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Final Score from Ridley-Thomas Town Hall Won’t Be Known for Awhile

With the fierce-fighting oil drilling company that is the catalyst in a sprawling years’-long battle with the community rejecting an invitation, about 250 residents last night answered County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’s call to a Town Hall meeting for another airing of grievances against a bevy of absent parties responsible for a controversial drilling zoning code.

Amidst elaborate attendant fanfare in a showcase setting on the West Los Angeles College campus, dozens of well-informed residents again laid out their exhuastive beefs against a document engineered by Mr. Ridley-Thomas’s predecessor, with a hefty assist from the oil company.

The Supervisor and his deputies repeatedly emphasized to the eager audience that they wanted to address the code revisions from 4 alliterative, highly personal directions that had a tidy television jingle ring:

“Remember,” they would say, “safety, sound, smell, sights.”

Whether the Town Hall made a dent in the Supervisor’s avowed attempt to heavily amend the voluminous, complicated regulations seemingly hurried through by the County a year ago, now will be tested and debated. An accurate assessment is far from clear this early.

One Side Was Missing

While Mr. Ridley-Thomas and hundreds of oil field neighbors viewed the evening,mainly, as a chance to dialogue, they are teammates. What’s to dialogue between them? Both know the other’s views better than they know their own shoe sizes. They wanted to dialogue with their antagonist, the brass of the third part, the Plains Exploration & Production Co., officials.

But PXP demurred.

In a letter that Mr. Ridley-Thomas entertainingly read, incrementally through the evening, PXP said because community leaders are involved in several suits against them, their lawyers advised them to stay home.

A Westsde attorney familiar with the litigation said the fig leaf explanation might be valid. But it carried the odor of “arrogance.”

“PXP did not have to participate in the program,” she said. “They could have just sat there and listened. But not even that? It’s a little tough to defend.”

While Mr. Ridley-Thomas’s predecessor had passively slipped into communal invisibility and arcanity by her final 2 years, the new Supervisor played off his bouncing personality.

He was the show.

As speaker after speaker graciously and gracefully, thanked him for his exhumation of a still dead-ish body, he protested that this was not a one-man production. The task of seeking to tighten or reverse generically identified portions of the top-layer oil field zoning code known, vaguely, as a Community Standards District, sits, however, totally in his lap.

Why They Gathered

Mr. Ridley-Thomas said the meeting had two objectives:

“Provide residents and other stakeholders with a chance to learn about the existing Baldwin Hills Community Standards District, and

“Furnish a structured and constructive opportunity for the community members to communicate outstanding concerns and suggestions to the County.”

Neighbors claim PXP has regularly misled them by quietly, circuitously arranging/lobbying for far more ambitious drilling strategy and looser regulations that combine to threaten their health and their homes.

Meanwhile, there was no doubt last night was Showtime.

The entirely-at-home ringmaster, Mr. Ridley-Thomas, who grew up not far away, was at his effervescent leadership peak.

He could have shot and killed a dwarf-sized squirrel from a half-mile away, riding by on horseback at 75 miles an hour. After dark.

By now, the scholarly protest presentations by those dozens of speak-out neighbors contains the whiff of homework. These same speeches have been delivered to government assemblies a number of times in the past 15 months.

From a public relations perspective — a concept not to be under-rated —the popular Mr. Ridley-Thomas, who consistently operates with a flair, essayed a major advance. Most of the audience appeared as upbeat when they left at 9 in the evening as they had been hopeful when they arrived 3 hours earlier.

Crucially, the tenor of the meeting, which started a half-hour late, more closely resembled a celebration — of Mr. Ridley-Thomas’s arrival in the gun seat — than a grim governmental agency meeting.

How much that counts for may depend on how quickly Mr. Ridley-Thomas produces specific amendments to the Community Standards District and gets them pushed through the 5-person Board of Supervisors.

The psychological distinction — whose worth also will be debated — between this year’s Supervisor and last year’s Supervisor — is expected to be reflected in the degree of residential patience with the sweeping code changes Mr. Ridley-Thomas has promised.

When the changes happen and how wide they are still appear to be distant objectives in the well-clouded future.

Before Mr. Ridley-Thomas took office last Dec. 1, community enthusiasm toward his predecessor and her commanding role in the unpopular but swiftly approved Community Standards District was virtually invisible.

By the ragged, anger-splattered end of retired Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke’s 16-year run last October, she had dropped to dogcatcher status in the neighborhood, heavily because of her perceived cozy relationship with the oil company PXP.

She could not have been re-elected by the millions of neighbors of the 2-mile long Baldwin Hills oil field even if she had promised to wash everybody’s dishes — dry them and put them away — every day for 10 years. Or submitted to daily humility lessons.

The Town Hall setting provded a spoonful of irony:

A year ago August on a steaming Saturday afternoon, the handsome and spacious Fine Arts Theatre was the scene of an angry community meltdown fiasco in the waning days of Ms. Burke’s term. Typically, she was absent.

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