The City Council voted 4-1 on Tuesday for a permanent ordinance banning in Beverly Hills.
The law prohibits oil, gas or other hydrocarbon extraction after Dec. 31, 2016, though the council can "extend that deadline should there be a finding of public interest," City Planner Jonathan Lait said. Surface drilling operations based outside the city limits but aimed at reserves under the city must be at least 500 feet from a Beverly Hills school or park.
The last remaining local oil well is located on the campus of , fueling debate on the issue.
On one side, some residents and the majority of council members said health concerns are the primary motivation for the drilling ban.
"I dread the day that I must decide if my girls will attend Beverly Hills High School," said 1978 BHHS graduate Yvonne Hatherill, a cancer survivor who claimed her illness most likely was caused by environmental factors, not genetic predisposition. "For the safety of our community and our children, I ask you to please ban all oil drilling in our entire community."
Others such as Councilman John Mirisch, who voted against the ordinance, as well as members of the Board of Education and homeowners who receive royalties from Venoco Inc., which owns the oil well at the high school, have cited fiscal concerns in the form of lost revenue.
"We're not for banning drilling or against it, we just don't think there are enough facts," said Ken Goldman, president of the Southwest Beverly Hills Homeowners Association. "We do not know what basis you or anybody else has for stopping the drilling. ... What exact dangers does it pose?"
He estimated between 600 and 700 households in the city's southern section receive royalties from Venoco.
However, the prospect of slant drilling, which would allow a well to be set up outside the city but tap into the oil reserves under the high school, is still an option. Should Venoco find a site where slant drilling could occur, residents, the city and the Beverly Hills Unified School District would still earn royalties.
The city and school district receive between $700,000 and $1 million annually from Venoco as part of the high school well's lease agreement. The amount of yearly royalties depends on the amount of barrels extracted and oil market prices.
"We will try to find creative ways to ," Councilman Julian Gold said. "But ... having an oil well on a high school campus is inconsistent with our existing city law, inconsistent with our general plan, it's inconsistent with state law as it relates to new schools, and frankly, I cannot find a justification for it other than the money."
Mirisch attempted to add an amendment to the ordinance guaranteeing reimbursement to BHUSD, but it was defeated 4-1. The councilman did say he would oppose extending Venoco's lease when it expires on Dec. 31, 2016, but called for the school district to take the lead in deciding the fate of the oil well. If school officials want to extend Venoco's contract to keep the oil revenue flowing, Mirisch said "there is a moral imposition upon [the council] to help them restore their revenue."
School board member Steve Fenton said that before the oil lease issue was addressed, the council should have finished negotiations on the next in which Beverly Hills pays the district rent so that city activities can be held on school grounds.
"The fact that [the council] put a 2016 issue of the oil lease ahead of the more pressing 2012 issue for BHUSD—the Joint Powers Agreement—speaks volumes," Fenton said Wednesday.