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Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority OK's Key Action That Could Enable Synergy Oil Proposal To Restore 150+ Acres Of SE LB Wetlands; Local Enviro/Wildlife Advocates Cautious, Retain Legal Counsel Who Says CEQA Requires Doing EIR First To Disclose Expected Impacts And Results is reader and advertiser supported. Support independent news in LB similar to the way people support NPR and PBS stations. We're not non-profit so it's not tax deductible but $49.95 (less than an annual dollar a week) helps keep us online.
(August 8, 2016, 9:55 p.m., updated Aug. 9, 7:30 a.m. and 9:10 a.m.) -- With an oil drilling company offering a potentially transformational plan to restore and provide public access to roughly 150 acres of wetlands at SE LB's gateway, and El Dorado Audubon represented by legal counsel raising legal cautions under the CA Environmental Quality Act, the four members of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority governing board -- which currently includes LB Councilmembers Suzie Price and Roberto Uranga -- held a closed session on August 4 and then voted in open session to advance a key part of the restoration plan.

Boardmembers Price and Uranga both indicated in open session that they had listened closely to the legal cautions and their voted action addresses those concerns. [UPDATE] On August 9 at 7:30 a.m., the text of an Option Agreement and Land Exchange Agreement Framework are visible on the agency's website at this link. See below for further on this. These are detailed documents on which will provide follow-up coverage. [END UPDATE]

At issue is an offer by Synergy Oil (which acquired the former Bixby oil field north of 2nd St. between Studebaker Rd. and PCH) to remove decades of accumulated oil drilling equipment, apply 21st century technology and slant drilling to relocate oil operational facilities to two small nearby parcels and create a "mitigation bank" to pay for the massive wetlands restoration.

A key part of the restoration proposal involves swapping a 5.1 acre parcel at the NE corner of 2nd St./Studebaker Rd. (blue on map below) owned by the Wetlands Authority in exchange for roughly 77 acres of wetlands on the northerly part of the 154 acre Synergy oil field (owned by LCW, LLC, green on map below.) The land exchange would let Synergy remove the current eyesore oil operations from the oil field and build new state of the art facilities with wells and controls for underground oil drilling on the 2nd St/Studebaker Rd. parcel (blue on map) and (in a separate transaction) from the "Pumpkin Patch" southward along PCH (yellow on map.)

Image source: Synergy Gas & Oil LTD



Removing the oil field eyesores would enable the wetlands restoration, which Synergy would pay for by using a "mitigation bank," a legally recognized process in which Synergy would offer "mitigation credits" that land owners/operators/developers elsewhere could buy to mitigate the impacts of their activities elsewhere. Synergy could then use that revenue to fund the wetlands restoration in SE LB.

Battle-hardened local activists have been cautious in response, after hearing governmental and developer promises in other proceedings....and several of the activists cited the separate but simultaneously advancing SEASP rezoning of SE LB that proposes to increase commercial and residential impacts along the PCH/2nd St. corridor in areas near the wetlands.

Synergy and its partnering entities say that restoring a huge wetlands area on privately owned property and enabling public access is unprecedented locally and a unique opportunity [unspoken: if the offer is rejected, it might not be repeated.]

The item agendized allowed the Board to hold a closed session under Section 54965.8 of the Brown (open meetings act) "to consider Option Agreement and Land Exchange Agreement between Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority and Los Cerritos Wetlands, LLC:.." No written materials accompanying the agendized item were publicly available online on the LCWA website or at the Aug. 4 meeting, just its agendized title.



El Dorado Audubon spotted the item and retained attorney Doug Carstens, an experienced environmental litigator, who communicated to the Wetlands Authority by letter (Aug. 2) and in personal testimony (Aug. 4) that in his view, approving an Option Agreement and Land Exchange Agreement would create legal issues under the CA Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by giving momentum to a conceptual wetlands restoration plan without first analyzing its environmental impacts. In other words, an EIR on the wetlands mitigation plan should be done first, to analyze and disclose all the plan's full impacts and expected results, before an LCWA Board vote to approved an action that could advance the plan.

In an Aug. 2 letter to the Board, Mr. Carstens said that the public should have more information about the Option Agreement and Land Exchange before it's approved and stated: "Approving the option and land exchange agreement could impermissibly create momentum for a wetlands restoration and oil field consolidation project that has not yet been subject to environmental review. This puts the cart before the horse and would violate the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)...Because the Restoration project could have extensive potential significant efforts, no approvals for any portion of the project should be granted which may give it momentum."

Mr. Carstens' letter added: "The Authority must avoid any action that would prejudice future consideration of alternatives or mitigation measures for the restoration project [cites legal authorities]...In addition to being legally required, it makes sense from a practical perspective that the Board wait until it completes its review before approving a land exchange or option agreement: preparing the alternatives analysis after the exchange and option agreement are approved will result in environmental review that serves no more purpose than a post-hoc rationalization for decisions already made..."

In his Aug. 4 testimony, Mr. Carstens told the Board, "That letter is pretty much asking for more information...If a vote is taken on a piece of the project, such as the Option Agreement or the Land Exchange, that could give momentum to a project that, when fuller information is available, it could become a apparent that something different should be done, so we are asking that you keep your options open, not to commit to locking out certain alternatives or mitigation measures which could happen with the Option Agreement or the Exchange."

A number of environmental/wildlife advocates also attended the LCWA Aug. 4 meeting and testified on the item. They included:

  • Ann Cantrell (do the EIR before approving the land exchange)
  • Janice Dahl (Synergy and SEASP documents "are becoming overlapping...almost appears that the developers can be using Steamshovel Slough as mitigation, which is already pristine and does not need possibly build seven story buildings" [proposed for SEASP], appears to be a piecemeal process)
  • Mary Parsell ("cart before the horse; we don't have the information")
  • Cindy Crawford (LCWA's website lacks links to archival pertinent documents)
  • Anna Christensen ("120 new wells drilled diagonally under the wetlands, where there's an earthquake fault, or 5, 6, 7 story buildings [SEASP proposed] are not going to be good for the ecosystem.")

With members of the Synergy Oil team attending and watching quietly from the audience (including retained advocate Mike Murchison), Peter Zac testified on behalf of the ownership of Beach Oil Minerals Partners:

I hear the comments that are being made, and I know there's always skepticism out there when there's a development project or a developer that's working towards some sort of an agreement with an agency, but just going back to just the fundamentals: we're talking about 156 acres here that is privately held and doing an exchange for that 156 acres for a 4 to 5 acre parcel that the property that is being exchanged for this 4-5 acre parcel has this incredible watershed known as the Steamshovel Slough which we've all talking about, which the developer is going to restore on their nickel, they're going to complete a visitor center on their nickel, and turn that over to the LCWA and have the opportunity for public to access this area, So again, if you just look at the merits of the deal, we're confident in the long run there's a ton of community benefits to this project and what's so critical for us is, again, that there is the option to use the LCWA site. We know they're not doing an exchange here, but there is an option to utilize that property obviously for oil purposes and by the way Synergy does have access to the mineral rights for the LCWA property currently. So I just want to clarify that's what the intent is here and we know that the exchange cannot occur until after we go through the entire CEQA process, which everybody in this room is going to be a part of and be able to participate in.



The Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust, a non-profit entity [website self-description: "Facilitating the purchase of acreage for sale in Los Cerritos Wetlands; Reconnecting and restoring the estuary remnants; Providing a beautiful setting for generations of families to discover the wonders of this one-of-a-kind environment [and] Permanently protecting this precious resource before it is gone forever"] didn't testify on Aug. 4 and hasn't yet taken a public position on the transaction.

However, the Land Trust's website describes the Steamshovel Slough area of the wetlands as "one of the most pristine parts of Los Cerritos Wetlands and probably the most undisturbed coastal salt marsh in Southern California." A number of local environmentalists also oppose any mitigation bank or other restoration activities in the Steamshovel Slough area, which they say is just fine as is.

The Land Trust notes on its website that "Not everyone supports the concept of mitigation banks and a lot can go wrong, but if all works out as promised not only will an important portion of Los Cerritos Wetlands be restored but the land owner promises to transfer that land into the public trust so it can be assured of enduring protection and be accessible for the public to (responsibly) enjoy. Thank goodness there will be a lot of public and governmental agencies overseeing the process."

Following the public testimony, the Authority's Boardmembers went into closed session and emerged about an hour later with the text of a Resolution distributed to those in attendance (to view it, click here.) LCWA chair Sam Schuchat told the audience that the Board had "indulged in a little additional negotiating, and as a result of that we have a Resolution." The resolution states in part that the Board authorizes its Executive Director "as directed by this Board, and as necessary, after consultation with the Chair, to make revisions, to the Option Agreement and Land Exchange Agreement Framework."

Board Vice-chair [LB Councilwoman] Suzie Price made a motion to approve, and shortly before the vote, Price stated, "I believe that the Options Agreement will be publicly online in short order and some of the comments that were made were premised upon information that is actually inaccurate so hopefully once that information is public, everyone will be on the same page moving forward."

Chair Schuchat then added, the "Option Agreement will [emphasis in original] be posted on our website as soon as the things that we talked about in closed session are added into it, typed up, and as soon as I am able as Chair to sign off on it which we hope to be able to do electronically."

Shortly before the vote, Boardmember [LB Councilman] Uranga added: "I think that once the Resolution goes online, people who read it will understand that we were very cautious, we were very concerned about the comments that we heard and we did listen, and much of what will posted I think will make very clear...This is a continuing negotiation. It's not set in stone yet; there's still some other considerations that are going to be worked on so there's going to be some continuing discussions in the future, so please don't feel that this is a done deal..."

As of 7:00 p.m. Monday August 8, the Options Agreement and Land Exchange Agreement weren't visible on the LCWA's website. [UPDATE] However on August 9 at 7:30 a.m., the text of an Option Agreement is visible online at this link. We did notice paragraph 3 of the Option Agreement, below:

[Option Agreement text]

[End Option Agreement text]

These are lengthy detailed documents on which will provide follow-up coverage. [END UPDATE]

Meanwhile, has learned that the oil field operator (reps of Synergy, LCW or its partners) have offered reps from El Dorado Audubon a walking tour of the area in an effort to try to find common ground and possibly defuse issues.

Developing. Further to follow on

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