By a unanimous vote and after a four-hour public hearing, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors rejected the City of Whittier’s proposal to allow gas and oil exploration in the Whittier Hills, maintaining that the land should be used only for open public space.
In 1992 and again in 1996, Los Angeles County voters approved Proposition A, agreeing to tax themselves for 22 years to generate funds to pay for the acquisition, development and improvement of parks, beaches and open spaces. The proposition approved by 64 percent of voters in 1992 generated $859 million.
Using $16.3 million in Proposition A funds, Whittier acquired a 1,280-acre oil field in 1995 with the stated goal of transforming it into an oasis for recreation and wildlife preservation. However, in 2008, Whittier entered into a lease with Matrix Oil Corporation to allow oil and gas drilling on a portion of the property. The agreement sparked several lawsuits, and a Superior Court judge ordered the city to obtain the county’s consent before pursuing the agreement.
In late October, after hearing from nearly 130 people, most of whom testified in opposition to the proposal, the supervisors also voiced their concerns.
“When L.A. County voters approved Proposition A, they entrusted that the Board of Supervisors act as the custodian of these funds to ensure that they be used to expand parkland and preserve open space,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “I cannot and will not vote in support of a project that so clearly runs counter to the intent of Proposition A.”
“This is not a fight just for Whittier, but it’s a fight for every piece of parkland in L.A. County that has been purchased with Proposition A funds,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
Supervisor Antonovich said supporting the oil drilling project would “open Pandora’s box” and make other Proposition A open space agreements vulnerable to legal challenge.
“The problem I have with the proposal before us today is if you’re granted a deviation from Prop A, then all the other open space agreement that we have made — and that was for a lifetime not a time frame – would be violated,” he said.
Not all in attendance, however, opposed the oil drilling plan.
Carol Crosby spoke on behalf of the Whittier Chamber of Commerce, asking the board to approve the plan.
“It will ultimately benefit our community,” she said, saying the oil drilling would bring jobs and desperately needed sales tax revenue to a community struggling due to the loss of redevelopment funds as well as the loss of significant businesses such as car dealerships.
Crosby added that the oil project would affect only a 7-acre site, or .6 percent of the total habitat.
After the vote, Chairman Ridley-Thomas noted the value of Proposition A funds in the county.
“In my own district, Prop A funds have been instrumental in renovating and building new parks, constructing the district’s first nature center and establishing the Park to Playa regional trail that will connect the beach to Baldwin Hills.
“Open space holds value in communities,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “It is life affirming and it promotes health and well-being. I applaud the board for upholding the public’s trust.”