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L.A. Can’t Afford Palisades Oil Drilling

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Bubble, bubble, oil and trouble--the 20-year fight over Occidental Petroleum’s proposed drilling in the Pacific Palisades is about to climax once again: City voters will have to choose between pro-oil drilling Proposition P and anti-drilling Proposition O.

Here’s what’s at stake: Occidental wants to drill 60 oil wells at the edge of a scenic highway right across from Will Rogers State Beach. The site is also adjacent to the city’s 20-acre Potrero Park, which is now under construction. The park will offer spectacular views and have a pedestrian bridge linking it to the beach.

The proposed drilling site is at the base of scenic bluffs covered with fragrant coastal sage. These bluffs are also the scene of dramatic landslides, one of which killed a man, closed Pacific Coast Highway and caused it to be rerouted closer to the ocean.

The possibility of triggering more landslides and perhaps subsidence in such a geologically hazardous area cannot be ruled out. This, despite efforts to improve drainage of the water within the bluffs, which causes them to erode.

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The 3.2-mile beach and Pacific Coast Highway would also be subjected to many of the other risks that oil drilling entails. Among these are blowouts, fires, ruptures, spills, leaks, toxic emissions, odors, noise, vibrations and the possible closure of the highway and the beach to deal with some of these contingencies.

Four million people enjoy Will Rogers each year as one of the best beaches close to the city. Pacific Coast Highway, already over capacity, is a lifeline for emergency vehicles as well as for commuters who have no nearby alternate routes to get to and from their jobs.

Continual earth movement at Pacific Coast Highway already has caused breakage in water and sewage pipes and would jeopardize oil pipelines also. And, in order to supply the Occidental site with water, sewage and oil pipes, the highway would be dug up, causing additional congestion.

A major issue that is unresolved by Occidental’s Proposition P is the route for the pipeline that would take its oil to a refinery. That decision would be left to a city commission, and it could be appealed to the City Council. However, Occidental has given thousands of dollars to council members’ campaign coffers, thus making impartial decision-making unlikely if not an oxymoron.

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This matter is of growing concern as recent spills in Los Angeles County have amounted to hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil. These spills have disrupted traffic and people’s lives and have also killed and injured birds caught in the uncontrolled flow of oil.

Occidental’s proposed “mission-style” facade for the 155-foot tall drilling rig, if erected, would represent less of a bell tower simulation than an obscene gesture. In no way would it blend into or mitigate the visual damage to the natural landscape.

We simply can’t afford the negative impacts of oil drilling at such an inappropriate place. We’ve got a huge public investment to protect. Will Rogers State Beach has a market value of about $100 million but is in fact irreplaceable. And Potrero’s value will be more than $25 million upon its completion.

Far too many of Southern California’s once splendid urban recreational beaches have already been degraded by industrialization. This has had the effect of packing our growing numbers of beach-goers into fewer and fewer nearby beaches.

Occidental has attempted to depict its opponents as the elite protecting their Westside turf. However, the major beneficiaries of the public beaches are people of low and moderate incomes who have the fewest affordable recreational options. The so-called elite can play on beaches from Baja to the Bahamas when they aren’t by their back-yard pools.

It really comes down to the profits of Occidental’s shareholders being made at the expense of California’s environment and its citizens’ priceless heritage.

Officials from the L.A. Unified School District, the state controller, the city controller and the city’s chief administrative officer all dispute the amount of money that Proposition P will generate for education, police and toxics enforcement. It has been reported that these calculations were based on $65 for a barrel of oil, while the price is now down to $13 a barrel. So the amount that would be generated by Occidental may fall far short of its claims.

Proposition P appears to oppose offshore oil drilling. However, it only recommends policy and does not have the force of law.

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Members of California’s congressional delegation say that if Proposition P is not defeated it will send a signal to Washington that would open up oil drilling along our coast. The differences between drilling offshore or onshore, across the highway from the beach, will matter little to most in Congress. Such approval may also send a message to Sacramento that further weakening of the Coastal Act can occur.

Approval of Proposition O, the “Initiative to Prohibit Coastal Drilling” would be seen in both Washington and Sacramento as proof that protecting our beaches from oil drilling is still a top priority for Southern Californians.

The day before this election will be the 16th anniversary of the statewide passage of Proposition 20, which created California’s Coastal Act. Now, to protect our coast, we must vote yes on Proposition O and no on Proposition P on Nov. 8.


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