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Plan Would Ban Beach Oil Drilling

July 30, 1987|BILL BOYARSKY | Times City-County Bureau Chief

An initiative banning oil drilling on Los Angeles beaches, designed to stop the controversial Pacific Palisades oil exploration project "once and for all," is being prepared for next June's election.

The Times learned that Los Angeles City Councilmen Marvin Braude and Zev Yaroslavsky, who last year won voter approval for Proposition U, the city's slow-growth initiative, are writing the proposed measure and intend to circulate petitions in the fall to place it on the primary election ballot. The two council members confirmed their roles.

They will be supported by Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), whose Campaign California organization has shown an ability to gather signatures for such petitions quickly and to raise large sums of money for environmentally oriented intitiative campaigns.

Quick Work on Initiative

The Hayden team got 55,000 signatures in seven days to help put Proposition 65, an anti-toxics initiative, on last November's ballot and raised $1.7 million for the campaign that resulted in the measure's overwhelming passage.

Occidental Petroleum Corp., which has won city and California Coastal Commission approval for oil exploration near the Pacific Palisades beach, said it will oppose the proposal to ban coastal oil drilling. Braude said he expects the company and its allies to spend $3 million.

Occidental board member Arthur Groman scoffed at that figure but said, "we will oppose it with all of the means at our command." He called the proposal "outrageous."

The two City Council members said their proposal would prohibit oil drilling within 1,000 yards of the average high tide line within city limits.

That would cover a large area extending from San Pedro to the northern city boundary.

The measure would also specifically repeal the city ordinance that permitted Occidental to drill at the Palisades beach. But the authors said another existing oil-drilling site, in Venice, where pumping has been going on for years, would not be affected.

If the measure passes, Braude said, only another initiative could repeal it. He said that would kill the Occidental project "once and for all."

Banking on Polls

The two council members are banking on public opinion polls that indicate concern over the Occidental project. A citywide Times poll last month showed that 39% of those questioned disagreed with Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley's decision to support Palisades oil drilling after he had long opposed it. Only 17% favored it and 44% were either unaware of the controversy or had no opinion. That decision was a costly one for the mayor; it eroded the support he had enjoyed from environmentalists, and hurt him in his unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1986.

"If you were on the beaches as I was last weekend and saw hundreds of thousands of people, you would know the support," Braude said. "The beaches are the people's country club," Yaroslavsky said.

Occidental's Groman said that if the measure passes, the company will go to court and demand payment from the city for loss of its oil-drilling privileges. He said he believes that the company would win under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling restricting the right of government to interfere with personal property rights. The court ruled that government may have to compensate a land owner if a strict zoning measure unreasonably prevents him from using his property.

Worth $1.2 Billion

"We figure there are 60 million barrels of oil there," Groman said. "At the current price of oil, $21 a barrel, it would have a $1.2-billion value."

Braude, however, said he believes that the city attorney will advise that the court ruling "will have no significant effect" on the proposed ban.

Yaroslavsky said a total of 69,516 qualified signatures are needed. Hayden estimated that more than 100,000 will have to be gathered to assure that enough legal signatures survive official screening. But he said expects that his organization will have little trouble with the job.

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