Ruling May Hurt Drive to Sidetrack Palisades Drilling

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles City Atty. James Hahn will rule today that the head of the city Planning Commission has a conflict of interest that prevents the commission from taking a stand on banning drilling by the Occidental Petroleum Corp. in the Pacific Palisades, an aide to a City Councilman Marvin Braude said Monday.

Hahn has conveyed his intention to Braude, who is leading the fight in the council to prevent the drilling, according to Cindy Miscikowski, Braude's chief deputy.

The ruling by Hahn is expected to make it much harder for Braude to win passage of a repeal ordinance on the drilling, because it will send the matter to a board that has traditionally sided with Occidental.

A recommendation by that body, the Board of Referred Powers, in turn, could result in a requirement that the council cast 10 votes to pass the ordinance rather than the usual eight.

A spokesman for Hahn, Mike Qualls, said the city attorney's office would have no comment, other than to confirm that it will issue its ruling today.

The conflict of interest question involves Planning Commissioner Daniel P. Garcia, who informed Hahn in a Jan. 4 letter that his law firm, Munger, Tolles & Olson, had done between $20,000 and $100,000 work for Occidental and expects to continue to work for it in the future.

As president of the planning commission, Garcia has opposed Occidental drilling in the past and was expected to do so again.

With Hahn ruling that the activities of Garcia's law firm constitute a conflict of interest for him, city statutes make it plain that the entire Planning Commission, which had been expected to go along with Braude's repeal ordinance, no longer can deal with the matter.

On the Board of Referred Powers, three of its five members are believed to be allied with Occidental on the drilling. If they vote as expected, Braude will need two more votes for passage in the council, and two more votes (12 instead of 10) to override a veto by Mayor Tom Bradley.

Word of Hahn's imminent ruling drew statements of outrage from representatives of No Oil Inc., the organization that has fought for years to prevent the Palisades drilling.

Roger Diamond, attorney for the group, declared: "Hahn has in effect decided the whole 20-year controversy. And the requirement of more votes will end up shielding Bradley from the embarrassment of having to deal with this issue again."

Bradley has already switched position once on the drilling, first opposing it and then supporting it. It is not regarded as likely that he would switch again, although Deputy Mayor Mike Gage said last week that the mayor is open to new information on the issue.

Robert Sulnick, president of No Oil, called Hahn's reported decision "unfortunate but highly predictable" given the city attorney's prior support of Occidental in litigation over the drilling. But one city councilman, who spoke on a not-for-attribution basis, said the repeal effort is not quite dead yet, largely because of one factor, the politics of the 1989 mayor's race.

'Question of Position'

"The real issue here is the question of the mayor's position," the councilman said. "There is pressure from Marvin (Braude) and his group for the Board of Referred Powers to set this up in such a way that the mayor will have to take a position again. It is conceivable there might be a shift on the board that would leave only an eight-vote requirement for Council passage. . . ."

This scenario could serve as a "move to embarrass the mayor," since it would make it more likely that Bradley would be forced into a decision on a veto, the council member said.

The Planning Commission had scheduled a Jan. 28 hearing on its recommendation to the council. Councilman Hal Bernson, chairman of the Board of Referred Powers and an Occidental supporter, said he will have to confer with Hahn before deciding whether his board can hear the matter then or will have to set its hearing for later.

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