Police Funds Issue Clouds Debate on Palisades Drilling
Supporters of Occidental Petroleum’s oil drilling plans unleashed their arsenal of law enforcement backing Wednesday, but the claim that the Pacific Palisades project would pay for new police officers in Los Angeles remained clouded in uncertainty.
The assertion that taxes and royalties paid by Occidental would finance up to 100 new patrol officers is central to the campaign for Proposition P, the measure Occidental is sponsoring on the November ballot in Los Angeles to clear the way for drilling along Pacific Coast Highway.
A rival measure, Proposition O, is sponsored chiefly by City Council members Zev Yaroslavsky and Marvin Braude, who represent the Westside areas closest to the proposed drilling site. That measure would repeal the permission to drill that was voted recently by a majority of the City Council and signed by Mayor Tom Bradley.
Yaroslavsky and Braude have protested, sometimes bitterly, that the Occidental-backed campaign would do nothing to change the strength of the Los Angeles Police Department, despite the equally vehement claims of the other side. “There is no guarantee that one single penny will go to hire one additional police officer--not one,” Yaroslavsky said Wednesday.
Nonetheless, former Los Angeles Police Chief Tom Reddin and George Aliano, president of the union that represents LAPD officers, both spoke for Proposition P Wednesday at a press conference called by the campaign organization pushing Occidental’s side of the 20-year-old oil drilling controversy.
Reddin said he concurs with the sponsors of Proposition P that the measure could pay for up to 100 new police officers over 20 years, the time that the project is expected to produce revenue for the city. “If it involved only 10 officers, it would be worth it,” Reddin said.
Like many of the players in the Occidental controversy, Reddin has a past on the issue. He was a vocal opponent of the project in 1973 while a candidate for mayor of Los Angeles. But he said Wednesday that his attorney, Richard Mosk, had done work for Occidental and arranged a meeting with another attorney close to Occidental, Mickey Kantor, that led to Reddin’s shift in position.
“In 1973 I was less informed and perhaps less sophisticated in this matter than I am now,” Reddin said Wednesday.
Kantor, a chief spokesman for the pro-Occidental campaign group, the Los Angeles Public and Coastal Protection Committee, said Wednesday that Proposition P was specifically written to set aside up to $120 million for the hiring of additional LAPD police officers. The amount may be less, depending on the size of the oil field under Pacific Palisades and the price of oil over the next two decades, but Kantor said at its most generous the windfall would finance 100 officers over the 20 years.
Source of Confusion
(A press release issued by the Los Angeles Public and Coastal Protection Committee Wednesday said the Occidental money would “hire up to 100 new police officers per year.” Some reporters interpreted that as a claim that up to 2,000 officers would be hired over the 20 years, and campaign spokeswoman Susan Romeo agreed with that reading. But after checking with Kantor, Romeo said she was mistaken.)
Uncertainty over the police funding has grown since both Proposition P and Proposition O, the anti-drilling measure, were placed on the Nov. 8 ballot without anyone in City Hall preparing an independent analysis of their impacts.
The city attorney and the chief legislative analyst to the City Council, the two officials who ordinarily analyze ballot measures, do not become involved in interpreting initiatives such as these unless requested to do so by a Council member or the mayor. City codes require an objective analysis of proposed charter amendments, but Propositions O and P would only carry the legal force of ordinances and would not amend the charter, Chief Legislative Analyst William McCarley said Wednesday.
In this case, neither the supporters nor the opponents of the Occidental drilling plans have requested a formal opinion on the consequences and legal standing of either measure, McCarley said.
Yaroslavsky and Braude both complained Wednesday that Proposition P would not finance new police officers, but they are not lawyers themselves. Under questioning at a press conference, they said they had not sought any advice on the legal force of the measure they are fighting. Instead, they said, they were relying on their own experience with city ordinances and budgets.
Later in the day, Yaroslavsky provided the name of an attorney who he said would support his reading of Proposition P. But the attorney, Bill Ross, told The Times that the legal complications raised by Proposition P make it difficult to be sure what power any of the provisions would carry.
“You’re in an area of very complex law,” said Ross, who has experience in municipal law. “It’s the kind of things that should receive real in-depth analysis.”
Among other things, Ross said attorneys should look at whether Proposition P tries to take away powers already given to the City Council by the City Charter, and even at what is meant by the term “additional uniformed police patrol officers.” The initiative does not specify a base number of patrol officers, so city officials would be able to argue that they do not know what the mandate would be under Proposition P--if courts eventually rule that there is any mandate imposed by Proposition P, Ross said.
In any case, Yaroslavsky and Braude contend that the maximum $120 million in city revenue over 20 years would only provide $6 million a year in new funds, not much in an annual budget of $3 billion.