Hoping to Bring Back the EIR on Oil Drilling for a Further Look, Citizens File SuitBy My Opinion @ 8:00 AM December 01, 2008
From Kenneth L. Kutcher
[Editor’s Note: As promised a month ago when “unfriendly” verdicts were rendered by the County Board of Supervisors regarding drilling in the Baldwin Hills, citizens of the Culver Crest area have filed suit against the County and the oil drilling company known as PXP. “Our purpose,” said Kenneth L. Kutcher, lead attorney for the petitioners, “is to request the Superior Court to order the County to revise and re-circulate for further review and public comment the Environmental Impact Report. The EIR needs to study the Community Standards District as adopted, and the mitigation measures in the CSD need to be more fully developed at that time. The lawsuit does not attempt to prohibit all oil drilling in the Baldwin Hills. Rather, this lawsuit seeks to ensure that future drilling and production of oil and gas in the Baldwin Hills is done safely and responsibly to mitigate significant potential adverse impacts on the surrounding communities and natural environment.” The case was filed last Tuesday, and the County was served the next day.]
SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
FOR THE COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES
CENTRAL JUDICIAL DISTRICT
COMMUNITY HEALTH COUNCILS, INC.,
a California nonprofit public benefit corporation,
NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL,
a non-profit corporation, and MARK SALKIN, an individual,
COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES,
and DOES 1 through 30,
VERIFIED PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDATE
(Pub. Res. Code §§ 21168 & 21168.9; CCP § 1085)
PLAINS EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION COMPANY,
a Delaware corporation,
and DOES 31 through 100,
Real Parties in Interest.
Petitioners COMMUNITY HEALTH COUNCILS, INC., a California nonprofit public benefit corporation, NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL, a non-profit corporation, and MARK SALKIN, an individual, (collectively "Petitioners") file this Petition for Writ of Mandate pursuant to California Public Resources Code Sections 21168 & 21168.9 and California Code of Civil Procedure Section 1085, based on the following allegations:
1. Petitioners are filing this lawsuit against the County of Los Angeles ("County") because the County's preparation of an Environmental Impact Report ("EIR") failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA") (Pub. Res. Code §§ 21000, et seq.). The County's Statement of Overriding Considerations was also incomplete. Moreover, the County failed to comply with the procedural requirements of its County Code prior to adopting the oil drilling ordinance that was the subject of the EIR.
2. Petitioners are challenging the EIR for the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District (State Clearinghouse Number 2007061133). Petitioners are also challenging Los Angeles County Ordinance No. 2008-0057 establishing the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District.
3. The Baldwin Hills Community Standards District ("CSD") is a special zoning overlay district adopted to regulate oil and gas operations in the unincorporated Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles County.
4. This lawsuit does not attempt to prohibit all oil drilling in the Baldwin Hills. Rather, this lawsuit seeks to ensure that future drilling and production of oil and gas in the Baldwin Hills is done safely and responsibly to mitigate potential significant adverse impacts on the surrounding communities and natural environment.
5. The California Supreme Court has held that a major purpose of an EIR is "to demonstrate to an apprehensive citizenry that the agency has in fact analyzed and considered the ecological implications of its action." No Oil, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles, 13 Cal. 3d 68, 86, 118 Cal. Rptr 34 (1974); State CEQA Guidelines Section 15003(d). The challenged EIR failed to achieve this purpose.
6. While going through the charade of an extensive public outreach campaign but refusing to revise and recirculate the EIR notwithstanding voluminous public comments received the County gave short-shrift to CEQA. As a result, the County failed to adequately mitigate the effects of drilling 600 new oil and gas wells pursuant to ministerial permits within the existing oil field in Baldwin Hills over the next twenty years in close proximity to thousands of residents, as well as schools, parks, and businesses.
7. The whole EIR process was rushed, because the County's ability to limit oil drilling on an interim basis expired one week after the Draft EIR was issued. As a result, although the Draft EIR contained obvious flaws as to significant information, the County refused to revise and recirculate the corrections.
8. Moreover, the oil drilling regulations studied in the EIR were drafted by the oil company the operates the Baldwin Hills oil wells and were not similar to the regulations ultimately adopted by the County. Thus, the EIR studied the impacts of 453 net new wells over the next 20 years, but the oil drilling ordinance as adopted by the County allows 600 new wells to be drilled by ministerial permits over the next 20 years without any further CEQA compliance and without regard to how many wells may be abandoned over that timeframe.
9. Additionally, the County refused to evaluate the proposed oil drilling regulations for consistency with the Baldwin Hills Park Master Plan adopted in 2002 by the Baldwin Hills Conservancy and California Department of Parks and Recreation.
10. And by not simultaneously developing the implementation plans called for in the EIR, the County has unlawfully deferred the development of mitigation measures critical to the avoidance of potentially significant adverse environmental effects. But such mitigation measures are crucial to ensuring that oil drilling in the Baldwin Hills proceeds in a safe and environmentally sensitive manner.
11. The EIR also studied an inadequate range of project alternatives. The studied alternatives should have included: a reduced drilling alternative, a no-project alternative that prohibits all new drilling activity in the existing oil field, the One Big Park alternative outlined in the Baldwin Hills Master Plan, and an alternative oil drilling regulation that would include a conditional use permit process for all new drilling permits. Despite public comments suggesting these alternatives for study when the EIR was commenced, none of these alternatives was considered in the EIR.
12. Furthermore, the County's Statement of Overriding Considerations is inadequate based upon the County's failure to identify and acknowledge the unmitigable impacts of increasing and prolonging the extraction of nonrenewable oil and gas resources from the Baldwin Hills, despite the mandate under CEQA to make such a determination as a per se significant impact.
13. Additionally, before adopting the oil drilling ordinance that was the subject of the EIR, the County failed to refer the proposed zoning legislation with certain last minute revisions proposed by County Supervisor Yvonne Burke back to the Regional Planning Commission as required by the County Municipal Code.
14. Thus, Petitioners are seeking a Writ of Mandate to compel the County to revise and recirculate the EIR, to correct and reconsider the proposed Statement of Overriding Considerations, and to allow the Planning Commission to consider and make recommendations concerning the amended CSD ordinance.
15. All drilling or related oil and gas permits issued pending the resolution of this litigation should be required to satisfy the revised oil drilling legislation that will result from this litigation. If the oil company elects to proceed with any of the 24 new wells authorized during the first year, it will do so at its own risk.
16. At all times herein mentioned, Petitioner COMMUNITY HEALTH COUNCILS, INC., ("CHC") was and is a California non-profit corporation duly organized and existing under the laws of the State of California. CHC's mission is to advocate for and improve the health and human conditions of the communities it serves through representation, empowerment, and support. CHC's offices are located within the County of Los Angeles in close proximity to the Oil Field. CHC was the catalyst behind the formation of the Greater Baldwin Hills Alliance, a coalition of concerned citizens and organizations that participated in the public review process of the EIR and CSD. CHC participated directly throughout this process.
17. At all times herein mentioned, Petitioner NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL, ("NRDC") was and is a not-for-profit membership corporation organized under the laws of the State of New York, with offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Beijing, China. NRDC has approximately 429,367 members throughout the United States, including 82,303 members in the State of California. Over 300 of NRDC’s members live in the immediate vicinity of the Baldwin Hills. The health, well-being, and enjoyment of these members will be adversely affected by a CSD that is not adequately protective of human health and the environment. NRDC is dedicated to the preservation, protection and defense of the environment, its wildlife and natural resources. NRDC actively pursues effective enforcement of land use planning rules, regulations and laws, including CEQA, and the preservation of open space and natural areas in Southern California on behalf of its members.
18. At all times herein mentioned, Petitioner MARK SALKIN ("Salkin") was and is an individual residing in Culver City, California, and paying taxes to the County of Los Angeles. Salkin is an officer and founder of the Culver Crest Neighborhood Association, an association of 500 households in a Culver City neighborhood adjacent to the Oil Field.
19. At all times herein mentioned, Respondent COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES ("County") was and is a California charter county duly organized as such under the laws of the State of California. Acting as the lead agency for purposes of CEQA, the County prepared and certified the EIR, prepared and adopted the Statement of Overriding Considerations, and prepared and adopted the Ordinance.
20. At all times herein mentioned, Real Party in Interest PLAINS EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION COMPANY ("PXP") was and is a Delaware corporation, existing under the laws of the State of Delaware and doing business in the State of California and County of Los Angeles. PXP is the operator of the Baldwin Hills Oil Field, also known as the Inglewood Oil Field ("Oil Field"). PXP filed an application with the County to establish the CSD. PXP also drafted the CSD that was studied in the EIR.
21. Petitioners do not know the true names or capacities of the parties sued herein as DOES 1 through 100, inclusive, and therefore sue these Respondents/Real Parties in Interest by such fictitious names. Petitioners will amend this Petition to state their true names and capacities when they have been ascertained. Petitioners are informed and believe and thereon allege that each of the fictitiously named Respondents/Real Parties in Interest is responsible in some manner for the occurrences herein alleged.
22. The Oil Field is a large, irregularly-shaped area consisting of approximately 750 to 1,000 acres of unincorporated land located in the Baldwin Hills. The Oil Field is located in the heart of one of the nation's largest and most populous metropolitan areas. The Oil Field is bisected by La Cienega Boulevard, north of Slauson Avenue. The Oil Field is bounded by the cities of Los Angeles and Culver City, as well as the West Los Angeles Community College campus and the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. Surrounding communities include Culver Crest, Ladera Heights, Blair Hills and Windsor Hills.
23. The Oil Field includes portions of the Newport-Inglewood Fault. This fault zone is seismically active and part of the San Andreas Fault System. Portions of the Oil Field are included within the Alquist-Priolo Fault Zone. According to the EIR the fault is capable of generating a maximum earthquake of magnitude 6.0 to 7.4. (FEIR at p. 4.4-6.) The maximum cumulative subsidence of any of the areas along the Newport-Inglewood Fault Zone is centered over the Inglewood Oil Field. (FEIR at p. 4.4-10.)
24. The Oil Field began operation in 1924 when the area was primarily farm land. Livestock grazing, primarily by sheep, was the predominant economic use of land in the Baldwin Hills at that time. (FEIR at p. 4.8-1.)
25. Over time, cultivated croplands that had been reclaimed from the low-lying swampy terrain (i.e., cienegas) in the gently sloping portion of Los Angeles basin that surrounded the Baldwin Hills were gradually converted to residential suburbs. (Id.)
26. With the incorporation of the City of Inglewood, residential development was spurred by transportation improvements, including the automobile. Farmlands and brickyard to the south of the Oil Field were transformed to urban uses. (Id.)
27. In Culver City, both residential development and the foundation of movie studios (and their associated supporting industries) grew in the areas to the west and northwest of the Oil Field. (id.)
28. The northeastern and eastern sides of the Baldwin Hills experienced the westerly spread of the suburban growth of the City of Los Angeles. (Id.)
29. In 1969, West Los Angeles College was established adjacent to a portion of the Oil Field. This community college serves nearly 10,000 students, includes a child daycare center, and encompasses almost 70 acres. Other schools in the immediate vicinity include Windsor Hills Elementary, Baldwin Hills Elementary, Hillcrest Elementary and the Ohr Eliyahu Academy (at the former Linda Vista Elementary School site).
30. Today there are numerous established residential neighborhoods around the Oil Field. These communities include Ladera Heights, Culver Crest, Blair Hills, Baldwin Hills, Baldwin Vista, View Park, Culver City Creekside, and Windsor Hills. A large number of single family homes are located in the vicinity of the Oil Field. Many of these single family residences are located along the ridgelines above and below the Oil Field in the western and eastern portions of the Baldwin Hills. Multi-family dwellings are also located in the vicinity of the Oil Field, including the complexes known as Village Green, Cameo Woods, Raintree Townhomes, Raintree Condominiums, Tara Hills, Lakeside Village, Lakeside Villas and The Heather, as well as numerous units located in the vicinity of Jim Gilliam Park. Marycrest Manor, a residential skilled nursing home for the aged and infirm, is located immediately along the Oil Field border.
31. Within three miles of the Oil Field, the ethnic makeup of the resident population is: 40% are African American, 23% are Hispanic, 11% are non-Hispanic White, 8% are Asian-Pacific Islander and 17% are "other." Economically, over 18% live in poverty.
32. There are also various parks and recreation areas immediately surrounding the Oil Field, including Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, the Ladera Ball fields, the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, Culver City Park, and Norman O. Houston Park.
33. Standard Oil of California (also eventually known as Chevron) was the Oil Field's original operator. Over 1,600 wells have been drilled in the Oil Field since the first well in 1924, although oil production from the Field quickly hit its production peak at a rate of over 90,000 barrels of oil per day in 1925. In 1925, 176 new wells were drilled. Gas production hit its peak in the 1960s. The Field's oil and gas production declined throughout the 1980s. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, an average of less than four new wells were drilled per year. (EIR § 2.0, Project Description.)
34. Oil and gas are no longer as readily recovered from the Oil Field as they once were. So-called "enhanced recovery techniques" are now required. PXP's current activities involve high pressure injection of water into the earth to extract the oil and gas from reservoirs located generally between 1,000 and 10,000 feet beneath the surface. (FEIR at p. 2-8.) The wells extract roughly 97% water through this method. (FEIR at p. 2-11.) The extracted material is processed at a central plant on-site to remove the crude oil from the water and remove hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, ethane, propane, butane and other liquid gases from the natural gas. Current production volumes are approximately 300,000 barrels per day ("bpd") of water, 8,700 bpd of oil, and 5,700 thousand standard cubic feet per day of natural gas. The crude oil and gas is pumped off-site through pipelines. (FEIR at p. 2-8.)
35. Altogether some 368 million barrels of oil and 269 billion cubic feet of natural gas have been produced from the Oil Field to date. (FEIR at p. 1-1.)
36. Scientists previously discovered a linear relationship between oil and gas extraction and ground subsidence in the Baldwin Hills. (FEIR at p. 4.4-10.) Surveying indicated that greater than two feet of subsidence-related, horizontal earth movement occurred in the Baldwin Hills from 1934 to 1961. (FEIR at pp. 4.4-10 through 4.4-11.) In fact, by 1957, up to 10 feet of subsidence occurred in certain areas of the Baldwin Hills. (FEIR at p. 4.4-11.) This subsidence resulted in the catastrophic failure of the Baldwin Hills dam on December 14, 1963, killing five people and damaging or destroying 277 homes. (FEIR at 4.4-10.) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIeNM8cm6J8.)
37. Subsidence in the Baldwin Hills decreased with the advent of injecting water into the reservoirs to replace the withdrawn oil and gas reserves. However, researchers from the United States Geological Survey determined that from October 1993 to October 1998, portions of the Baldwin Hills were instead experiencing uplift as a result of water injection. (FEIR at p. 4.4-11.) Scientists have also determined that the possibility exists for earthquakes to occur along pre-existing fault lines when there is increased pressure from injection wells used in enhanced recovery operations. (Id.)
38. Over the years, the Oil Field's operators have transitioned from Standard Oil to Texaco and Chevron to Stocker Resources and now to PXP.
39. PXP owns the mineral rights to the Oil Field. But for the most part, PXP does not own the land within the Field.
40. The portion of the Oil Field covered by the CSD consists of 26 separate parcels. The land is owned by at least 20 diverse interests, including various family trusts, various companies and LLCs, Chevron USA, the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Community College District, the Baldwin Hills Conservancy, various utility companies, and others, as well as PXP. (FEIR Table 2.1.) Pursuant to a master lease, PXP pays royalties to the land owners based on the volume of oil and gas production.
41. The Oil Field currently has 436 active producing wells, 207 active water injection wells, 177 idled wells (i.e., not currently producing, but also not closed or "abandoned" in accordance with State regulatory requirements), and 643 abandoned (i.e., closed) wells. (FEIR at p. 2-16.)
42. The Oil Field also includes an existing gas plant flare. The existing flare is quite large and unregulated. When in use, the existing flare can cause major vibration to homes in the region. Petitioners assert that unconstrained use of the existing flare constitutes a public nuisance.
43. In 1991, when Chevron sold the Oil Field mineral rights to Stocker Resources, a Phase I and Phase II environmental site assessment was done to seek to identify contamination within the Oil Field. The Phase I investigation identified some 284 sites as having the potential for contamination with hazardous materials in soil or surface water. (FEIR at p. 2-30.) More than 15 years later, remediation of the identified contamination is on-going. It will take another 20 years to complete the remediation of all of the identified contamination at the site. (FEIR at p. 2-31.)
44. The Oil Field is designated as Open Space in the Los Angeles County General Plan. According to the Planning Commission Resolution in this matter, the intent of the Open Space category is to maintain land in an open character for public safety, recreation, scenic enjoyment, resource production, and for the protection and study of natural ecosystems. Agricultural, recreational, and mineral extraction are defined as compatible land uses in the Open Space land use category.
45. Most of the Oil Field is zoned Heavy Agricultural (A-2), and one parcel of the Oil Field containing the processing plant facilities is zoned Restricted Heavy Manufacturing (M-1½). Pursuant to Los Angeles County Code Section 22.24.120.D, oil and gas extraction operations are allowed by right in the A-2 zoning district; most other zones, including the residential, commercial and manufacturing zones, only allow oil wells and oil well drilling with a conditional use permit from the County.
46. Until the adoption of the CSD, oil operations in the Baldwin Hills were entirely ministerial as to the County and therefore did not trigger any requirements for compliance with CEQA within the County.
47. In 2003, PXP obtained three-dimensional seismic surveys of the Oil Field to identify additional reserves. After acquiring this data, PXP embarked on an aggressive plan to intensify drilling in the Oil Field, including so-called deep drilling.
48. Each new well is drilled on a 24-hour basis, and the drilling lasts for approximately 7 to 30 days. (FEIR at p. 3-3.)
49. The EIR studied drilling 1,065 new wells in the Oil Field over the next 20 years. 965 of the new wells were to be located within unincorporated portions of the County and within the area covered by the CSD, and 100 were to be located outside of the unincorporated area and within the City of Culver City and therefore outside of the boundaries of the CSD. (FEIR Table 3.1.)
50. The EIR also assumed abandonment of 640 existing wells in the Oil Field over the next 20 years. 512 wells were to be abandoned within unincorporated portions of the County and within the area covered by the CSD, and 128 were to be abandoned outside of the unincorporated area and within the City of Culver City and therefore outside of the boundaries of the CSD. (FEIR Table 3.2.)
51. Thus, the EIR studied a net increase of 453 wells within the CSD over the next 20 years, or an average increase of less than 23 wells per year. This data was supplied to the County by PXP. This data was reflected in the Project Description for the Notice of Preparation ("NOP") issued by the County on June 28, 2007 for the EIR. It was also reflected in the Draft EIR issued by the County on June 19, 2008. It was also reflected in the Final EIR issued by the County in October 2008.
52. But the CSD Ordinance, as adopted, allows up to 600 wells to be drilled over the next 20 years by ministerial review without any further CEQA compliance, even if none of the existing wells are abandoned.
THE BALDWIN HILLS CONSERVANCY ACT AND THE BALDWIN HILLS PARK MASTER PLAN
53. The Baldwin Hills represent one of the last largely undeveloped areas of open space in urban Los Angeles County. Over one million people live within five miles of the Baldwin Hills, and, with barely one acre of parkland per one thousand people, this is one of the most park-poor regions in California. The Baldwin Hills present a unique opportunity to enrich the lives of millions by creating one of the most dramatic new parks in an urban setting desperately in need of critical park space.
54. In 1999, the State Legislature passed Senate Bill No. 1048 (Murray, 1999) declaring the Legislature's intent to provide for the expansion of the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area in the Baldwin Hills. This legislation contemplated the development of a master plan to accomplish the following goals: (A) increase active recreation opportunities for underserved communities, (B) create a comprehensive trail system, (C) provide for public access and entry ways, (D) protect and restore natural habitat, (E) protect critical viewsheds, (F) protect and improve urban water quality, (G) emphasize connections between existing parks, trails, and urban streams, (H) restore industrial lands to park and open-space use, and (I) protect watersheds connecting to Santa Monica Bay. This legislation assumes eventual conversion of the Oil Field into the largest urban park created in the last century anywhere in the nation.
55. To advance that goal, the Baldwin Hills Conservancy ("Conservancy") was created by Senate Bill No. 1625 (2000, Murray) as part of the Baldwin Hills Conservancy Act. (Pub. Res. Code §§ 32550, et seq.) The Conservancy is within the California Resources Agency. (Pub. Res. Code § 32555.)
56. After at least eight public workshops involving more than 800 participants, the Conservancy adopted the Baldwin Hills Park Master Plan as required by Public Resources Code Section 32565.5(f): "[T]he conservancy shall, by May 1, 2002, approve the master plan." Prior to its adoption, the Park Master Plan was also submitted to the California Department of Parks and Recreation in August 2001.
57. The County was an active participant in the development and adoption of the Baldwin Hills Park Master Plan, as were Stocker Resources (i.e., PXP's predecessor in interest) and multiple landowners of the Oil Field including representatives of the Cone Family, the Bickers Group, the Airey Family Trust and others.
58. The CSD is located within the area encompassed by the Baldwin Hills Park Master Plan.
IMPETUS FOR ADOPTION OF THE CSD:
JANUARY AND FEBRUARY 2006 NOXIOUS GASES FROM THE OIL FIELD
59. Beginning at about midnight on January 10-11, 2006, uncontrolled emissions of methane gas and hydrogen sulfide occurred in the Oil Field and permeated the adjacent Culver Crest neighborhood. Many residents evacuated their homes.
60. The City of Culver City received at least 60 complaints late that night continuing into the following early morning. Representatives from the South Coast Air Quality Management District ("SCAQMD"), the Culver City Fire Department, the Los Angeles County Fire Department, and the Los Angeles County Health & Hazardous Materials Department were dispatched to the neighborhood at about 4:00 a.m., resulting in Emergency Response Notification #121860.
61. According to the SCAQMD Report:
"[O]n January 10th at 21:30hrs, [PXP's] crew had encountered a large methane gas pocket (trap) during the drilling activities at a depth of 8850ft. The build up of methane gas immediately occurred during the drilling operation in which a large amount of drilling spoils and other contaminated base material sprayed out from the well head during the shut down process which occurred until nearly 1:30hrs on January 11th.
"Approximately 400 barrels of petroleum contaminated mud was stockpiled inside an adjacent open sump with at least 10 barrels on the ground surrounding the drill rig equipment.
"At 06:00hrs, [SCAQMD Inspector Israel] inspected the sump location and detected a very heavy petroleum odor throughout the location. The nearest residence is less than 1/2 mile south of the drill rig site."
62. Approximately 500 homes are located in this neighborhood and were impacted by the incident. PXP reported readings of "around 1,500 to 2,000 ppm of hydrocarbons" as a result of this incident. (SCAQMD Air Quality Complaint Report for Complaint No. 181387.) Petitioner Salkin lived and continues to live in this neighborhood. Petitioner Salkin was the president of the Culver Crest Neighborhood Association at that time.
63. On February 7, 2006, a similar incident occurred. In addition to residents of Culver Crest, West Los Angeles College also called to complain because this incident occurred at 11:00 in the morning when classes were in session. According to PXP's Vice-President Mr. Steve Rusch, "[T]here was no gas release and really nothing we could do to prevent it -- it was routine, daytime operations." This second incident resulted in Notice of Violation No. P37137 issued by the SCAQMD to PXP on February 17, 2006 because "[d]ischarge from oil well drilling operation caused nuisance to a considerable number of people."
64. At the time of these two incidents, there were essentially no County zoning regulations controlling operations or expansion of the Oil Field.
65. As a result, on June 27, 2006, the County Board of Supervisors adopted Urgency Ordinance No. 2006-0050U "to impose additional temporary restrictions on the drilling of new wells and the deepening of existing wells in the Baldwin Hills Zoned District and initiate a zoning study to consider potential additional permanent regulations of these historical oil and gas production operations in that area, including a determination of the appropriate environmental review to be required."
66. This first emergency ordinance was adopted because:
"[T]he Board of Supervisors finds that there is a current and immediate threat to the public health, safety, or welfare, and that the drilling or deepening of new wells and the approval of any required additional subdivisions, variances, building permits, site plans, or any other applicable entitlements in connection therewith would result in that threat to the public health, safety, or welfare." (Ord. No. 2006-0050U, § 6.)
67. On August 8, 2006, the Board of Supervisors adopted Ordinance No. 2006-0064U to extend Interim Ordinance No. 2006-0050U because:
"It is now time for the County to undertake additional environmental review and to consider new regulations . . . [W]e must face the fact these activities now operate within the midst of a densely populated urban area . . . The extension will enable the County to undertake essential environmental and zoning studies that will help identify appropriate permanent regulations. [ ¶ ] These important studies will necessarily include the active participation and expertise of the State Department of Conservation and the City of Culver City."
68. Notwithstanding these statements, the County made virtually no effort to involve the participation of the City of Culver City and only belatedly solicited any input from the State Department of Conservation prior to the County's adoption of the CSD.
69. On May 29, 2007, the Board of Supervisors was required to adopt Ordinance No. 2007-0064, further extending and modifying Ordinance No. 2006-0064. At the time Ordinance No. 2007-0064U was adopted, the County Regional Planning staff wrote in its staff report to the Board of Supervisors:
"County staff is working diligently with a consultant team to prepare an environmental impact report to assess the effect of existing and future oil production activities on the surrounding communities. A community standards district is being drafted to establish permanent land use regulations, procedures and development standards to assure that future oil field operations are compatible with the health and safety of surrounding residential neighborhoods. These environmental studies and regulations will be prepared with extensive community involvement so that all the concerns of residents are addressed. This process, which also includes formal public hearings by the Regional Planning Commission and the Board, will be completed next year." (Emphasis added.)
70. Ordinance No. 2007-0064U included a complete moratorium on any new drilling in the Oil Field.
71. PXP asserts that it has not drilled a new well since June 21, 2007.
72. It was not until June 28, 2007, that the County finally issued its Notice of Preparation ("NOP") for the EIR which means that the EIR preparation had only just begun. (See State CEQA Guidelines § 15082 ("Immediately after deciding that an environmental impact report is required for a project, the lead agency shall send to the Office of Planning and Research and each responsible and trustee agency a notice of preparation stating that an environmental impact report will be prepared").) This also means that on the date of the NOP, which is generally treated as the baseline date for purposes of CEQA, there was a moratorium on all new drilling.
73. In November 2006, the County issued its Baldwin Hills Oil Field Operation Zoning Study. The County's Zoning Study found:
"The Baldwin Hills area has included oil and gas production operations dating back to the 1920s, when the area was largely undeveloped. Today these activities operate in the midst of a densely populated urban area and concerns have recently been raised regarding the potential conflicts between oil and gas extraction operations and the surrounding residential, recreational and institutional uses. [Citation omitted.]
"The surrounding residential communities, in particular, have recently expressed concern regarding the recent increase in oil and gas production operations. For many years, oil production in the Baldwin Hills had remained at a relatively unchanged level. Within the last three years, however, higher petroleum prices have led to an increase in production at the oil field. During this time, several new wells have been drilled and existing wells deepened, increasing the surrounding communities' awareness and concern over the oil field activities.
"Furthermore, in January 2006, an unusually large, but controlled escape of gas occurred during an oil well drilling operation. The escaping gas created a strong odor that quickly drifted toward the residential areas. Residents were unaware of the source of the odor and became concerned that the fumes were dangerous and alerted their local officials. This incident further added to concerns regarding the potential impacts of the oil field operations on the surrounding communities and highlighted the need to update existing regulations to reflect the urban condition under which the oil field is currently operating."
74. Despite these statements in the Zoning Study and the Interim Ordinances, the Draft EIR failed to even mention the January 2006 event.
75. The County's Zoning Study recommended that a CSD be created to regulate the Oil Field because, "The CSD adoption process would provide a discretionary review of the oil and gas field operations, which would require that an environmental document be prepared under CEQA reporting requirements" and because, "It would also give the oil and gas field operator the benefit of a one-time discretionary process where the impacts and issues are addressed and all future operations are considered and conceptually approved."
76. According to the County's Zoning Study, the CSD was to include consolidation of oil wells, restoration of unused and/or abandoned well sites, conversion of unused oil field property to public open space, numbers/appearance/locations of new wells, phasing of additional oil field activities, coordination with other County departments and public agencies, and various other concerns. The CSD could be initiated "either by the County or the property owner [sic]; the accompanying EIR could be paid for by the property owner [sic]." Presumably the County references to "the property owner" were meant to refer to PXP, the Oil Field operator.
77. The County's Zoning Study asserted: "An environmental impact report (EIR) would be prepared for the CSD and the impacts of the oil field activities would be thoroughly evaluated."
78. On March 6, 2007, PXP submitted its application for the CSD. At that time, oil prices were soaring upwards.
THE NOTICE OF PREPARATION
79. On June 28, 2007 -- exactly one year after adopting the first Urgency Interim Zoning Ordinance -- the County issued its Notice of Preparation ("NOP") for the EIR. Comments were accepted for a period of thirty days.
80. The County received numerous comment letters on the NOP, including letters from the State Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources ("DOGGR"), the Baldwin Hills Conservancy, the State Department of Transportation, the South Coast Air Quality Management District ("SCAQMD"), the County Department of Public Works, the County Department of Parks and Recreation, the City of Culver City, the Native American Heritage Commission, Petitioner CHC, United Homeowners Association, Inc., The City Project, and the Culver Crest Neighborhood Association.
81. The County failed to address the vast majority of the comments it received, including comments concerning the importance of an accurate project description, the lack of a draft CSD regulation, the need for improved project objectives, alternatives for reduced drilling limits over the next 20 years, the need to evaluate consistency with the Baldwin Hills Park Master Plan (as to land use, recreation and project alternatives), and a "no project alternative" that involves prohibiting all new drilling (without limiting the on-going operation of existing wells).
THE DRAFT CSD AS STUDIED IN THE EIR
82. PXP -- not the County -- drafted the CSD studied in the EIR. PXP did not deliver its draft CSD to the County until January 7, 2008. This was more than six months after the NOP was issued, and after work on the EIR had already been commenced. Thus, the NOP's scope of environmental review did not, and could not possibly have, taken into account the contents of the CSD.
83. On January 25, 2008, the County suggested various revisions to the CSD as drafted by PXP. But, prior to release of the Draft EIR, PXP declined to make most of those changes recommended by the County.
84. The CSD as studied in the EIR was not drafted by the County. Furthermore, the CSD as studied in the EIR is substantially different from the CSD as ultimately adopted by the County. Specifically:
• PXP's CSD did not specify how many new wells could be drilled per year or on a periodic 20-year basis. Thus, the impacts of allowing by ministerial permit up to 600 new wells over the next 20 years without regard to abandonment of existing wells was not considered in the EIR. These impacts include:
(a) the increased water usage for additional well injections,
(b) the additional noise of more well operation,
(c) the additional need for more storage tanks, (d) the possible need for additional flaring,
(e) the heightened hazard of earthquake risk,
(f) the need for additional security and lighting,
(g) the impact on greenhouse gases,
(h) the further reduction of nonrenewable oil and gas resources, and
(i) the decreased possibility of park expansion.
• PXP's CSD did not contemplate preparation and submission of more than 25 plans for monitoring oil and gas drilling and production. Thus, PXP's CSD did not trigger the need to consider the criteria and standards for contents and review of such mitigation plans. Such plans include, but are not limited to, a community alert notification system, emergency response plan, odor minimization plan, air monitoring plan, meteorological station design, fugitive dust control plan, amortization and abandonment schedule for wells located within the new setback area, accelerometer installation design, erosion control plan, accumulated ground movement study program, ground movement monitoring plan, drilling quiet mode plan, special status species and habitat protection plan, biological resources emergency response plan, construction treatment plan as to cultural/historic resources, landscaping/visual screening/irrigation plan, recycling plan, water management plan, ground water monitoring plan, unused/abandoned equipment removal plan, hazardous material business plan, annual drilling/redrilling/well abandonment/well pad restoration plans, tank leak program, environmental quality assurance program, and safety inspection/maintenance/quality assurance program.
• PXP's CSD prohibited intentionally burning gas emission by open flame in lieu of venting; the County's CSD mandates the burning of such gases when they are released.
• PXP's CSD required all drilling conducted within 500 feet of one or more residences to be enclosed with fire-resistant and soundproofing material; the County's CSD contains no such requirement.
• PXP's CSD required that upon conversion of any portion of the Oil Field to a different use, all wells on the parcel would be abandoned or re-abandoned to current State standards; the County's CSD contains no such requirement.
85. A coalition of community groups, known as the Greater Baldwin Hills Alliance, prepared and submitted a draft CSD to the County on June 18, 2008.
86. The County did not release its draft CSD until after the Draft EIR had already been released. Because of this, key elements of the County's CSD were not studied in the EIR, including the intention to require the Oil Field operation to prepare dozens of implementation plans, the contents and criteria for evaluation of which are still not known to this date.
87. The Draft EIR was released on June 19, 2008. The project studied in the EIR was the CSD as drafted by PXP and not the CSD as drafted by the County. The Draft EIR did not study the County's draft CSD.
88. The County's interim oil drilling moratorium (Ordinance No. 2007-0064U) expired seven days later on June 26, 2008.
89. The County's interim oil drilling legislation had lasted for two years. Pursuant to Government Code Section 65858, the County was legally prevented from further extending the interim zoning without certification of the EIR.
90. On July 1, 2008, PXP issued a letter to the County offering not to initiate any new drilling applications through October 21, 2008. PXP's letter is based on the County's "commitment . . . to move expeditiously through the public comment period and public hearing process."
91. Because the interim zoning ordinances expired on June 26, 2008, from the moment the Draft EIR was released, the County was rushing to get the public comment period completed, prepare responses to comments, issue the Final EIR, and adopt the CSD.
92. The Draft EIR was circulated for public comment for sixty (60) days. The last day for submission of written comments to the County was August 19, 2008.
93. The County received numerous requests from public agencies and members of the general public to lengthen the public comment period pursuant to the "unusual circumstances" provision of State CEQA Guidelines Section 15105(a). Notwithstanding those requests, the County failed and refused to extend their deadline for receipt of public comments.
94. Numerous and substantial comments on the Draft EIR were submitted to the County, including comments submitted by Petitioners CHC and NRDC as part of the Greater Baldwin Hills Alliance. A true and correct copy of the Greater Baldwin Hills Alliance EIR comment letter is attached hereto as Exhibit "A" and is incorporated by reference into this Petition. Culver Crest Neighborhood Association also submitted comments on the Draft EIR. Petitioner Mark Salkin was and is a member and officer of the Culver Crest Neighborhood Association. A true and correct copy of the Culver Crest Neighborhood Association EIR comment letter is attached hereto as Exhibit "B" and is incorporated by reference into this Petition.
95. Petitioners' comments articulated multiple and significant deficiencies of the EIR, including, but not limited to:
• The EIR studied the wrong project. At all times herein mentioned the County intended to draft a CSD, but instead of studying the County's CSD, the EIR studied only PXP's draft CSD. The County's CSD is substantially different from PXP's draft CSD. Thus, the project description is legally inadequate. A detailed, accurate, stable and finite project description is the sine qua non of an adequate EIR.
• The EIR ignored the significance of the Baldwin Hills Park Master Plan. The EIR dismissed the significance of the Baldwin Hills Park Master Plan and the enabling legislation creating the Baldwin Hills Conservancy and mandating development of a park master plan; the EIR therefore ignores the significant adverse impact of the proposed CSD project on the Park Master Plan, including aspects of the Park Master Plan related to protection of the environment and County General Plan Recreation Policies 30, 31 and 33.
• The EIR fails to consider a reasonable range of project alternatives that would better inform decision-makers of their legislative options. Notwithstanding State CEQA Guidelines Section 15126.6, the EIR failed to consider a reasonable range of project alternatives, including the "One Big Park" alternative summarized in the Baldwin Hills Park Master Plan, a "no new drilling" alternative consistent with applicable vested rights case law, a "no project" alternative consistent with Los Angeles County Ordinance No. 2007-0064U (which was in place on the NOP date), a "reduced new drilling" alternative, and an alternative CSD that would include a conditional use permit ("CUP") process for all new drilling permits.
• The EIR used the wrong project baseline to the extent it assumed on-going drilling operations. As to various potentially significant impacts, the EIR lacks an accurate baseline because, among other reasons, it improperly and unlawfully includes drilling operations and production activities that should not have been included in the baseline. As of the NOP date, there was a moratorium against any new drilling. (Los Angeles County Ordinance No. 2007-0064U.)
• The EIR did not evaluate the impact of increased oil and gas production on greenhouse gas emissions. The EIR's analysis of the project's impact on greenhouse gas emissions is legally inadequate. The EIR failed to consider the impact of usage of the additional oil and gas that will be produced from the Oil Field.
• The data relied upon in the EIR was unreliable. In most instances, the EIR consultant did not collect data from the Oil Field. Indeed, in most instances the baseline data was supplied by PXP without third party verification, which is inherently unreliable. (See Notice to [Oil] Operators from the State Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources ["DOGGR"] dated June 29, 2005 ("Recently, there have been some accidents or incidents associated with oilfield operations that have not been reported to the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources").) Moreover, the Draft EIR's use of SCAQMD data was grossly incomplete. (See Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp EIR comment letter, pp. 23 & 59.)
• The EIR ignored inconsistencies with the General Plan requirement to rehabilitate the Oil Field at the conclusion of its use for oil and gas production. The DEIR fails to evaluate various County General Plan policies with which the proposed project conflicts and therefore fails to identify certain significant adverse impacts of the proposed project. For example, the EIR does not identify the proposed project's inconsistency with the following requirement: "[A]ll mining activities in operation as of January, 1976 and those placed in operation after that date shall be required to submit a reclamation plan which shall provide for appropriate measures to rehabilitate the site prior to its abandonment." The CSD as adopted contains no such requirement.
• The EIR's Environmental Setting failed to identify key sensitive receptors. The Draft EIR failed to identify and consider various sensitive receptors, including a number of schools, childcare facilities and skilled nursing facilities around the perimeter of this site, such as Marycrest Manor and West Los Angeles College's Child Development Center.
• The County failed to notify potentially impacted school districts of the EIR. Notwithstanding State CEQA Guidelines Section 15186, the County failed to consult with the Los Angeles Unified School District which has one or more schools potentially affected by the proposed CSD and the Culver City Unified School District which has a number of school located within the potentially impacted odor zones identified in the EIR.
• Although the EIR contains an Environmental Justice section, the analysis is incomplete. The EIR's environmental justice section fails to adequately identify, assess and mitigate the environmental justice impacts of the project and the relevant legal authorities. The purported analysis of environmental justice regarding the CSD is limited to two conclusory sentences, contains no mitigation measures and is both inaccurate and inadequate. (EIR § 4.16.5.)
THE COUNTY'S DRAFT CSD
96. The County's first draft CSD was not issued to the general public until August 12, 2008.
97. The County issued a series of revised drafts of the CSD prior to adoption of Ordinance No. 2008-0057 on October 28, 2008.
98. As set forth in Paragraph 84 above, the CSD, as adopted, was not studied in the EIR.
REGIONAL PLANNING COMMISSION HEARINGS
99. The Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission held a series of public hearings on the EIR and CSD.
100. The first of these hearings was held on Saturday, August 2, 2008. This was a specially convened hearing held within the affected community at West Los Angeles Community College.
101. The County publicized the August 2, 2008 hearing as an opportunity for the community to express its concerns.
102. This first hearing was held within the West Los Angeles College community theater auditorium. The theater seats more than 300. There were not enough seats in the theater for all of those in attendance, and folding chairs were set up outside of the theater to accommodate the overflow. Petitioner Salkin attended this hearing. The Executive Director for Petitioner CHC also attended this hearing.
103. Before commencing public testimony, the Chair of the Planning Commission requested that all those wishing to testify stand to be sworn to tell the truth. More than an estimated 100 people stood to take this oath.
104. The Planning Commission did not allow sufficient time for all those members of the public wishing to testify. This Planning Commission hearing ended after very few members of the general public were allowed to testify.
105. Subsequent hearings were held by the Planning Commission on August 14, August 27, September 10, October 1, and October 8, 2008. These hearings were compressed into a very short timeline.
106. Members of the public, including representatives of Petitioners CHC and NRDC, attended and testified at these hearings. Additionally, representatives of the Alliance continued to submit written comments on the EIR and CSD to the Commission.
107. In August 2008, during the series of Planning Commission hearings, PXP published and mailed to area residents a brochure to explain PXP's official positions on the CSD, the EIR, the Oil Field, and PXP's intentions. Among other things, PXP in this mailer assured the public: "PXP estimates on average: 15-20 new wells operating each year (with 7-8 wells closing each year)." Thus, PXP assured the general public during the public hearing process that it would drill an average of 17.5 new wells per year and abandon an average of 7.5 existing wells per year, leading to an average net increase of 10 new wells per year.
108. And yet the County's CSD does not reflect this average and instead reflects a substantially higher average of 30 new wells per year and makes no correlation for net increases based on actual abandonment rates.
109. The County issued the Final EIR shortly before the last of these Planning Commission hearings.
110. At the conclusion of the October 8, 2008 hearing, the Regional Planning Commission adopted a resolution recommending that the County Board of Supervisors certify the Final EIR and adopt the County's CSD as last presented to them.
111. As considered by the Planning Commission, and as recommended by the Planning Commission for approval by the Board of Supervisors, the CSD required removal of the existing gas plant flare, required a periodic third-party five-year audit of the condition and operations of the Oil Field to assess compliance with the CSD, and required storage or removal of unused equipment and materials located on the Oil Field. The CSD, as considered by the Planning Commission, did not include a modification procedure for variances from the CSD requirements.
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS PROCEEDINGS
112. The County Board of Supervisors held two hearings on this matter. At the conclusion of the hearing on October 21, 2008, Supervisor Burke made a motion to certify the EIR, adopt the Statement of Overriding Considerations, and amend the County's draft CSD in certain important respects.
113. Specifically, Supervisor Burke's amendments to the CSD included, among other things:
• Adding a new "modification" procedure that would allow variances to be granted by County staff from the requirements of the CSD on an administrative basis;
• Requiring County staff to develop an "implementation plan" sometime after adoption of the Ordinance, "including . . . items deemed necessary by the EIR to reduce environmental impacts to less than significant in those cases where impacts can be so reduced," thereby deferring development of mitigation measures until after certification of the EIR;
• Allowing the existing gas plant flare to remain on-site as back-up, unless the SCAQMD requires its removal;
• Deleting the requirement for a periodic five-year audit of the condition and operations of the Oil Field to assess the effectiveness of the CSD; and
• Eliminating requirements as to equipment storage at the Oil Field.
114. Furthermore, Supervisor Burke amended the CSD to provide that up to 600 new wells can be drilled in the Oil Field by ministerial permits without regard to whether existing wells have been abandoned.
115. This change is not consistent with the scope of the project studied in the EIR. The EIR studied the impact of establishing up to 453 net new wells within the unincorporated County. The impact of up to 600 net new wells was not studied in the EIR.
116. Supervisor Burke's proposed amendments to the CSD were passed by the Board of Supervisors, and County staff was asked to draft provisions to the CSD to reflect her amendments.
117. None of these amendments to the CSD was previously considered or discussed by the Planning Commission, nor were they addressed in the EIR. The changes to the CSD are potentially harmful to the surrounding communities and natural environment.
118. Los Angeles County Code Section 22.16.210 provides in pertinent part: "[A]ny modification of the proposed zone change or amendment by the board of supervisors not previously considered by the [Regional Planning] commission during its hearing, shall first be referred to the commission for report and recommendation." This County Code Section mirrors Government Code Section 65857.
119. On October 24, 2008, written demand was delivered to the County to require that the amendments be referred back to the Planning Commission for consideration before adoption of the CSD as amended. This demand letter was submitted on behalf of the Greater Baldwin Hills Alliance and its individual and group members, including Petitioners CHC and NRDC and the Culver Crest Neighborhood Association. A true and correct copy of the demand letter is attached hereto as Exhibit "C" and is incorporated by reference into this Petition.
120. Notwithstanding this demand, the County failed and refused to refer the CSD amendments back to the Planning Commission and instead adopted the revised CSD on October 28, 2008.
121. In the aforementioned demand letter, Petitioners further demanded that the County revise the CSD to accurately reflect the project studied in the EIR. Specifically, the EIR studied a net increase of only 453 wells in those portions of the Oil field located within unincorporated County land over the course of the next 20 years, but the CSD allows an increase of up to 600 wells in the Oil Field over the next 20 years without any discretionary permits and without regard to whether any of the existing wells are abandoned. Such an increase exceeds the scope of the project as studied in the EIR. Moreover, the EIR did not clearly inform the public that the County has no intention of conducting any further environmental review of future drilling permits.
122. Notwithstanding Petitioners' demand letter, the CSD as approved by the Board of Supervisors allows 600 new wells to be drilled over the next 20 years by ministerial permits within those portions of the Oil Field located within the unincorporated area of the County.
123. Moreover, the EIR was not revised and recirculated before its certification by the County Board of Supervisors to address the changes made to the draft CSD studied in the EIR and the corrections of legal significance made to the EIR in response to public comments.
NOTICE OF DETERMINATION
124. On October 29, 2008, the County posted its Notice of Determination dated October 28, 2008, concerning the EIR and the Statement of Overriding Considerations. A true and correct copy of the County's Notice of Determination is attached hereto as Exhibit "D" and is incorporated by reference into this Petition.
125. This Petition is filed within 30 days after the County's posting of the Notice of Determination.
FIRST CAUSE OF ACTION
(For Writ Of Mandate As To EIR)
(By All Petitioners Against Respondent County)
126. Petitioners refer to, replead and reallege Paragraphs 1 through 125, inclusive, of the Petition and by this reference incorporate the same herein as though set forth in full in this First Cause of Action.
127. Public Resources Code Section 21168.9 provides that a writ of mandate is the proper remedy for the County's failure to comply with CEQA before enacting the CSD (i.e., Ordinance No. 2008-0057).
128. Public Resources Code Section 21168.5 governs this action.
129. The County's failure to comply with CEQA constitutes a prejudicial abuse of discretion.
130. Petitioners have performed all conditions precedent to the filing of this action, including the submission of oral and writte