Morro Bay City Council Fires City Attorney, City Manager

Morro Bay City Attorney Rob Schultz is praised by supporters as being a dedicated civil servant who served the city for 16 years. On Tuesday, the City Council unanimously approved his separation agreement, and prompted his resignation.

Outgoing Morro Bay City Manager Andrea Lueker

Morro Bay City Attorney Rob Schultz is praised by supporters as being a dedicated civil servant who served the city for 16 years. On Tuesday, the City Council unanimously approved his separation agreement, and prompted his resignation. He is expected to leave his post on Friday. During the same closed session period that voted on Schultz’s agreement, the City Council voted 3-2 to work with City Manager Andrea Lueker to negotiate her separation agreement, but she will continue to serve until the terms are fully negotiated.

Shortly after the vote was announced out of closed session, The ROCK received the resignation letter by Rob Schultz:

Following 16 years of service, I have resigned as City Attorney for the City of Morro Bay pursuant to a Separation Agreement approved by the City Council tonight.

It has been a privilege and an honor to have served the City of Morro Bay these past 16 years. I believe public service is the highest and most noble calling, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Morro Bay community. Serving as City Attorney for Morro Bay has allowed me to be part of many historic achievements for the City.

As I reflect on the past 16 years, I am grateful for having earned the respect and appreciation of my colleagues and community. I am confident my record and many contributions to the City of Morro Bay will be the prevailing memory of my many years of service.

As I say goodbye I wish to thank the staff of the City of Morro Bay; it has been an incredible experience to work side-by-side with you for so many years. You are great public servants, doing an often thankless job, serving with dignity and professionalism. I am fortunate to have worked with such an outstanding group of individuals. I will miss you all.

Thank you,
Rob Schultz

But the resignation does not come without costs. Schultz earned $151,589 annually for serving as City Attorney, chief negotiator on harbor leases and head of city human resources. Though the terms of his agreement remain unclear, Schultz is expected to collect $114,000 in nine months worth of severance pay.

The expense is more reasonable than the legal services the City utilized in the past, says former City Mayor Janice Peters.

“A newcomer does not realize that Morro Bay used to contract out for attorney services and it ended up costing us more, which is why the council put someone on salary. Because of our harbor, waterfront, coastal issues and others, Morro Bay has a lot of legal work,” wrote Peters on November 10. “The [previous] council[s] felt it was better to have all the legal advice we needed when we needed it without having to worry about what it would cost to ask that question or get this information.”

Similarly, Lueker earns $152,244 annually, and she’s expected to collect $114,000 in severance pay.

Irons hired San Luis Obispo attorney Steven Simas of Simas & Associates to negotiate the separation agreement with Schultz, which was finalized on Tuesday. Irons announced that Simas, who was originally contracted for $12,500, will begin negotiations with Lueker on her separation agreement. Because additional work is required for Lueker, Irons requested the Council to approve an additional 20 hours, or $5,000, for Simas. The move drew criticism from recall proponents and dissenting councilmembers, who criticized Irons, Smukler and Johnson for approving additional interim attorneys before a permanent successor to Schultz was named.

“Our City Attorney has been protecting us a long time. There is no need to bring in interim people,” said councilmember George Leage on October 22.

San Luis Obispo-based interim attorney Anne Russell is serving as interim city attorney on a short-term basis. The Council sent out a request for proposals for an interim attorney that would serve a longer term, but have yet to initiate the same process for a new city manager. The long-term interim attorney will serve until a permanent replacement is selected. The process for finding a permanent replacement for Schultz will likely take several months.

Since proceedings began to terminate Lueker and Schultz on September 12, Council members Noah Smukler and Christine Johnson voted in support of Mayor Jamie Irons. Council members Nancy Johnson and Leage have consistently opposed any action taken against Lueker and Schultz.

Tensions on the council evolved into a contentious recall campaign against Irons by citizens who sharply criticized the mayor for alleged incompetence, abuse of power and a lack of transparency. Supporters of Irons characterized the recall as a politically opportunistic and vengeful move by former city officials who were voted out in prior elections.

Despite criticism, which included yelling, shouting and occasional boos from the raucous crowd of Schultz and Lueker supporters, Irons has refused to provide reasoning for why the Council decided to fire the city’s two top employees.

No reason is required because the two city employees are at-will. Supporters of the Council majority openly speculated about reasons for firing Schultz and Lueker, but the Council neither confirmed or denied the rumors and speculation that was brought to the lectern. Instead, they’ve stated the importance of observing employee confidentiality.

Sources close to Irons, Johnson and Smukler told The ROCK that the council majority has received threats. The council is allegedly considering additional law enforcement at future meetings.

Schultz and Lueker have declined to comment about recent developments, but they previously denied wrongdoing.

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California Offshore Fracking More Widespread Than Anyone Realized

The oil production technique known as fracking is more widespread and frequently used in the offshore platforms and man-made islands near some of California’s most populous and famous coastal communities than state officials believed.

Fracking

By ALICIA CHANG and JASON DEAREN, AP

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — The oil production technique known as fracking is more widespread and frequently used in the offshore platforms and man-made islands near some of California’s most populous and famous coastal communities than state officials believed.

In waters off Long Beach, Seal Beach and Huntington Beach — some of the region’s most popular surfing strands and tourist attractions — oil companies have used fracking at least 203 times at six sites in the past two decades, according to interviews and drilling records obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request.

Just this year in Long Beach Harbor, the nation’s second-largest container port, an oil company with exclusive rights to drill there completed five fracks on palm tree-lined, man-made islands. Other companies fracked more than a dozen times from old oil platforms off Huntington Beach and Seal Beach over the past five years.

Though there is no evidence offshore hydraulic fracturing has led to any spills or chemical leaks, the practice occurs with little state or federal oversight of the operations.

The state agency that leases lands and waters to oil companies said officials found new instances of fracking after searching records as part of a review after the AP reported this summer about fracking in federal waters off California, an area from three miles to 200 miles offshore. The state oil permitting agency said it doesn’t track fracking.

As the state continues its investigation into the extent of fracking — both in federal waters and closer to shore — and develops ways to increase oversight under a law that takes effect in 2015, environmental groups are calling for a moratorium on the practice.

“How is it that nobody in state government knew anything about this? It’s a huge institutional failure,” said Kassie Siegel, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Offshore fracking is far more common than anyone realized.”

Little is known about the effects on the marine environment of fracking, which shoots water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to clear old wells or crack rock formations to free oil. Yet neither state nor federal environmental regulators have had any role in overseeing the practice as it increased to revitalize old wells.

New oil leases off the state’s shores have been prohibited since a 1969 oil platform blowout off Santa Barbara, which fouled miles of coastline and gave rise to the modern environmental movement. With no room for physical expansion, oil companies instead have turned to fracking to keep the oil flowing.

The state launched an investigation into the extent of offshore fracking after the AP report in August. California officials initially said at the time there was no record of fracking in the nearshore waters it oversees. Now, as the State Lands Commission and other agencies review records and find more instances of fracking, officials are confused over who exactly is in charge of ensuring the technique is monitored and performed safely.

“We still need to sort out what authority, if any, we have over fracking operations in state waters; it’s very complicated,” said Alison Dettmer, a deputy director of the California Coastal Commission.

Nowhere is the fracking more concentrated than in Long Beach, an oil town with a half-million residents and tourist draws such as the Queen Mary.

The city’s oil arrangement stems from a deal drawn up in 1911, when California granted the tidelands and other water-covered areas to the city as it developed its harbor. When oil was discovered in the 1930s, the money started coming in.

Long Beach transferred $352 million of $581 million in profits to state coffers in fiscal year 2013 from onshore and offshore operations, according to the city’s Gas and Oil Department. Most of the oil recovery comes from traditional drilling while fracking accounts for about 10 percent of the work.

The department says fracking is safe. It has a spill contingency plan and monitors pipelines. Well construction designs are approved by state oil regulators. The designs can be used for conventional drilling and fracking. And the oil industry says offshore fracks are much smaller operations than onshore jobs, involving only a fraction of the chemicals and water used on land.

City oil officials see themselves as partners with Occidental Petroleum Corp. — not regulators — though officials participate in the company’s internal audits and technical reviews by the state.

Occidental and the city briefly took a fracking timeout after passage of the state’s new rules. Long Beach oil operations manager Kevin Tougas said there are plans to frack again later this year. Occidental spokeswoman Susie Geiger said in an email the company doesn’t discuss its operations due to “competitive and proprietary reasons.”

No one is tracking the amounts or precise composition of any fracking chemicals that enter the marine environment, though in September the state passed a law that starting in 2015 would require disclosure of agents used during the procedures.

Fracking fluids can be made up of hundreds of chemicals — some known and others not since they are protected as trade secrets. Some of these chemicals are toxic to fish larvae and crustaceans, bottom dwellers most at risk from drilling activities, according to government health disclosure documents.

Myriad state agencies that oversee drilling, water quality and the ocean said they did no monitoring of fracking chemicals during offshore jobs.

Don Drysdale, a spokesman for the California Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, said the new regulations will include “extensive protections” for groundwater.

The industry estimates that about half of the fluids used during fracking remain in the environment; environmentalists say it is much higher. Long Beach says it uses a closed system and there’s no discharge into the water. Instead, fluids are treated before being re-injected deep under the seafloor.

The Long Beach Water Department, which monitors well water quality annually, said there are no known impacts to residents’ water from fracking.

“It’s our hometown,” said Chris Garner, a fourth-generation resident who heads the gas and oil department. “We have a vested interest in making sure the oil operations have been without harm to the city.”
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(Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press. Original article published October 19, 2013.)