In 1992, Los Angeles County voters supported Proposition A, approving public funds for the purchase of green spaces throughout the county. The City of Whittier used these funds to purchase nearly 1,300 acres in the Whittier Hills, entering into an agreement with the county to keep the area as open space for the public in perpetuity. When the possibility of oil extraction appeared, Whittier leased the land to Matrix Oil, in violation of its contract with the county, and breaking the voters trust who approved funds for public space, not to subsidize corporate profits.
The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) and the Mountain Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) sued Whittier, and won an injunction against all drilling in the Whittier Hills. With the threat of an appeal, and faced with mounting legal costs, the SMMC and the MRCA settled out of court. The settlement calls for the SMMC and the MRCA to receive up to $280 million in royalties over the lifetime of the drilling project, while the City of Whittier would receive up to $1.5 billion.
In his ruling, the judge said that the project could continue if the county approved it. On October 29, 2013, after nearly 4 hours of debate, more than 100 testimonials from concerned citizens opposed to drilling, and recommendations from staff and the City Attorney, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to deny approval for drilling in Whittier Hills. All who spoke mentioned the need for open spaces in Los Angeles County, the need to maintain voter’s trust, and how, if approved, drilling in Whittier Hills could open the floodgates for drilling in other public spaces paid for by taxpayers.
Supervisor Molina said:
“Bottom line, they [Whittier] have been moving forward; they have violated every step of the process. And so consequently, we have nothing to do but what is right, and stand by voters and take action that should be taken.”
Supervisor Yaroslavsky followed by saying:
“So this is a fight. And it’s not just a fight for Whittier, it’s a fight for every piece of park land throughout Los Angeles County that’s been purchased with Proposition A.”
Thank you LA County Board of Supervisors for standing up for green space, for the citizens of Los Angeles County, and against corporate interests! This case will continue making its way through the courts, but the county is confident it will succeed. We will keep a close eye on this, and support the right of citizens to have a clean environment, and protect their health.