Unocal Moves to Begin Relocating San Pedro Tank Farm

Times Staff Writer

Unocal’s San Pedro tank farm--which residents have been trying to shut down since an oil tanker exploded nearby in 1976--would be dismantled in less than five years under a proposal the company has made to the Los Angeles Harbor Department.

Although the plan has not yet been approved by the city’s Board of Harbor Commissioners, participants on all sides--the oil company, the Harbor Department staff, community residents and Los Angeles Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores--say they support it.

And the commissioners have already approved the first step. At their meeting last week, they granted Unocal a demolition permit for one of the nine tanks at the site. Consideration of the full plan has not yet been scheduled.


A Victory for Residents

The Unocal proposal represents a turnaround for both the company and the Harbor Department--and a victory for area residents and Flores, who for years have been pushing for relocation of the 20-acre tank farm on 22nd Street.

“The bottom line is that Unocal has made a commitment to move its facility based on the concerns of the neighborhood and the council office,” said David Grannis, a company consultant.

“I’m going to run out and get myself a Unocal button,” said an elated Beatrice Atwood Hunt, the community activist who has been the oil company’s staunchest foe.

Said Flores: “I think it is a major victory, because this could have gone on for years without a resolution.”

The tank farm, which can hold 2 million barrels of crude oil, serves as a way station for crude oil pumped from the Unocal tanker terminal, at the foot of Miner Street in San Pedro, to the company’s refinery in Wilmington. Oil from the tankers is stored at the farm until it is needed at the refinery.

However, the giant oil tanks are a few hundred feet from a residential area and also are close to commercial developments along the West Channel of the harbor, most notably Cabrillo Marina. Even before the tanker Sansinena exploded at the Unocal terminal in 1976, killing nine men and causing $21.6 million in damage, residents like Hunt contended that the tanks were a hazard to the neighborhood.


The Harbor Department has had long-range plans to relocate the tank farm to a landfill island--the so-called “energy island” it is planning to build in the outer harbor. But residents and Flores complained that such a relocation could take 10 years or more.

The matter came to a head this year when the company’s lease with the Harbor Department for the 22nd Street site expired in July. Harbor officials and Unocal wanted to extend the lease for five years, but Flores said she would oppose such an extension unless it included a commitment to move the tanks during that time.

The result of those negotiations is an agreement that calls for the following:

The Harbor Department and Unocal will sign a “phase-out” lease that will require the company to demolish the tanks and clean up the site by July, 1993.

The company will move the tanks--possibly to land it owns near the Wilmington refinery--and build a pipeline to pump oil directly from the San Pedro terminal to the new tanks. Flores said she and the residents will not oppose the pipeline plans. Her aide, Ann D’Amato, said the pipeline could run under Harbor Boulevard.

When the lease for the San Pedro terminal expires this summer, the Harbor Department will grant Unocal a 30-year extension, with the provision that if the energy island is completed after 20 years, the company could be forced to relocate there.

A ‘Win-Win’ Situation

Grannis, the Unocal consultant, said the move and the pipeline will cost the company $40 million. He characterized it as a “win-win” situation for Unocal, and said negotiations with the Harbor Department and Flores have “been a very cooperative process. It’s not been a sledgehammer type situation at all.”

Hunt, who lives across the street from the tanks, credited Flores with pressuring the company to move the tanks.

“I know the power of Joan Milke Flores,” she said. “. . . And I think she was getting pretty darned upset with the port, so she just said come on, this is my district, it looks like heck, it’s dangerous and I don’t want that kind of thing.”

As a councilwoman, Flores has no authority over port leases, but had she not gotten her way on the Unocal issue, she could have put pressure on the company by using city zoning laws. The Unocal tank farm site was recently rezoned for commercial uses, raising the question of whether the company could legally remain there.