A leading opponent of Occidental Petroleum Corp.'s plan to drill for oil in Pacific Palisades will propose today that the Los Angeles City Council rescind its 1985 approval of the controversial project.
Councilman Marvin Braude, who represents the Pacific Palisades area, needs to move swiftly because of a ruling last week by the state District Court of Appeal upholding the drilling project, his chief deputy said Monday. Braude was unavailable for comment but is expected to explain his decision at a news conference this morning.
The appellate court reversed a 2-year-old lower court ruling preventing Occidental from launching exploratory drilling operations at the Pacific Palisades site. In upholding the oil company's drilling rights, the appellate court rejected Superior Court Judge Norman L. Epstein's decision that the project's environmental impact report, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act, was deficient.
If Braude's move is successful, it would be yet another twist in a 15-year-old political and legal wrangle between Occidental and environmentalists over the drilling issue. Braude lost the battle two years ago after the oil company lobbied heavily to win not only council approval but also Mayor Tom Bradley's support for the project.
Change of Faces
But Braude has reason to be optimistic that he can upset the earlier decision by the 15-member council. Five of the former Occidental supporters on the council have been replaced and project opponents count at least three of the new members in their corner: Mike Woo, Gloria Molina and Ruth Galanter. The two other new members, Richard Alatorre and Nate Holden, are considered possible drilling foes.
Also uncertain is what would happen if an ordinance to rescind the earlier approval reaches Bradley's desk. If he signed the ordinance, the project would be dead. If he vetoed the ordinance, an override would require a majority vote of either 10 or 12 council members. Twelve votes would be required if the city Planning Commission opposed the ordinance.
Bradley came under heavy criticism in 1985 when he approved the project after twice vetoing it. The mayor's surprise approval cost him traditional support on the Westside, where oil drilling has long been opposed.
"It makes sense to put it back on (Bradley's) desk," said Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), who also opposes the Occidental project. Attorney Roger Jon Diamond, a project opponent, said in an interview that Braude has little choice but to pursue the action. The latest court ruling forced his hand, Diamond said.
Diamond and a number of other attorneys representing No Oil Inc. said they will seek a review of the appellate court's ruling before the state Supreme Court. That process could take a minimum of 61 days from last week's ruling.
Braude and other drilling opponents see this period as an opportunity to act. If they can move quickly, the council could prepare an ordinance, send it to the Planning Commission for review, hold hearings and adopt it within the 61-day period.
But, with the holidays approaching, moving a controversial ordinance quickly could be difficult.
Occidental officials have said since last week's court ruling that they want to begin drilling "as expeditiously as possible." Occidental attorney Maria Hummer said Monday that such a repeal would need to go through a lengthy period of study and hearings before it could be enacted.
Saying she was "shocked and surprised" at Braude's proposal, Hummer added that "Occidental is confident in a hearing process that they would prevail."
If Braude fails to win a reversal of the drilling ordinance, his chief deputy, Cindy Miscikowski, said plans probably would go forward to launch a citywide initiative against drilling on Los Angeles beaches. If enough signatures were gathered, the initiative would be placed before voters next November.
Occidental has estimated that the coastal oil field could yield as much as 60 million barrels of oil and generate $100 million in taxes for the city over the next three decades.