In a letter published on September 23, 2014, a former Rochester Hills City Council Member details his decision to vote against leasing the city parks for oil and gas exploration. Below we have a link to view the video of Ravi Yalimanchi as he explains his reasoning to the other council members. In the video from 2012, he says “This has to be about the homeowners”, “If they don’t say yes, there is no way I am going to says yes to this”.
An Open Letter to the Residents of Rochester Hills
Why I voted NO on the leasing of Park property for oil and gas exploration, when I was on Council. The issue came up on the October 22, 2012 city council agenda. The Council agenda is normally sent out 5 days in advance of the meeting. The agenda reflected “Request for Consideration and Approval of an Oil and Gas Lease with Jordan Management Company, LLC.” The subject of leasing city property to an Oil and Gas company was never discussed before nor, to my knowledge, the Council had not spent any time deliberating the issue prior to October 22, 2012, and the Mayor had not provided the pros and cons of such action. Before going to the Council meeting, it was the first time I started to research Oil and Gas exploration and started to learn the implications of leasing city property to Oil and Gas exploration. I went with an open mind to the Council meeting to listen and understand what the Mayor and the company had to present. During the discussion it became clear to me that decision had already been made and the Mayor was ready to sign the lease. Council approval was a formality. Most of my colleagues were ready to vote ‘YES’.
My concerns expressed at the time of my NO vote remain. Simply these concerns relate to the city charter, the environmental impacts, and the safety of oil and gas exploration in residential areas.
In November of 2011, the residents passed an amendment to the Charter clearly indicating “The City shall not engage in the lease, sale, exchange or unauthorized use of City-owned Park or open space without first receiving voter approval for such lease, sale, exchange or nonauthorized use.” I was responsible for initiating this amendment with an idea that I presented to a few residents after the efforts of the Mayor and Council to build Water Reservoirs in the parks. The residents took the initiative and galvanized homeowner associations across the city and placed it on the November 2011 election ballot. The Mayor and majority of Council felt the amendment was not needed and were unsupportive of the measure. Initially the residents were stymied in their efforts by the Mayor. But elections tend to do magical things. The Mayor and my colleagues on the Council had a change of heart and supported the initiative because they were up for reelection. The amendment passed overwhelmingly during the election.
At the October 22, 2012 council meeting I raised questions about the charter amendment and the response was it impacted changes above surface and since the lease is for oil and gas below the surface, the Mayor can sign the Lease. I indicated that there was clearly an implied trust which we are violating. Being involved with the amendment it was clear in my mind the residents wanted to put the restrictions on Council and the Mayor because many efforts were made previously to lease out parks for development. The lease is a sale of part of the property, even if the extraction may not be on the park property; the city has virtually given away unrestricted access to the surface. No thought or consideration has been given to the use or enjoyment of the park property and the environmental impacts to neighborhoods, water resources, vegetation, and air. There is no doubt the Council and Mayor violated the charter amendment with their actions on Oct 22nd 2012 and December 3rd 2012.
In addition to the charter issue, Rochester Hills has densely populated areas with homes, schools, businesses and churches. In considering this lease, the city had not requested an environmental impact study, nor brought in an expert on oil and gas to help us understand the implications of such lease, and we did not take time to consult with an attorney whose expertise is in Oil and Gas.
What impact would oil and gas exploration cause on the home values? I requested we delay any action by the Council until the homeowners of various subs were clearly informed and educated. Any action to be taken by Council should be after input was solicited from the residents. My suggestion that we inform the homeowners associations and engage them in discussion was not taken under advisement, instead the Mayor and some of my colleagues proceeded forward. They did not see the need for citizen input.
We now find ourselves in a legal battle with a group of informed and involved citizens. We have destroyed the trust with numerous residents and created outrage that’s on display at council meetings. We have damaged the reputation of the city by permitting our parks to be leased for purposes that residents do not want. The city is not struggling financially. When I left the Council the city had $28 million in general fund reserves. So whatever funds the exploration company paid the city is it worth to risk these treasures, quality of life and cause anxiety and uncertainty to the residents. Now the Mayor and Council are considering a moratorium, after more than a year of residents request and protest, under the pretext of a Senate bill. Not a moratorium, they should be saying NO to any Oil and Gas exploration in our preeminent community. I support the actions of informed and engaged residents to hold their city government accountable.