By that time, the Petroleum Land Services project had quietly, but speedily, moved through the city bureaucracy. The staff of the city Recreation and Parks Department, which owned the mineral rights in the area, had recommended granting a lease to the company and incorrectly said that Molina supported the action. But, in a letter sent to the department in October, 1987, she sharply replied: "As I do not support the city's leasing this land for oil exploration at this time and since the original staff report was issued in error, I request that you amend the report to delete my support of the staff recommendation." Eventually, the department declined to sign a lease. Later, the company pulled out--a city official said he understood oil had not been found.
The quiet, brief fight just faded away.
A QUESTION OF PRIVILAGE
IN CONTRAST, opposition to the Palisades oil drilling has been a big local news story since 1970, when residents formed No Oil Inc. Its members, for the most part, were affluent, well-educated and politically sophisticated. They knew how to make news by alerting the media to their meetings or providing reporters with information researched from City Hall files by No Oil volunteers. And, although amateurs, they knew how to lobby public officials. This was just after the massive Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969, and politicians were becoming aware of the political power of the environmental movement. Over the years, the No Oil cause, with its cry of "Save the beach!" has continued to be a strong and publicized political force.
The stark difference between the relative obscurity of the Elysian Park area project and the constant spotlight on the Palisades drilling proposal has raised an issue that goes beyond the environmental questions. It is an issue of fairness.
The issue has been raised by the Occidental team, which is trying to capitalize on resentment against the wealthy Palisades and the Westside. Because of that, the election has become more than a fight over an oil-drilling project and the sanctity of the beaches. The vote now involves the very structure of society in a new Los Angeles--relationships among affluent neighborhoods and poor ones; among whites, blacks, Asians and Latinos; among Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Jews; among large numbers of new immigrants and settled residents, among the many groups whose diversity has eliminated all but the memories of the predominantly white, middle-class, suburban Los Angeles of a few decades ago.
Some contend that such a campaign could be very divisive. In 1973, the city, still affected by the 1965 Watts riots, voted for racial peace when it elected Tom Bradley mayor. Since then, a liberal Democratic coalition, dominated by black and Jewish leaders and voters, has controlled politics in the city. Whenever racial peace was threatened, as during the school-integration crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s, black and Jewish leaders got together and smoothed things over.
But that alliance is creaking. Crisis control has become more complicated than in the days when a few leaders could meet at the Jewish Welfare Federation office or the Urban League headquarters and work things out. Latinos, never fully represented, are demanding a place at the table. Black voting power is being diluted in once heavily black South-Central Los Angeles by the arrival of Latinos--and by the exodus of some middle-class blacks to the suburbs. The Asian population and its political participation are increasing.
The latest oil campaign comes just as these changes are taking place. Neil Sandberg, western regional director of the American Jewish Committee, fears increased tension next year during the mayoral race between Bradley, who is black, and City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who is Jewish. That concern was clear early in the campaign when I talked to Sandberg, a reserved and thoughtful man who has worked for many years to ease racial tensions. "I am convinced that neither Mayor Bradley nor Zev Yaroslavsky would ever utter a racist comment because of their own personal characters and because of their own good sense as politicians," he said. "It would be harmful to them. And yet there are undisciplined elements in both communities who might well say or do things that could be construed as racist."
ON THE BALLOT: DUELING MEASURES
THE CURRENT CONTROVERSY is just the latest chapter in a long fight that began in August, 1966, when Occidental began drilling an exploratory well near Elder Street and Entrada Drive in Pacific Palisades. By September, the company said it found oil at 9,271 feet.