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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Taxpayers Sue Whittier Over Oil Leases

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Taxpayers claim Whittier misused money meant to preserve open space, and want the city's revenue from oil leases in a nature preserve to go to Los Angeles County instead of the city.

The Prop. A Protection Association sued Whittier, Los Angeles County, and Los Angeles County Regional Park and Open Space District, in Superior Court. Named as real parties in interest are Matrix Oil Corp. and Clayton Williams Energy.

The taxpayer group claims Whittier is violating Proposition A and the California Environmental Quality Act, and wants money from oil leases in the Puente Hills to go to the county, should leases from land acquired through Prop. A acquired be found valid.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, a state agency, sued Whittier in August, claiming it misused $7 million of Prop. A money by trying to lease 600 acres meant for open space for oil and gas drilling.

Los Angeles County voters passed Proposition A in 1992, allocating $540 million of public money for "Safe Neighborhood Parks, Gang Prevention, Tree-Planting, Senior and Youth Recreation Beaches and Wildlife Protection," including purchase of parkland and open spaces.

Whittier received $9.3 million of Proposition A money for the Whittier Hills Park project on 1,200 acres. Roughly 960 acres of that space was bought from (nonparty) Chevron, which had used the land for oil production.

Now Whittier, which is about 12 miles southeast of Los Angeles, has opened up part of Prop. A-acquired land for drilling, though leases negotiated with Matrix Oil and Clayton Williams Energy in 2008.

The Prop. A Protection Association claims Whittier needs approval from the Los Angeles County Regional Park and Open Space District and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority to change use of Prop. A-funded land.

"The purchase of the subject property with Proposition A funds created a public trust. The attendant restrictions on the use and protection of such lands requires close government oversight. Whittier has failed in its obligations to protect such lands consistent with its obligations under Proposition A and instead entered into the subject lease and illegally lifted protections under the declarational easement for the expressly prohibited purpose of commercially exploiting the property for Whittier's profit and that of two private energy companies," the complaint states.

Whittier has claimed 30 percent of royalties from the oil leases, which violates Prop. A and another state law on local government, Prop. 218, the complaint states. This will give Whittier residents "a disproportionate benefit from such royalties since Whittier has only approximately 1 percent of the assessed values of parcels," according to the complaint.

Whittier Councilman Bob Henderson told the Whittier Daily News that the city might make as much as $1.5 billion from oil revenue, the Daily News reported in November.

The taxpayer group is represented by Timothy Morris, with Gianelli & Morris, who declined to comment.

Whittier City Manager Jeff Collier told Courthouse News he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment.

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