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Angry Peninsula Residents Move to Block Offshore Oil Lease Plan

August 04, 1985|DEAN MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

RANCHO PALOS VERDES — Residents and city officials, enraged by a tentative agreement to open waters near the Palos Verdes Peninsula to offshore oil leasing, have launched a frantic campaign to keep oil rigs away from the affluent residential community.

Leaders of homeowner associations, City Council members, Boy Scouts and other residents last week condemned the proposal, which includes an area three miles from the Peninsula among 1,000 square miles of ocean floor that would be opened to oil exploration in two to three years.

"We have a very fragile ecology here," said Naomi Phillips, president of the Rancho Palos Verdes Council of Homeowners Assns. "In the case of ecology, oil and water do not mix." The council is a coalition of 24 homeowner groups that voted unanimously to oppose the leasing.

The City Council unanimously approved a resolution last week to oppose the agreement, and the city staff is gathering information to substantiate concerns that drilling for oil would pose serious environmental hazards to the Peninsula coastline. Rancho Palos Verdes extends along the southern portion of the Peninsula and faces tracts that could be leased under the agreement. There currently is no drilling near the Peninsula.

Meeting With Hodel

In an effort to persuade federal officials to abandon the plan, Mayor John C. McTaggart will meet Aug. 30 in Long Beach with Interior Secretary Donald Hodel, who will be making a 12-stop tour of California at the end of this month to hear public reaction to the leasing proposal. He is expected to decide next month, after Congress reconvenes from its summer recess, whether to implement the agreement.

"It is really of great urgency" that the city aggressively oppose the agreement, city resident Stella LaRose told the City Council last week.

City Councilman Robert Ryan said the city has also asked Hodel to make a side trip to Rancho Palos Verdes to see firsthand why residents oppose offshore drilling. Officials in Washington said last week that the secretary's itinerary does not include a Palos Verdes stop, although he will view the Peninsula and other areas affected by the proposal from a plane.

Hodel hammered out the disputed leasing agreement last month with a bipartisan group of California lawmakers. The group hoped to settle the matter before Congress considered extending its controversial drilling ban on 58,000 square miles of ocean floor. The 4-year-old moratorium expires at the end of September.

Coalition Formed

The compromise spares most coastal waters in Southern California now included in the moratorium, except for about 330 square miles off Los Angeles, Orange and northern San Diego counties. Officials from Orange County coastal cities have already formed a coalition to fight the opening of 54 square miles off their shores.

Although maps showing which areas would be open to leasing are inexact, officials estimate that about 50 square miles off San Pedro and Palos Verdes would be affected by the proposal.

Bill Grant, regional director of the Mineral Management Service, cautioned, however, that the tentative agreement determines only what tracts of land would be considered for leases during the next five years. He said the tracts would still need to pass environmental reviews and public hearings before the Department of the Interior would solicit bids from oil companies. He said it would be two to three years before any tracts are ready to lease.

The leasing proposal--which Interior officials are carefully referring to as "preliminary" and "tentative"--came under heavy fire last week in Washington by 11 of the state's 18 Republican congressmen, who complained that Hodel had not consulted them about the drilling restrictions. Among those disgruntled lawmakers was Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Long Beach), who represents the Peninsula.

Favor Leasing

The congressmen, who favor more leasing than permitted under the proposal, sent a letter to President Reagan urging that Hodel reopen discussions or abandon the agreement altogether. The letter called the agreement "nothing more than an administrative moratorium."

The lawmakers also complained that the agreement shifts the environmental risks of new exploration to a few restricted areas--in some cases, their own districts.

Lungren, a strong supporter of offshore oil leasing, said in a telephone interview last week that his district was unfairly singled out in the proposal. He said legislators opposed to oil leasing intentionally excluded him from the discussions so they could spare their districts from any new drilling.

"The agreement was determined through politics, not where it is environmentally safe and where the oil is," Lungren said. "Those who have supported the position of no drilling off the coast wanted to prevail by protecting their districts."

Not Opposed to Drilling

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