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Coastal Panel Member Fired

July 21, 1987

It was with dismay that I read the July 8 front page story on oil drilling at the beach below Pacific Palisades. I had attended the hearings held the previous day in Santa Monica, and had left feeling that the issues and concerns would receive full and impartial consideration by the Coastal Commission. I appear to have been mistaken.

Although I think the Senate's last minute dismissal of Contreras was poorly handled, that action has brought to light some very important issues: 1) how impartial are the commissioners; 2) how much lobbying of the commissioners goes on away from the public eye; 3) are positions taken, decisions made, and votes lined up before the hearings ever take place; and 4) is California being well-served by this panel?

From the statements attributed to Contreras after his dismissal, the answers to those issues are not favorable to the public interest. Rather than functioning much as a panel of jurors does, hearing, considering, and discussing evidence, the commission seems to make the decision and then hold the hearing.

Acting Chairman Robert Franco said as much when he revealed, after the hearing, that he had visited the proposed drilling site and found it to be a "dump." As for the matter of Occidental's application for a permit to drill, I was offended, to put it mildly, when the Occidental board member at the hearing stated, among other things, that those who oppose the drilling had no business doing so if they arrived there in cars. That was an unvarnished attempt to mix patriotism with oil drilling and opposition to OPEC.

An attorney for Occidental also noted that if the exploratory drilling permit was approved, and all their expectations were met, the company would be through with the site prior to the date when it would be needed to support beach activities. That implies that Occidental would complete production of an estimated 60 million barrels of oil by the early 1990s, and that a former oil field would be a suitable site for public use.

Whether the citizens of Southern California support or oppose Occidental's application to drill for oil, they should now have serious doubts as to the integrity of the Coastal Commission.

GARY L. ST. CLAIR

Monterey Park

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