SANTA FE SPRINGS — The Planning Commission this week delayed action on proposed zoning revisions, the most significant of which could prohibit some new oil wells and phase out some existing ones after 20 years.
The commission has been discussing since July staff proposals that would ask the City Council to insert more stringent standards in the zoning ordinance as well as update existing sections.
Oil industry representatives see the proposals as a way to phase out their business in the city, once one of the state's largest producers of oil. But city officials say the zoning revisions--as well as other changes to the ordinance--will facilitate future commercial projects as well as spruce up the city by tightening development standards. The issue will be taken up again by the commission on Aug. 25.
A few of the changes have met with concern from some businesses in the city--primarily oil companies and retailers. Among the changes are a recommendation to create a new N overlay zone for commercial development in the oil field area, as well as stricter citywide sign regulations that would limit the size, type and number of signs at a business.
Under the staff proposal, either a property owner, the Planning Commission or the City Council could request imposition of the overlay zone regulations, which prohibit new oil drilling and make existing oil equipment a nonconforming use that must be removed at the end of 20 years. The overlay zone would not automatically apply to every oil-producing parcel, only those for which the designation is requested said George Beaty, assistant director of planning development.
The zone change, when imposed, would then serve as a quicker way of "clearing title to a piece of property" and facilitating development, said Beaty. The change was prompted because a proposed development in the city this year had been delayed on property with no existing oil wells. However, the property contains several surface "rights of entry" for oil drilling and the developer was in part hesitant to go ahead with the project because of these encumbrances, Beaty said.
After holding two Planning Commission meetings in July--as well as a meeting with members of the Chamber of Commerce/Industrial League--the city revised certain requirements. The staff asked Monday at the public hearing that it be continued until Aug. 25 to allow businesses affected by the toughened standards time to study the latest changes.
"It's a compromise," said Richard Weaver, director of planning and development. The city went "a long way in satisfying some of their concerns."
Ed Malmgreen, vice president of California Independent Producers Assn., said various oil companies were concerned about the new overlay zone that could affect oil production and extraction.
"It's a step to phasing it out. That's the way we look at it," Malmgreen said.
Merrily Smith, a spokeswoman from Mobil Oil Corp., said while the company backs the city's intent to encourage commercial development in oil field areas, the California Civil Code already provides for "quieting" or clearing the title to dormant oil or mineral interests.
Moreover, if the overlay zone is approved, it "actually will over the years impact on active oil and gas operations," Smith said.
Mobil, which pumps 2,300 barrels a day from 302 wells, is the largest producer in the city. The company is currently drilling at the 6,000-foot level but sees potential for tapping new reservoirs of oil at the 20,000-foot level once the price of crude oil rises, she said.
"Frankly, we cannot expend a lot of dollars in the area. There is no way we will maintain operations if it has no future," she said. She said the company would like to see another draft that would drop any reference to prohibiting oil drilling or exploration and that would allow Mobil to "continue operations in the future."
An overlay zone would prohibit drilling of new wells as well as drilling within 500 feet of the surface.
The city sees these provisions as a way to "promote joint use" of property by allowing development to occur and letting oil companies conduct off-site drilling by a technology that is known as slant drilling, Weaver said.
Oil Rigs Pump Along
The city wants to "bring better quality industrial uses to the oil field area," said Weaver, pointing to a industrial business park off McCann Drive where oil jacks slowly pump oil right next to light-industrial warehouse and office buildings.
In revising its original proposal, the city inserted a clarification of the zone overlay, saying, "It shall not be the purpose or intent of this zone to prohibit the exploration for or extraction of oil, gas or minerals from subsurface area. . . ."
Once an owner obtains approval for an overlay zone on a certain piece of property, any existing oil equipment--such as pumping jacks or oil derricks--must be removed by the end of a 20-year period.