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Sharing the Table With Occidental

December 27, 1987

Occidental Petroleum pleaded to be let into Westside's residential neighborhood on the grounds that oil drilling is perfectly compatible with family living. How nice. Especially since Oxy would be drilling within coughing distance of our living rooms. With the next-door neighbor as close as 20 feet, how harmonious would the industry be? Catapulted out of bed by the din, neighbors complained about the noise nuisance, and Oxy bought the surrounding apartments. Alas, other neighbors now know what we didn't know then:

Promising a "plant" that sounded more like a rose garden than a gas processing site, Oxy broke the 1965 zoning precedent. Sporting Oxy hard hats, city fathers conceded that "this densely populated residential neighborhood, unlike industrial zones, or wide-open spaces of a golf course, is certainly not the most appropriate site." Nevertheless, it's convenient for Oxy.

But Oxy's convenience soon became an industrial nightmare for residents living next to the site. From morning, noon to night, thousands of feet of metal oil pipelines are stacked up in towers. The industrial eyesore sticks up like a sore thumb--Frankenstein's.

With no end in sight, after drilling the oil wells, the worst is yet to come. Enter the rig. A portable oil derrick, a.k.a. a "portable factory." Because most of the work on the wells can't be taken out for repairs, the factory comes into the neighborhood. Mounted on the back of a truck, the skeletal Erector Set device revs up to 80 odd feet and pulls up pipelines. After working on one well, the rig revs down into a compact pile and the diesel engine trucks on to the next well. This will be repeated for the lifetime of the site, ad nauseam. Squeezed into this half-acre site, Oxy has 56 oil wells, plus more oil drilling ordinances tucked up their sleeve, for a total of 122 oil wells.

One of the best-kept secrets about the problem of using this industrial rig in a residential neighborhood has yet to be solved: Guess where the oil pumps are located. At the bottom of the well. Meaning that with the average 8,000-foot-deep well, thousands of feet of pipelines must first be torn up before work can even begin in the pits. After stacking them in vertical piles, the rig works in the well and once again the pipelines are replaced until tomorrow.

Learning the crude oil facts of life hasn't been easy. . . . The greater the number of oil wells, the greater the industrial intrusion from the everlasting rig. Contrary to wildcatters' claims, rigs don't purr as softly as pussycats, they make a bloody racket.

Dinner with Oxy is rotten. Every bit of food is punctuated by the blasted rig. Nerve-racking. Instead of shutting it down at normal business hours, it revs up and down from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. or later. Whenever Oxy alleges that pipes are stuck in the oil wells, the rig, of course, carries on with the overtime night work.

On paper, the site appears to be Paradise Cove--depending on who's writing the report. Los Angeles City Hall officials claim it's marvelous. All hail the surrounding wall as the ultimate dynamic "soundproof barrier." Beverly Hills City Hall officials, however, find that's not the solution but the source of the noise nuisance. The wall is 12 feet. The rig is 80 odd feet. It's as useless as putting up a picket fence to ward off a paramount menace. Noise reverberates over the wall from the tower and hurtles down on our two-story homes. Since the site has no roof, the noise from tons of clanging metal pipelines being snapped into sections and hauled up in the air turns the area into an open-air steel factory.

What's the reason for the disparity between these two City Hall reports? Could it be that Los Angeles officials visited the site at the cherished moment--when the rig was down? Of course, then the racket stops, temporarily. But the noise nuisance begins, as Beverly Hills officials discovered, when the rig accelerates at a high, whining pitch, throttling to full force, with clanking chains hurling around thousands of feet of oil pipelines and pulling them up from the pits. . . .

When Los Angeles city officials crusaded with Oxy to obtain this site, they pledged protection of fundamental residential zoning standards. Nothing could be more fundamental than eating grub in peace and quiet. Yet requests to honor the terms of the original conditional use permit have been greeted like Oliver Twists asking for more porridge, please. Before Oxy pocketed the permits, they vowed to always keep the community's interest at heart. People first, profits second.

Ditto for city fathers. Trust us, they said, if residents are subjected to any industrial stresses and strains caused by setting up this site a stone's throw from families' living rooms. The city "shall reserve the right to correct any detrimental effects and impose stricter conditions on Oxy." Famous last words.

Gone are the guarantees to preserve the quality of life. They have forgotten all about allegiance to human values. Now with their Cyclops vision all they see are petrodollars.

City Hall may be unable to curtail Oxy's fires, gas leaks and toxic substances spraying the neighborhood and destroying property. It's been accepted as part and parcel of the oil industry, albeit it the kiss of death for us.

Dear city fathers, if you can't do anything about that, there's something you can do to ease the industrial intrusion into our living room: Please, NO OXY RIG FOR DINNER. Let them eat petroleum flapjacks.

ELIZABETH MORTIMER

Los Angeles

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