A contentious planning commission meeting and the resulting vote to forward environmental documents to the city council regarding a proposed wetlands restoration and oil drilling item turned criminal last Thursday after the meeting let out.
After the vote, the commission was met with outbursts from the crowd with members of the audience who opposed the city’s allowing more oil wells to be drilled with calls for the commissioners to “go to hell” audible as the audience exited. The anger did not stop at the chamber’s doors.
Mike Murchison, a lobbyist who was representing members of the Beach Oil Minerals Partners (BOMP), the group pursuing the land swap with the city, said that as he and members of the group exited city hall after the three-hour long meeting a member of the BOMP team was physically attacked.
Murchison called last Thursday’s hearing one of the “more disturbing evenings” he’d witnessed in Long Beach in quite some time.
“Myself and several others were going the other direction toward the parking structure and we were verbally assaulted, called murderers, told hopefully we died of cancer, told to go to hell,” Murchison told the city council during public comment at last night’s council meeting. “I’m used to, in my profession, being yelled at, being booed or whatever. It comes with the territory with what I do. What doesn’t come with the territory with what I do is to go outside toward my car, quietly, and be verbally assaulted and followed to my car.”
Murchison added that one of the offenders was one of the city’s own commissioners but declined to elaborate on who it was, stating he would have a private conversation with the mayor about their behavior.
Heather Altman, a consultant for the BOMP team, echoed Murchison’s recounting of the actions outside, stating she too was verbally assaulted by the group outside with some wishing her “breast cancer” and wishing her “death”.
Both Altman and Murchison called on the council to provide better security for those leaving the council chambers after public meetings, pointing to the dark quarters outside city hall, but also to the rising intensity over controversial votes like the Los Cerritos Wetlands Restoration vote last Thursday.
The Long Beach Police Department confirmed that around 9:00PM on November 30 officers were dispatched to the City Hall area for a possible battery call. When officers arrived on scene the male suspect had fled but was quickly found and taken into custody in the area of the Pine Avenue and Broadway intersection.
A department spokesperson identified the suspect as 22-year-old Travis Swans of Long Beach. The spokesperson said the investigation is still ongoing.
The wetlands vote could see the city swap land with an oil company, allowing it to drill several dozen more oil wells while the city would get to restore some 150 acres of wetlands near the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Second Street. The project has drawn sharp criticism from environmentalists that want the city to distance itself from fossil fuels.
Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, who presided over the public comment portion of Tuesday night’s meeting, agreed that measures might have to be taken in the future to ensure the safety of attendees of public meetings.
“The tone has become, in the public discourse, just more and more negative and we are having that discussion behind the dais on where legally that line is,” Richardson said. “We’ve had council members threatened, we’ve had the public violence right here in the chamber and honestly we do have to have that conversation.”