Los Angeles transportation commissioners predicted Thursday that a proposed new Mobil Oil pipeline through the San Fernando Valley will be approved, although its exact route remains to be decided.
“We’re past the decision of whether to have a pipeline, it’s just a matter of where,” said Commissioner Nathan Chroman during a city-sponsored tour Thursday of possible routes in the northern Valley.
“We’ll approve the pipeline, but we’re not just going to rubber-stamp the proposed route” outlined in the environmental impact report, said Marian G. Broome, the commission’s president.
The seven-member transportation board is scheduled to vote March 28 on Mobil’s proposal to dig up about 26 miles of Los Angeles city streets to replace the aged, leaky line that now brings hot crude oil from Kern County oil fields to the firm’s Torrance refinery. The existing line has ruptured eight times in the last five years, several times covering streets with gooey crude oil.
The commission was to vote on the project earlier this month, but postponed a decision after government officials and residents raised objections to the noise and traffic tie-ups that construction would bring to major intersections during the 18-month building period. However, the board did approve a final environmental impact report on the project at the March 2 meeting.
The commission said it would use the delay on a final vote to get a close-up look at possible pipeline routes through the San Fernando Valley, including those suggested by Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson and state Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar).
Three of the seven commissioners--Broome, Chroman and Marion Fay--spent more than three hours Thursday slowly cruising the route in a commuter bus. With them were Mobil Oil engineers, city transportation officials and field deputies representing Katz and council members Zev Yaroslavsky, Marvin Braude, Ernani Bernardi and Bernson. Commissioner Ronald Akashi also toured the Valley, but left early because of prior business obligations.
As the tour neared its end, Broome, Chroman and Fay predicted that the commission would approve the project, primarily because studies have shown that the existing pipeline is deteriorating and will rupture again if not replaced.
“We need oil--it’s a consumer product that is necessary for our livelihood,” Broome said. “I’d rather have it being transported by pipeline than by truck--it’s the lesser of two evils.”
“I think oil is needed in a modern-functioning city--if we could get along without it, that would be great, but that isn’t the case right now,” Chroman said. “The traffic impact during construction is a light pain compared to the impacts of a major oil spill.”
The commissioners refused to comment on which of three routes they will approve through the Valley communities of Sylmar, Granada Hills, Mission Hills, Sepulveda and Van Nuys.
The existing line enters the Valley just north of San Fernando Road, above the Los Angeles Reservoir. It jogs south on winding residential streets, including Gerald Avenue, then follows Rinaldi Street east to Woodley Avenue, where it turns to the south again.
City officials agree that the new pipeline will not be installed along the existing route north of Rinaldi Street because the roads there are too narrow.
Instead, the route recommended in the environmental impact report follows Balboa Boulevard south to Rinaldi Street, then east on Rinaldi and south toward the Santa Monica Mountains on Woodley Avenue. Ken Cude, a city transportation engineer, told commissioners that the route was the best choice because it would have the least impact on residents.
Indeed, many of the housing tracts along Balboa Boulevard north of Rinaldi are behind retaining walls or on slopes above the street, city transportation engineers said during the tour. In addition, Cude said that most residents would still be able to reach their houses during the construction period through back alleys and most do not have driveways anyway.
But Bernson prefers to locate the pipeline under San Fernando Road in Sylmar, through primarily industrial and commercial neighborhoods along the railroad tracks. Despite a contrary conclusion in the environmental report, he maintains that fewer residents would be affected there than on Balboa. Also, Bernson is concerned that the Balboa Boulevard route is too near a water filtration plant, said Phyllis Winger, his planning deputy.
Cude told commissioners that several things could be done to safeguard the filtration plant, including building thicker pipeline walls or erecting concrete or asphalt berms between the line and the plant.
Cude said the problem with the San Fernando Road route is that the pipeline would be located only a short distance away from homes that back up onto the East Canyon Creek storm channel. If the line were to rupture, hot oil would pour into the storm channel, which feeds into the Pacific Ocean, he said.
The San Fernando Road route is 2.4 miles longer than the Balboa Boulevard alternative and would cost Mobil more than $1.4 million extra, said Bill Ham, Mobil’s project manager. The complete 92-mile-long pipeline project, from Kern County to Torrance, is expected to cost Mobil more than $600,000 per mile, or at least $55.2 million, Ham said.
The route proposed by Katz would follow Sepulveda Boulevard south through land dotted with reservoirs and ponds owned by the Department of Water and Power. But DWP officials have said they will not grant Mobil rights of way through their land because of concerns over oil spills contaminating city water supplies.
Katz also prefers putting the pipeline under Sepulveda Boulevard south of Rinaldi Street. The recommended route puts the line under Woodley Avenue instead.
Cude said there is less traffic on Woodley Avenue, so construction would not be as disruptive. But a spokeswoman for Katz said that Sepulveda Boulevard is wider and that noise from the project would be less onerous than on Woodley Avenue.
If the board approves the project, other jurisdictions along the route, including the cities of Inglewood and Torrance and the U.S. Forest Service, would have to approve it before it could proceed.