Small Towns, Big Ballot Measures

Hermosa Beach residents will vote on an oil drilling measure in March.
Hermosa Beach residents will vote on an oil drilling measure in March. | Photo: Gregg Jaden/Flickr/Creative Commons

Elections in less than two months are the talk of two small Southern California communities where voters will decide the future of oil and gas drilling in their areas -- and the results could set the tone for other parts of the state. 

In La Habra Heights, residents have been to court twice in recent months about the wording of a ballot measure to restrict new oil and gas development. 

And in Hermosa Beach, where drilling has been banned since 1995, voters will decide whether to end the ban or reauthorize it. 

Adrian Martinez, an attorney with Earthjustice, says these towns may be small, but the fact that this issue is on the ballot is significant.

"I don't think you should look at the size of these cities and say they're unimportant," he said. "Local residents are taking control, and local city councils, to kind of push back against what's a real big increase in oil and gas exploration in Southern California."

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Earthjustice represented some La Habra Heights residents in their quest for what they saw as a more fair description of what's known as Measure A on the ballot. 

Martinez says the oil and gas industry made multiple attempts to change the wording of the ballot label or description.

The first Southern California oil boom was in the 1890s, and it radically changed the landscape. 

The La Habra Heights initiative doesn't allow old wells to be reactivated, and would restrict the use of some types of drilling technology. 

But Martinez says it stops short of banning drilling altogether.

"They crafted it in a way that would allow existing operations to continue," he explains. "But it would stop new development of oil and gas -- and importantly, it would stop high-intensity oil and gas operations like fracking and acidization."

Acidization, or so-called acid fracking, is used to push older wells to produce more by pumping acid underground to dissolve sediment and allow oil to flow more easily. 

Both the La Habra Heights and Hermosa Beach votes are on March 3.

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