regardless of their manipulative presentation and their deficient responses, we need to engage in an open dialogue with them.
It would have been easier to follow the path of least resistance and go straight to antagonism. But it is more responsible to engage in this dialogue, to attempt to negotiate, to find out precisely what they want, and where they might compromise and/or collaborate with us. Of course they are here to make money. Every corporation is. Can they operate without further harming our environment? Can they be a good member of our community? We don’t know. But if we want to find out, if we want to influence them in that direction, and if we want to effectively monitor and control their activities, we need to learn exactly what they want to do. We need to find out what they want before they try to force it on us.
Because the city’s Environmental Impact Report and Specific Plan are not yet ready, dialogue with SPR will not delay this process at all.
My vote to continue the EIR process while engaging in discussions with the oil operator is both reasonable and responsible. There is no downside to this decision. The development of the EIR and our regulations continues while these discussions take place. If the discussions don’t pan out: no harm, no foul, because the City continues down its EIR path. The fact that this dialogue may lead to a better ultimate outcome for the community is misunderstood, under appreciated and scarcely mentioned.
The city council subcommittee will return this discussion to the full Council and the public in 90 days. At that time the Council, with full public input, can decide to continue the discussion with SPR or to immediately release the original EIR and Specific Plan, which should be completed by then. If SPR proves to be an authentic negotiator with a confirmed intention to be a responsible member of our community, then we can negotiate openly. But if they prove to be an old-school, “There Will Be Blood” oil company, we can move forward with a deeper understanding of who they are and exactly what they want, which will be to our advantage. “Keep your friends close; keep your enemies closer.”
The oil fields are a blight on the landscape, a clear and present danger. We urgently need progress on this issue. I voted thoughtfully, with the best interests of Culver City’s health and welfare in mind, and with an incisive, comprehensive understanding of how to best move forward at this point in time.
Thomas Aujero Small