Club opposes drilling plan for land in Whittier set aside as parkland
The Sierra Club Angeles Chapter strongly opposes a plan to allow oil drilling in the Whittier Hills on land that was purchased by the city and supposed to be preserved as open-space parkland.
Club policy strictly forbids drilling and oil development on preserved lands. The land earmarked for drilling was purchased using funding from Proposition A, a 1992 bond measure that allocated $540 million of public money for Safe Neighborhood Parks, Gang Prevention, Tree-Planting, Senior and Youth Recreation Beaches and Wildlife Protection. To allow drilling on this property would set a precedent that could result in other regions, also bought with Proposition A money, to be exposed to future development—and not protected as voters had intended.
Land purchased with bond money
Whittier received $9.3 million of Proposition A money from Los Angeles County that was used to obtain 1,200 acres of land to be preserved as open space. Approximately 960 acres of that space was bought from Chevron, which had used the land for oil production, and the land is currently under the management of the Native Habitat Authority. It's part of the open space wildlife corridor being developed to extend parklands from the Montebello Hills through the Whittier Narrows region into the Puente Chino Hills to the Santa Ana Mountains. The bond measure included $540 million of public money for such acquisitions.
The city of Whittier is now attempting to use approximately 14 acres of this Prop. A-acquired land for oil drilling and development through leases negotiated with Matrix Oil and Clayton Williams Energy in 2008. Three lawsuits currently exist against Whittier over this issue, including those brought by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA), the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) and Los Angeles County.
This protected land is managed by the Puente Hills Native Habitat Authority and is part of a wildlife corridor being developed from the Whittier Narrows through the Puente Hills and on to the Santa Ana Mountains. The proposed vehicle access to the drill site is through the core habitat of the preserved area. The roadway with fire clearance will require a 40-foot-wide swath to be cut through prime vegetation and breeding areas in the preserve.
Lawsuits seek to halt drilling
On August 15, the MRCA accepted a settlement with the city that pays the agency $650,000 in attorney’s fees plus a portion of city oil revenues up to $11.5 million dollars per year—estimated to be about $280 million over the life of the project. The SMMC dropped their suit. The legal action brought by the county, however, is still pending.
The settlements must be approved by L.A. Superior Court. This will take place in front of the same judge who previously told Matrix oil to get off the property when the company began clearing a couple of months ago. No one knows how the court will decide, activists say. What happens next with the lawsuit by Los Angeles County will be determined by the County Board of Supervisors. The project cannot go forward without their approval, but the supervisors could take action to approve or stop the project in coming weeks.
Money for parks, not drilling
The Club's concerns are that these lands were bought with Prop A money and were to be kept as open space in perpetuity—not to be used for oil drilling. It would set a terrible precedent for future projects to be able to buy their way out of protected status.