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Drilling Foes Press Efforts on Two Fronts

<i> Times City-County Bureau Chief</i>

Opponents of Occidental Petroleum Corp.'s Pacific Palisades oil drilling plan are taking their fight to the courts and to Congress.

Rep. Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica) said Tuesday that a House Interior subcommittee will hold hearings in Los Angeles next month on whether the Occidental proposal, which envisions drilling under the Palisades, could eventually mean increased chances for oil exploration in nearby Santa Monica Bay. Levine, a Palisades drilling opponent, had pushed hard for the hearing.

Occidental reiterated Tuesday that it has no interest in drilling in the bay.

On the legal front, supporters of a November ballot measure to stop the Occidental proposal went to court Tuesday in an attempt to force the company to attach its name to the election committee supporting the drilling plan, the Los Angeles Public and Coastal Protection Committee.

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Contending that the company is the main financial backer of the committee, attorney Joseph Remcho filed a suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court demanding that Occidental be identified in committee literature as a sponsor.

Levine’s pushing of the committee hearing and the court action illustrated two facets of the attack against the oil company.

Opponents are attempting to link the Palisades project with possible oil drilling in the bay, hoping to capitalize on fears that Santa Monica Bay is threatened with offshore oil exploration. And Occidental foes are trying keep the company’s name in front of the public, aiming to play on potential hostility toward it and other oil companies.

Facing the voters on the November ballot are two measures. One, Proposition O, would stop Occidental from drilling into the Palisades from a site just across Pacific Coast Highway from Will Rogers State Beach. The second, Proposition P, supported by Occidental, would reaffirm the city’s support of the drilling project and would reiterate city opposition to drilling in the bay. It would also recommend that city revenues from Occidental oil development would be used for police, firefighting and other city services.

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The campaign for Proposition P, and against Proposition O, is being directed by the Los Angeles Public and Coastal Protection Committee.

Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, an Occidental foe, said the suit was filed because “Occidental oil has intentionally tried to hide the fact that they are behind Proposition P.”

In a statement released at a press conference, Yaroslavsky said, “The public is being fooled every day. . . . Proposition P was created by Occidental Petroleum for the benefits and profits of Occidental Petroleum and it’s being paid for by Occidental Petroleum.”

In the suit, Remcho contends that for the first five months of the committee’s existence, it received 100% of its funds from Occidental. Later contributions, he said, reduced the Occidental support share to 89%, although one of the other contributors was an Occidental board member, Rosemary Tomich of the Hope Cattle Co., who gave $15,000.

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Mickey Kantor, an attorney who directs the Los Angeles Public and Coastal Protection Committee campaign, said Remcho’s suit was simply a matter of Occidental foes looking for a “friendly forum” after failing to persuade the California State Fair Political Practices Commission to support them.

In a letter to Remcho, Jeanne Pritchard of the commission staff said a company should be listed as a sponsor if it provides “all or nearly all” of the support for a campaign committee.

But she was unclear on what constituted such support. She said “the staff’s current advice is that a company which provides 80% or more of a committee’s funds meets the definition of a ‘sponsor.’ ” But she added that the commission itself, “has not addressed this issue.” Commission staff members said that without a commission vote, there is no commission policy on the question.

On the congressional front, Levine successfully persuaded the oversight subcommittee of the House Interior Committee to hold a hearing in Los Angeles Oct. 12 on the offshore oil question.

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Levine said he is particularly interested in the findings of a 1967 report by prominent geologist Ted Bear. In his report, Bear discussed the existence of a geologic structure reaching from Venice westward into the bay. He said that “there is a great deal of substantiated evidence to indicate a great probability of oil underlying (the Venice and the southern part of the Santa Monica) tidelands.”.

Bear said the structure may run past the Santa Monica city limits, offshore from the Occidental drilling site, but he said he did not believe prospects were good for finding oil there.

But Mobil Oil had drilled two test bores at this point. The results were never made public. Despite the uncertainty of finding oil at that point offshore--and Occidental’s continued insistence it had no interest in such a field--Occidental foes have cited the Bear report in their attack on the company.

Levine said he is concerned that Occidental, despite its stated lack of interest in the bay, could one day be in a good position to develop the offshore area, if it contained oil. He said he is also concerned by Occidental’s need to build pipelines through nearby residential areas to bring the Palisades oil to refineries.

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