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Activists score key victory in Whittier drilling

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Date: 
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
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From Chapter reports

More than 100 activists from the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter and other environmental groups turned out in force last week to oppose 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 — and their voices didn't go unheard.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously against granting a land use change for the property in the California city that was purchased with funds from Prop 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.

The L.A. supervisors' action has temporarily stopped the proposed oil drilling from moving forward. Matrix Oil of Santa Barbara, which entered into the agreement with Whittier, argued that the Board of Supervisors did not have the authority to halt the project. So this will likely not be the last we hear of the drilling proposal. The Los Angeles Times reports that litigation already is underway over this issue.
 
"This is not a complicated issue," said Yvonne Watson of the Angeles Chapter and the Montebello Hills Task Force. "These lands were bought with Prop A funds, which were approved by the voters to buy park land. That is the plain and simple truth of the matter. Matrix Oil is trying to make this into a complicated issue; it is not. It is simply the voice of the people who said 'We want parks; here's our money.' They did not say 'We want parks, here's our money, now go buy an oil field.' "
 
The supervisors' vote is a big victory for land preservation in L.A. County and across the state of California. Had the board approved the land use change, many sites across the L.A. Basin that were also purchased using Prop A funds could be at risk for future oil drilling. It could have set a precedent in L.A. County and in other parts of California threatening the preservation of other lands previously purchased using  tax payer funds.

Decades ago, Whittier received $9.3 million of Proposition A money from Los Angeles County that was used to obtain1,200 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 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.

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.

4 comments

I am a local resident who strongly supports a wildlife corridor. Due to getting side tracked with the mundane side of life, I have not kept up on local issues. I am saddened that I was not aware of this recent development. Where can I go to get involved?

Never rely on local government to protect open space when money is involved. Such important issues as land use should never be left up to the whims of five locally elected morons!

the PEOPLE spoke when "We the People" voted in Prop.A. Not one inch of that land can be used for anything but a park and/or wildlife management zone-EVER.

I don't want to see trucks and drills upon the Whittier Hills. I want to see the natural beauty of Whittier Hills so that everyone can enjoy the view!

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