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Judge Will Consider Request to Block Mobil Oil Pipeline

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A Los Angeles judge Wednesday took under advisement a request to block construction of a new Mobil Oil pipeline, which opponents say won city construction approval based on a faulty environmental impact report.

Following seven hours of testimony that began Aug. 8, Superior Court Judge Ronald M. Sohigian said he would rule “as promptly as I can” on the lawsuit against the city and Mobil by a group of community activists calling themselves the Coalition Against the Pipeline.

However, Sohigian hinted that he is unlikely to rule before next month, by which time construction will probably have begun.

Mobil wants to build the $88-million, 92-mile pipeline to carry hot crude oil from Kern County through the Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys and Los Angeles to its Torrance refinery to replace an existing crude oil line that has frequently leaked.

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But opponents say the new line, which would be capable of carrying far more oil, could lead to more oil refining, adding to air pollution in heavily polluted Los Angeles, a claim Mobil has denied.

Mobil, the country’s second-largest oil company, has received several key approvals for the new pipeline, including permission from Los Angeles transportation commissioners to build 26 miles of it within the city. And with recent approval of traffic management plans meant to reduce tie-ups during construction, Mobil has the go-ahead to begin work on nine miles in the Santa Clarita Valley and 11 miles in the San Fernando Valley--from the intersection of Balboa Boulevard and San Fernando Road to the intersection of Woodley Avenue and Victory Boulevard.

Mobil spokesman James Carbonetti said Wednesday that notices will soon be sent to residents of affected neighborhoods, allowing work to start by the end of the month.

Should the company lose the lawsuit, it could be ordered to halt work and restore city streets.

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The city of Torrance has withheld granting a construction permit to Mobil until the coalition’s lawsuit is resolved.

The suit raised an issue that is put increasingly before the courts: whether the environmental impact reports that guide development decisions can legally be prepared by consultants hired by a project’s developers. In this case, the report was prepared by Dames & Moore, an engineering firm retained by Mobil.

Courts are divided on the issue. In two recent Los Angeles cases, one Superior Court judge ruled that developers can hire their own consultants, while another ruled that they can’t. Last week, the state’s 2nd District Court of Appeal--deciding one of those cases--ruled 2 to 1 that developers can hire consultants as long as local officials carefully scrutinize and edit their reports.

But coalition attorney Larry Teeter claimed that the city improperly relied on Mobil’s consultant to produce what he termed a “public relations document.”

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Attorneys for Mobil and the city said the report was a collaborative effort, in which the consultant took direction from city engineers.

Opponents also maintained that the environmental report failed to adequately consider the alternatives of repairing the existing pipeline or building a line no larger than the present one.

Mobil and city officials argued that these issues were adequately considered. Citing the oil spills produced by leaks in the existing line, Deputy City Atty. Keith W. Pritsker said opponents were acting like “knee-jerk environmental reactionaries. . . . I think they’re dead wrong on this.”


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