Plan for Baldwin Hills Power Plant Attacked

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The wave of anger over a proposed power plant in the Baldwin Hills continued to build Monday as nearly 1,000 outraged residents showed up at West Los Angeles College to fight the project.

Speaker after speaker denounced the proposed plant, with many calling it an environmental justice issue in the predominantly African American community.

"This is the heart of the African American community in Los Angeles," said Robert Garcia, an attorney with the Center for Law in the Public Interest. "Why is it that the only power plant in a state park in the state is proposed for the Baldwin Hills?"

The president of the Los Angeles Unified School District board, Genethia Hayes, reiterated that objection, saying neighborhoods around the Baldwin Hills "happen to be the wealthiest African American community in the nation. We don't want anyone to be guinea pigs. We should not put our children at risk."

Under Gov. Gray Davis' emergency power orders, Stocker Resources has applied to build a 53-megawatt plant in the Baldwin Hills, where oil pumps have degraded parts of the area for 70 years.

But the oil field 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.

Under the emergency order, the project can circumvent the normal environmental review process required by state law. If it is not up and running by a Sept. 30 deadline, it will be subject to the normal review process and cannot be fast-tracked.

The proposed power plant would sit in a working oil field that has a natural gas plant. Several dozen oil wells pump about 650 feet from the Kenneth Hahn State Recreational Area.

A letter circulated at Monday's hearing from the state Energy Commission staff noted that six of nine of the so-called peaker plants approved under the governor's emergency order are in areas that are predominantly nonwhite.

The letter also said no other projects have been placed next to major parks or within state conservancy jurisdictions.

More than 700 people turned in cards asking to speak at Monday's hearing. The room erupted in cheers when an Air Quality Management District official announced that his agency would not be able to issue a construction permit for at least 60 days because of environmental concerns.

That probably would push construction beyond the Sept. 30 deadline when plants such as this one must be completed under the governor's emergency order.

Energy expert Charles Cicchetti, a business professor at USC, said the proposed plant makes no sense.

"The 39 megawatts it would provide to the grid is just a drop in the bucket," he said. "They are paying about $1,000 per megawatt to build this thing. This very small plant coming on line after the summer crisis is over is just too little, too late."

Joel Reynolds of the Natural Resources Defense Council said his organization "has never opposed the siting of a natural gas power plant, but we oppose this one. We oppose it for the simple reason that plants do not belong in the middle of parks."

The only speaker to support the plant, Steve Willburn of La Jolla Energy Development, said his firm and Stocker Resources have been working "in good faith with the Baldwin Hills Conservancy to find ways to further the use of a park once oil and gas operations cease."

The state energy commission will decide Friday in Sacramento whether to approve the project.

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