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Mayor Wrote to State, Federal Officials : Reed Letter Threatens Bay Oil Ban, Levine Says

July 04, 1985|ALAN CITRON | Times Staff Writer

Santa Monica Mayor Christine E. Reed has "seriously jeopardized" the effort to maintain a moratorium on oil drilling in Santa Monica Bay by misrepresenting the size of the bay in correspondence with state and federal officials, Rep. Mel Levine charged Wednesday.

Levine said Reed incorrectly described the bay as an area extending 14 miles offshore, from Point Dume to the tip of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Under the moratorium, which Levine is fighting to have continued beyond its Oct. 1 expiration, the bay is described as reaching 24 miles offshore.

"I have worked with Chris over the years and have no doubt about her sincerity in terms of trying to be of whatever assistance she can," Levine (D-Los Angeles) said in a telephone interview. "Unfortunately, the letter she sent has severely undermined my negotiating position."

Reed's description of the bay boundaries was included in a May 3 letter to the state secretary for environmental affairs and the U.S. Department of the Interior, which is considering the extension. Reed expressed the city's strong opposition to offshore drilling, but misrepresented the size of the bay.

Mayor Apologizes

In a letter mailed to Levine on Monday, Reed apologized for the error, which she said had been caused by a "misunderstanding" between her "and the technical staff." Reed added that the city stands "solidly" behind Levine in his opposition to oil drilling in the bay.

Reed, who was vacationing with her family, could not be reached for comment. But Councilman David Epstein, a political ally, maintained that Levine was overreacting to the boundary error.

"I don't see why it would affect the negotiations that much," Epstein said. "This is a technical issue. . . . You make a technical error and you correct it. As far as I'm aware everybody (on the council) agrees that, barring a real national emergency, we shouldn't be drilling here. If the Reagan Administration tries to take advantage of (Reed's) error, they're grasping at straws."

Levine, however, said that Reed may have already caused irreparable damage to the moratorium campaign because her written description of the bay is being used by federal officials who favor a more liberal drilling policy.

Levine said he learned of Reed's letter last week, when he and other California congressmen were meeting with Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel. Levine said he was arguing the merits of extending the moratorium when Hodel "plucked" Reed's letter from his desk and asked why the mayor of Santa Monica disagreed with Levine's definition of the bay boundaries.

"This took me very much by surprise," Levine said. "The definition provided by Chris is much narrower than anything I've been working with . . . but it was obviously something the secretary of the interior wanted to rely on.

"It made my case much more difficult to maintain. This is a very sensitive time in the negotiations and I think it's very important that we all pull together in providing the Reagan Administration with the appropriate definition of Santa Monica Bay."

Levine said he hopes to explain Reed's error when he meets with Hodel next week. A spokesman for Hodel on Wednesday said the secretary opposes moratoriums in general, but has made no decision on specific drilling proposals. In the past, Hodel has pledged to consider state and local concerns before making any decisions, but has refused to dismiss the possibility of allowing oil exploration in the bay.

Conflicting Signals

Thus far, Hodel has received conflicting signals from state and local officials. In a recent visit to Washington, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley expressed the city's "unyielding opposition" to drilling in the bay. Gov. George Deukmejian, however, has said he favors ending the moratorium.

The Santa Monica City Council has traditionally opposed offshore drilling. Councilmen James Conn and Dennis Zane, members of a political faction that opposes Reed, questioned why the mayor took any action on the moratorium issue without consulting the full seven-member council.

The two said they learned of Reed's snafu late last week, when she solicited their signatures for the clarification letter that was later sent to Levine. After consulting with the city attorney, the council members decided to discuss the issue in an open meeting before making any official statements on the bay.

Like Levine, Conn and Zane said they expect Reed's original letter to jeopardize the moratorium negotiation.

"I think it's a blunder, and a blunder that's unforgivable for a person who has been on the council as long as she (Reed) has," Conn said.

"I believe Chris' personal position is that she is strongly opposed to drilling in the bay," Zane added. "The question is whether she has blundered in a way that seriously undermines our ability to protect the bay."

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