More than 300 people, alarmed that an energy company wants to build a power plant in the Baldwin Hills, packed the City Council chambers in Culver City on Thursday evening and spilled out into a courtyard at a project hearing before a state energy commissioner.
"We understand that there is an energy crisis," said Esther Feldman, president of Community Conservancy International, the main organization working to keep the plant out of the hills. "There are a lot of places that are appropriate [for the plant], but this isn't it."
Under the governor's emergency power orders, Stocker Resources has applied to build a 53-megawatt power plant in the Baldwin Hills, where oil pumps have degraded parts of the area for 70 years.
But the oil field also sits in the middle of the recently created Baldwin Hills Conservancy and is a key parcel in an effort to patch together 1,200 acres of green space for the densely packed neighborhoods of South Los Angeles.
The proposed power plant would sit in a working oil field that has a natural-gas plant. Several dozen working oil wells pump in the immediate area--about 650 feet from the Kenneth Hahn State Recreational Area.
And the Hahn park is open space that Simone Bent, 17, a student at Dorsey High School, cherishes. Bent grew up in Jamaica, where she said open space is abundant, and she has been disappointed by the lack of open space in the nearby Crenshaw district.
She said she and her relatives go to the park regularly.
"If they build the power plant in this area, it will defeat the purpose of what this park is all about," she said outside the hearing, where she held a sign reading: "Don't kill our home, heal it."
Tony Nicholas, 56, of Windsor Hills, said: "Can you imagine a power plant in the middle of Central Park or Golden Gate Park? Don't do this to us."
State Sen. Kevin Murray (D-Culver City) said exhaust stacks at the plant would stand 75 feet high, putting them at the level of backyards and schools in the Baldwin Hills.
"We understand that everyone has to take a hit with the energy crisis," Murray said, "but we have to question the rationale of this. There aren't any other applications that I've seen to place a plant next to a state park."
Stocker, which would build the plant with Tustin-based La Jolla Energy Development, hopes the plant will be up and running in September.
La Jolla Energy Development president Steve Wilburn told the crowd that the plant would generally be clean and that it would not "create any hazard or nuisance for the surrounding community."
The state recently paid $41 million for 68 acres on the periphery of the oil fields, in what was called the most expensive urban park acquisition in California history. But the state has not yet bought the oil property where the plant is proposed.
Officials at Stocker Resources, which leases about 900 acres of the hills and has been extracting oil there for a decade, said they have no intention of moving out for 25 or 30 years. They say that the 13,000 barrels of oil they extract every day makes the land highly profitable, and that the state conservancy would have to spend $1.5 billion to buy it.