By J.C. “Mac” McFarland
Fellow Whittier residents,
Be neither deceived nor discouraged by last Tuesday’s “hearing” held by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors on the Matrix Whittier Main Oil Project. Their vote against the project has potentially no direct impact on the future of the project. The matter is now in the hands of the courts and will, hopefully, be concluded in the not-too-distant future.
The supervisors held this meeting in an attempt to demonstrate to the public that the county has a strategic say in the project approval process. The hearing was not requested by the city of Whittier. The hastiness of the project hearing was also apparent as notice was sent only about 18 days prior to the hearing date of Oct. 29.
The hearing was stacked with opponents of the project ready to be recorded on camera. In fact, a week prior to the hearing, County Open Space District employees were directed to round up people to attend and speak (I have a copy of the e-mail). It is unfortunate that more time was not given to notice this hearing, as more of us who support the project could have attended.
The meeting was both a political event and an event staged as an impartial vote on the project. Many at the hearing complained dramatically that the city of Whittier was ignoring the county consent approval process critical to Prop A. County staff presented a report, based on an outside consultant’s analysis, that condemned the project. It also contained numerous factual errors, including the allegation that 60 oil wells could be drilled throughout the 1,280 acres of city land.
In fact, Matrix Oil is restricted to one drilling and production location on only seven of those acres, which is located in a canyon that is off-limits to the public. In addition, the county’s “findings” were written and published well before the hearing, and approved unanimously by the supervisors without any modification. So much for an open and honest process!
The county’s authority in this matter has already been decided by the California Superior Court. The judge ruled earlier this year that the county’s claims under Proposition A and the public trust doctrine were filed well beyond the statutory deadline.
Consequently, the county is also prohibited from challenging the authenticity of the Matrix Oil lease or Whittier’s Conditional Use Permit. His honor further ruled that Whittier’s obligation to obtain county approval of the project expires in June of 2015. Subject to further appeals or a negotiation, the project will proceed no later than that.
Here are some additional facts regarding the litigation that may be of interest to Whittier residents:
• Our city sought and obtained written approval to proceed with the oil and gas leasing process, and of the proposed lease, from the L.A. County Open Space District and County Counsel in August 2008. This was three months before bids were received and Whittier awarded the lease to Matrix Oil.
• All previous opponents in court have either dropped out, been ruled against or settled their lawsuits with our city, thus allowing the oil project to move forward. This includes the Open Space Legal Defense Fund, the Mountain Recreation Conservation Authority, and the State Attorney General representing the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.
• The project is allowable and compatible with Prop A as stated in written reports submitted to the city during the CUP and CEQA review process by Prop A founders/authors Ms. Esther Feldman (CCS) and Mr. Carlyle Hall (Akin Gump). Opponents are misinformed and wrong in stating that the project is not allowed under Prop A.
As the significant majority of us have affirmed in the two most recent City Council elections, Whittier wants and needs the oil project. It will stimulate local business activity and provide funding for our city and for the Habitat Preserve in our hills. Matrix Oil and its partners are determined to pursue the project and are optimistic about a favorable outcome.
J.C. “Mac” McFarland is a lifelong Whittier resident who has served as director for PIH Health and is a 36-year member of the Whittier Host Lions Club. He has built a career as a CPA in the oil and gas industry and has represented Matrix Oil Corp. for the past eight years.