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COVER STORY : Trouble Underfoot : Environment: Angered by a glut of factories, landfills and auto repair shops, opponents of a proposed oil pipeline say it's just another example of 'environmental racism.' The project's backers say it will mean jobs.

June 13, 1993|LUCILLE RENWICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The corner of San Fernando Road and Pepper Avenue in Cypress Park is a checkerboard of bungalow-style homes, playgrounds and industry, where children and residents routinely inhale dust and noxious fumes from adjacent bus and train maintenance yards.

Art Pulido has lived here all his life and knows of environmental problems beyond the wafting smells of exhaust and fuel. There's lead in the ground near the railway yard. And petroleum pipelines crisscross beneath the train tracks.

Now a consortium of 11 oil companies wants to build a crude-oil pipeline to run near the tracks, across the street from the neighborhood park.

"We're right in the middle of a lot of toxic waste," said Pulido, 40, owner of a messenger service. "And they want to dump more down our throats."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 17, 1993 Home Edition Southeast Part J Page 3 Column 3 Metro Desk 2 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Pipeline funding--A June 13 story incorrectly identified the oil companies that are leading a consortium to help finance the proposed $215-million Pacific Pipeline project from Santa Barbara to refineries in Los Angeles County. The companies are Chevron, Texaco and Exxon.

Pulido is among dozens of residents and activists from the Eastside to South-Central who are joining forces to battle the Pacific Pipeline, a proposed 171-mile conduit that would carry crude oil from Santa Barbara County to refineries in El Segundo and Wilmington.

The first public hearing on the project, before the state Public Utilities Commission, is scheduled for Monday in Downtown Los Angeles.

In Central Los Angeles, the Pacific Pipeline is to travel 20 miles along railroad right-of-way property through Cypress Park, East Los Angeles and Watts, and along the borders of Walnut Park and the Southeast cities of Huntington Park, South Gate, Lynwood, Compton and Carson.

Angered by decades of living with a glut of factories, landfills and auto repair shops, critics say the pipeline--like other projects in these communities--is an example of "environmental racism," a pattern in which the nation's most environmentally hazardous industries are placed in poor and minority areas.

Residents have other fears about the pipeline: ruptures from earthquakes or train derailments, toxic fumes from spills, air pollution from construction, and possible fires and explosions.

Proponents say such concerns are unwarranted, pointing out the project is a state-of-the-art pipeline with safety valves that exceed federal safety requirements for guarding against oil spills. And in the midst of a tough job market, the $215-million pipeline is expected to provide 400 union-scale jobs to Los Angeles County residents. The project calls for creation of a job-training center for inner-city youths.

"We're looking at what we can do to participate in every city we're going through," said Norman Rooney, president of Pacific Pipeline Systems Inc. of Ventura, which is proposing the pipeline on behalf of the oil companies.

The oil companies--led by Chevron, Texaco, Shell and Arco--must find a pipeline route by 1996 to replace the tankers, which each carry about 269,000 barrels to the refineries. The state Coastal Commission has ordered oil companies to phase out the use of tankers, which have a greater risk of spills and air pollution problems than pipelines.

After this week's hearings throughout the affected regions, the state Public Utilities Commission is to decide in July whether the pipeline is environmentally sound. If it gets the go-ahead from the commission, the proposal must then be approved by each city and county it traverses. With no problems, construction would begin in spring, 1994, and the pipeline could be completed the following year.

But trouble may be on the horizon for the project.

Last month, the Los Angeles City Council and the Los Angeles Board of Education approved separate resolutions opposing it.

"The lower-income communities have been dumped on for years. Now we're saying: 'We've paid our share and we don't want any more,' " said Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Hernandez, a leading opponent of the project. "The fact that (companies) continue to try and put things here is racist, because they believe the people will offer the least resistance."

Last year, the federal Environmental Protection Agency released a report that racial and ethnic minorities nationwide suffer disproportionate exposure to dust, soot, carbon monoxide, lead and emissions from hazardous-waste dumps.

A 1987 study by the United Church of Christ's Commission on Racial Justice found that three out of every five blacks and Latinos in the country lived near toxic-waste sites. More Latinos in Los Angeles live in communities near toxic-waste sites than in any other city in the United States, the report noted. Six years later, little has changed.

"What you're saying, in a sense, is that a big segment of the community is considered garbage, a throw-away community," said Robert Bullard, a sociology professor at UC Riverside and an expert on environmental racism. "That is the most blatant form of racism that we can see."

Pipeline proponents argue that there was no racist intent behind the decision to run the project through the Eastside and South Los Angeles. They said the route is the most logical and financially feasible since nearly 80% of it falls along the Southern Pacific Railroad right of way.

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