The director of a commission that oversees Los Angeles city annexations said the agency plans to consider a moratorium on any expansion of boundaries for new housing developments around Porter Ranch.
The county Local Agency Formation Commission, which rules on annexations, will consider the moratorium at its Jan. 13 meeting, said the panel’s executive director, Paul Novak. But Novak said it is not yet clear whether the commission has authority to halt annexations preemptively, as a moratorium would do.
Fumes from a leak from Southern California Gas Co.'s nearby Aliso Canyon gas storage facility have been sickening residents for two months.
County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who represents the Porter Ranch area, sent a letter to Novak last week asking for the temporary ban on annexations of county unincorporated areas to the city in the communities around Porter Ranch and Chatsworth.
Thousands of Porter Ranch residents have been relocated at SoCal Gas’ expense to escape fumes from the leak, which began Oct. 23. Health officials say the fumes can cause such short-term ailments as nausea and headaches but pose no long-term health risks.
The gas company says it has received 6,576 relocation requests from the community, but noted that the number may include duplicate calls. A total of 2,258 households have been placed in temporary housing and an additional 3,168 are in the placement process, said SoCal Gas spokesman Michael Mizrahi.
“We don't want anybody to have to stay in their house longer than they want to,” Mizrahi said.
But residents and their attorneys have complained of delays and inadequate accommodations, including temporary units that don't have enough beds for all family members. Tensions came to a head last week when Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer went to court to force the gas company to speed up relocations.
Under a court order, the two sides agreed to a process that allows residents to speak with a relocation specialist if they feel their case is lingering. If the problem is not solved, customers can then seek mediation from a retired judge, who will be assigned to the case within one business day.
If the problem persists, the city attorney's office will take the issue to court, said Jim Clark, chief deputy to the city attorney.
Porter Ranch resident Sue Rosen has been to three hotels so far, from Newport Beach to downtown Los Angeles to Woodland Hills. Her family, which includes her husband, 20-year-old son and two dogs, is willing to go as far as San Diego to find a hotel to accommodate them.
“I’m tired of our family being separated and we are,” she said, noting that one family member has had to remain in their home with the pets.
A Southern California assemblyman said he plans to hold a hearing early next year on SoCal Gas’ response to the leak. Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale), new chairman of the Utilities and Commerce Committee, said the hearing will be in or near Porter Ranch to give residents a chance to question officials with the gas company and state regulatory agencies.
“We have the power to subpoena records,” Gatto said. “We can put witnesses under oath.”
In Antonovich’s letter to Novak, the county supervisor cited the proposed Hidden Creeks Estate development, a 188-home gated community that Texas-based Forestar Real Estate Group Inc. seeks to build next to Porter Ranch. The site is in county unincorporated area, but is proposed for annexation by the city.
“Until a thorough investigation can take place as to what caused the leak and what safeguards will be put in place to prevent a failure of this magnitude again, it is not appropriate to annex any further county territory to the City of Los Angeles for residential development in close proximity to Aliso Canyon,” Antonovich wrote.
The Hidden Creeks site is the only one proposed for annexation in the area of the leak.
The proposed annexation has not yet come before the commission for a vote because some required documents have not yet been submitted, Novak said. Those include a pre-zoning ordinance approved by the city, a property tax clearance approved by the city and county, and a certified environmental impact report.
Novak said attorneys for the agency would study whether the commission can place a blanket moratorium on annexations in an area.
“I've not received a letter like this before,” he said. “So I need to do a bit of research to see if there is precedent.”