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Council Panel Deals a Stunning Blow to Foes of Oil Drilling in Pacific Palisades

February 23, 1988|TED VOLLMER | Times Staff Writer

An effort to halt Occidental Petroleum Corp.'s plans to drill for oil in Pacific Palisades was dealt a potentially fatal blow Monday as a split City Council committee voted against repealing 1985 ordinances approving the project.

After a sometimes raucous City Hall hearing in which hundreds of pro-drilling forces and environmentalists booed each other--while a stray pigeon soared overhead--the council's Board of Referred Powers voted 3 to 2 against the repeal proposal. Councilman Marvin Braude sponsored the measure and is on the panel.

The vote came despite an emotional appeal by Braude to protect his district's coastline:

"I'm convinced that people everywhere in the city don't want oil drilling along the coast highway," Braude said, his final words drowned out by a sea of cheers and boos from the audience.

Braude had hoped to persuade colleague Richard Alatorre to either support the repeal or vote to send the matter to the full City Council without a recommendation. Either move would have greatly enhanced the measure's chances, because fewer City Council votes--eight instead of 10--would have been needed for passage.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 25, 1988 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 5 Metro Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
In a story Tuesday, it was reported that Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley twice had vetoed ordinances permitting Occidental Petroleum Corp. to drill for oil in Pacific Palisades. Bradley actually vetoed the ordinances once, in 1978.

But in an almost inaudible voice, Alatorre, a state assemblyman when the drilling ordinances were passed, sided Monday with Occidental. The Eastside Democrat explained later that Occidental had sought and obtained the drilling rights "in good faith" and it would be unfair to now kill the project.

Alatorre also expressed concern that the powerful oil company would make good on its threat to sue the city for $1 billion if the drilling ordinances were rescinded. He said he was also worried about another $330-million lawsuit that an attorney said could be filed by landowners standing to collect royalties from the drilling project.

After the vote, a clearly disappointed Braude said he was not surprised by Alatorre's vote and vowed to press on for the support needed to send the repeal ordinances to Mayor Tom Bradley. Bradley has taken no public position on the repeal issue, although he signed the 1985 ordinances to permit drilling after twice vetoing earlier versions.

"The taxpayers of this city are being taken for a ride by Occidental and I think it's a damned shame," Braude said.

Even if Braude mustered the necessary 10 votes, he would still need a virtually unattainable 12 votes to override a Bradley veto. Currently, Braude says he can count on only eight firm votes.

Although Braude put on a confident appearance, other anti-drilling forces said the lengthy battle against Occidental will probably have to be won at the ballot box. Braude and colleague Zev Yaroslavsky are sponsoring an initiative drive to ban oil drilling along the city's coastline.

Robert Sulnick, president of the anti-drilling group No Oil Inc., said after the committee vote that initiative organizers will begin gathering signatures within a few weeks.

Sulnick also lambasted Alatorre, saying the councilman had yielded to pressure from a "special interest" instead of being more concerned about environmental issues raised by the project.

Occidental has been fighting for nearly 20 years to win the right to drill at the 2.5-acre Pacific Palisades site across Pacific Coast Highway from Will Rogers State Beach. The company's efforts, until a surprise Bradley approval in 1985, had been largely thwarted in the past by mayoral vetoes or court decisions.

Occidental representatives were ecstatic after Monday's vote, but they acknowledged that the oil company faces still more battles, including pending litigation, future consideration of Braude's repeal move and the voter initiative.

Occidental director Arthur Groman, the company's chief spokesman, said he is not worried about the anti-drilling initiative.

"We would welcome the opportunity to take this issue to the city," Groman said. "We feel the majority of the citizens are as intelligent as the majority of this committee."

Occidental attorney Maria Hummer said that one legal obstacle remaining in Occidental's path could be lifted later this week. The state Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to review an appellate court's decision upholding the project's environmental study. Until the high court acts, Occidental is under a Superior Court injunction against its drilling plans.

Theoretically, only the court ruling stands in the way of drilling exploratory wells at the Pacific Palisades site, Hummer said, but she added that at what point the company will start work remains to be decided.

Commission Sued

No Oil Inc. also has sued the California Coastal Commission for approving the drilling plan. But in that action, no injunction has been sought.

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