Editor’s note: On October 13, 2017, the City of Los Angeles’ Department of Zoning Administration issued a determination in response to the June 2016 petition submitted by Earthjustice on behalf of Redeemer Community Partnership.
The determination said, in part: “Following the public hearing, the Office of Zoning Administration researched the claims and found that the Jefferson Oil drilling operation was in violation of several of the conditions of approval imposed by the initial Zoning Administrator’s grant and subsequent Plan Approvals. Also, it was learned that some of the initial conditions of approval imposed on the oil drilling and production operation were not sufficient to preserve the health, safety and general welfare of the nearby residential neighborhood. It was also discovered that the oil drilling and production operation had violated several regulations established by other government agencies as detailed in the Petroleum Administrator’s [attached report].” Read the full document.
In Los Angeles, we like to drive.
If you drive by the Jefferson Boulevard drill site in South Los Angeles, you won’t see that the densely populated community around it sits atop an oil field. You also won’t see all of the houses and businesses that the city tore down in 1965 in order to make space for a nearly two-acre drill site to extract that oil.
But for residents in this largely African American and Latino community, the Jefferson drill site is inescapable. They smell pungent fumes with a stench like oil and diesel exhaust. They see bright spotlights kept on late into the night. And they hear thunderous noises that make it nearly impossible to hold a conversation.
Today, Earthjustice and its partner Redeemer Community Partnership, a non-profit organization with deep roots in South Los Angeles, filed a petition for abatement of public nuisance with the Los Angeles Director of City Planning, Vincent Bertoni. The groups insist that Bertoni use his authority to address the ongoing disruption that this site causes the neighborhood. The community residents are asking the city to take action so they can live in a neighborhood that is treated like a neighborhood, not a sacrifice zone for dirty fossil fuels.
In the petition, local resident Myrna Gallardo describes how the drill site intrudes on her life and impacts her children: “I live two houses away from the site, on the same block…Most of the time I have to close all my windows and close the door—the back door also—because of the smell. The smell is worse when it’s hot. The noise is very loud when they are working with the machines. And I have children; when they were very young, I had to go outside. I had to go to the library or I had to go to the park because the sound, the noise, was very loud.”
Locally, we know what it looks like when a neighborhood is truly treated like a neighborhood. The city of Los Angeles has required other drill sites in West Los Angeles—in neighborhoods that are whiter and wealthier—to be fully enclosed in order to minimize the impacts to the surrounding communities.
Nationally, we all saw what it looks like when a neighborhood is treated like a neighborhood when a well at SoCal Gas’ Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility failed near the community of Porter Ranch. There, SoCal Gas was ordered to provide temporary housing for residents and schools were temporarily closed. The housing relocation reportedly cost SoCal Gas around two million dollars a day. While some might say that the enclosures and the evacuations do little to address the underlying issues, they at least acknowledge that the neighborhoods’ residents deserve something for the impacts caused by those sites. So far, the city of Los Angeles has said that the neighborhood near the Jefferson drill site in South L.A. deserves nothing.
The point here is not that communities should be forced to live with the negative impacts of dirty fossil fuel extraction or storage as long as they receive something in return. The point is that certain communities seem to merit a level of protection or response when dirty fossil fuels negatively impact them—while others do not. As a matter of law and equity, the city should provide the same protections for every community in Los Angeles.
As explained in the petition:
In Los Angeles, we love to drive, but powering our cars cannot come at the expense of fellow Angelenos. We cannot allow South Los Angeles to be a sacrifice zone. The city can and should do far more to protect this community—and we will keep fighting until they do.