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Oxy Foes Gird for Next Round

April 18, 1985|JUDY PASTERNAK | Times Staff Writer

Three times in the past, Judy Elliott has attended victory parties for No Oil Inc., an organization that has fought for 15 years to keep Occidental Petroleum from drilling for oil along the Pacific Palisades coastline.

Each time, she was sure that Occidental's plans were doomed. But "six months later, (they were) always back again," she said. "It just goes on and on."

No Oil suffered its latest reversal in January when Mayor Tom Bradley unexpectedly decided to give his long-withheld approval to Occidental's plans. By now, though, Elliott has seen the balance in this battle shift so often that she expects more victory parties--as well as more defeats.

Despite the drama attached to Bradley's decision, both sides agree that it will be at least a year, and probably several, before the situation is settled. And though drilling opponents say they are becoming more and more discouraged, the final outcome is still difficult to predict.

"There's a very long way to go," said Joyce Chernick, president of No Oil.

"I would hope we're more than half-way through," said Maria Hummer, a West Los Angeles attorney representing Occidental.

The oil company still needs several permits from the city and another from the state Coastal Commission before drilling can start. "Without any one of those, we can't proceed," Hummer said.

Two lawsuits in Los Angeles Superior Court--one filed by No Oil and a Palisades couple--seek to block Occidental's drilling plans.

And No Oil plans to seek signatures for a citywide referendum on a proposal to give local control over oil drilling to affected residents. Adoption of the measure would repeal the ordinances Bradley signed allowing the Palisades drilling.

No Oil hopes to start gathering support within a month.

Meanwhile, the tide of emotion is running high in the Palisades, a cliffside community with a small-town atmosphere, where television stars live along the same winding streets as old-timers who moved in 40 years ago before housing prices skyrocketed.

The residents are by no means united. The No Oil supporters fear that the drilling could lead to oil spills, pipeline breaks, fires, landslides, earthquakes and noxious fumes. Those who back Occidental's plan say--as Bradley did--that the company has incorporated sufficient safeguards into its proposal. And they point to the potential financial gain for individuals who own oil rights as well as for the city and county.

Some of the property owners with oil rights say they are afraid to voice their support for the drilling because doing so might hurt their business.

"I don't talk about it," said one woman who refused to give her name, "but I'm sending contributions to help fight for oil" to the Pacific Palisades Landowners Assn. The association's executive director, Eve Carter, says the landowners group represents 7,000 owners of mineral rights on the Westside who support drilling.

The No Oil faction is more visible. Since Bradley's announcement Jan. 12, Elliott's shop has stocked T-shirts showing a derrick inside a red circle with a slash through it. She said she is selling a couple of them each day, at $12 apiece, and giving the proceeds to the organization.

And a cadre of volunteers spent their evenings during the second half of January in a donated office, telephoning their neighbors to solicit contributions.

They collected $17,000, said No Oil treasurer Barbara Kohn. Another $11,000 was raised in February and March, she said.

All the while, the oil opponents have been trading Bradley stories--about letters he had written to them in the past expressing his opposition to the drilling and about the party in February, 1984, when he was No Oil's honored guest.

"We were absolutely stunned" at Bradley's decision, said Lois Garner, a Palisades resident who has been active in No Oil.

During the past mayoral election, Garner said she "simply didn't vote" because Bradley's opponent, Councilman John Ferraro, also supported Occidental drilling.

She said she would oppose Bradley if he runs for governor in 1986. She said her husband, actor James Garner, and other celebrity friends "are all going for (state Sen.) Gary Hart" as the Democratic nominee "and we were good supporters of Bradley. We contributed heavily."

For now, No Oil members comfort themselves with memories of 1974. In that year, the California Supreme Court ruled that Occidental had to show the environmental impact of its drilling before permission could be granted. The company, which had begun constructing its drill without such a report, had to dismantle its rig and begin the permit process again.

"They were much closer then," Chernick said. "And we stopped them."

But "the project has now been defined by the city," countered Hummer. "Occidental did do an environmental impact report. And Occidental believes it meets all the requirements."

The company is working on applications for the next round of city permits--one that would approve technical details of the drilling operation and another that would allow the project to proceed in a coastal zone. Both applications should be before the city zoning administrator in a few weeks, Hummer said.

Once the city has given coastal development approval, the project must be reviewed by the state Coastal Commission. Occidental already has met once with the commission's staff and "hopes and believes it will have the coastal commission completed in 1985," Hummer said.

In their more pessimistic moments, even No Oil's most ardent defenders are beginning to agree with that assessment.

The group needs about $250,000 just to pay for its lawsuit and expected appeals, Chernick said. And though No Oil hopes 100 supporters will pay $100 each for a coming benefit dinner, response has been so slow that members say they have discussed reducing the price to $50.

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