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Judge Bars Oil Drilling in Palisades

December 19, 1985|FRANK CLIFFORD and LAURIE BECKLUND | Times Staff Writers

A Superior Court judge today dealt Occidental Petroleum Corp. its second major setback in just over a week, by invalidating city ordinances authorizing the corporation's controversial oil drilling project in the Pacific Palisades.

Judge Norman Epstein ruled that a critical element of the project--the pipeline--had been subjected to inadequate environmental review.

The judge's decision, unless successfully appealed to a higher court, would require Occidental to start all over again a process of seeking approval for the massive project from the City Council. Occidental officials said the company would confer later to decide whether to appeal.

Epstein's decision is the second recent major setback for Occidental, which has been struggling for approval of the controversial project for nearly 20 years. Last Thursday, a city zoning administrator refused to issue a coastal permit to Occidental based on his view that the project was environmentally unsound. That decision could be overruled by the city's Board of Zoning Appeals.

3 Ordinances Invalidated

Epstein invalidated the three city ordinances that had paved the way for the project on the grounds that the environmental impact report prepared by Occidental and reviewed by city officials did not adequately address the safety of pipelines leading from the proposed drill site on the Palisades beachfront past schools and homes to refineries.

Occidental, in a compromise proposal, had asked the judge to invalidate only that part of the ordinance pertaining to the pipeline and leave the rest intact. Occidental maintained that such a compromise would allow them to drill exploratory wells, but not put them into production until the safety of the pipeline had been assured.

However, the judge agreed with counter-arguments that the matters relating to the pipeline could not be severed from the ordinances as a whole.

"I don't believe the project can be segmented or chopped up," Epstein said. "The judge is being asked to second-guess the (City) Council. But a proper respect of separation of powers dictates that he ought to be chary of doing it. I have to set the ordinances aside."

Question of Appeal

Arthur Grauman, a member of the executive committee of Occidental's board of directors, said the board will have to decide if it is going to appeal the decision. "We're going to have to consider whether or not to go any further with this," said an angry Grauman.

"A small group of anonymous citizens should not be permitted to overturn the votes of three city councils," he added in reference to the Pacific Palisades residents who filed the lawsuit against Occidental earlier this year that led to today's ruling.

"I don't see how depriving the city of $200 million in taxes and royalties is a public service to the City of Los Angeles."

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