Skip to main content

Baldwin Hills Summit: Mix of Oil, Park Land Discussed

By Gary Walker
Culver City News
July 26, 2007

The City Project’s director said that his organization will be paying close attention to the environmental analysis, with particular attention given to the park plan. “Our primary concern is that the EIR provide the information necessary to understand the impact of oil drilling and operations on the people who live, work, play and pray in the Baldwin Hills, and the people who will use the Baldwin Hills Park,” he explained. “The Baldwin Hills Parklands are vitally important to the health and well being of people in the region. “The hillside is the last large open space in the Ballona Creek Watershed,” Garcia continued. “Nearly $100 million in state funds has been invested in creating the largest urban park in over 100 years. Parks provide places for physical activity to improve physical and psychic health.”

Against the backdrop of the scenic Baldwin Hills, state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) hosted a neighborhood conference on health and the importance of the environment on Saturday at West Los Angeles College.



Henry Shapiro, Panelists: Panelists at the Baldwin Hills-Culver City Environmental, Health and Planning summit (from left): David McNeil, executive director of the Baldwin Hills Conservancy; Gwendolyn Flowers, policy director of the Community Health Councils, and Robert Garcia, executive director of the City Project.- Staff Photo

State, county and Culver City officials joined Ridley-Thomas and a panel of speakers from public and non-profit agencies to discuss factors that play a large role in environmental justice, the disparity of health risks in certain areas near the Baldwin Hills Zoned District and the environmental analysis that Los Angeles County will be undertaking on property inhabited by oil company Plains, Exploration & Production.

One of the questions on the minds of many of the attendees was the role that PXP will play in the environmental assessment operation. Ron Hoffman, administrator of the county regional Planning Department, which will play a large role in the EIR, stated that the oil company has not displayed any resistance to date regarding turning over pertinent information about its oil operations. “They have provided information that we and our consultant have asked for,” he reported. “They have been very cooperative, and we are going to be working very closely with them through the whole process.”

Steven Rusch, PXP’s vice-president of Environmental, Health Safety and Governmental Affairs, was not present, but in past interviews has indicated that the oil company would be a willing participant during the environmental analysis of the oil field. “PXP looks forward to participating in the EIR. We are fully supportive of the Community Standards District.”

Ridley-Thomas addressed the audience of about 40 people prior to a panel discussion of the impact that poor health and respiratory illnesses have had on the predominately African-American communities that surround Baldwin Hills.

The environmental analysis of the oil fields was one of the most discussed topics of the morning. Hoffman, whose department has held previous meetings with homeowners from both Culver City and Los Angeles, believes in the necessity of having neighborhood input on a topic of critical importance. “We’ve got professionals who have identified some of the main issues and topics, but we always feel that it’s best to hear from the folks who live and work in the area to get their insight,” he said.

The Community Standards District will serve as a set of regulations that will govern the use of the oilfields and the future drilling activities for PXP. Once adopted, it will become a county ordinance that Los Angeles county officials will regulate.

Esthetics will also be a key part of the CDS, said Hoffman. “We will be looking at the future landscaping of the area and especially from the standpoint of what is the natural environment of the Baldwin Hills, and how that relates to existing and future park and recreation uses.”

Robert Garcia, the executive director of City Project, an organization that is active in social justice causes and that has joined forces with Baldwin Hills on environmental justice matters in the past, praised county Supervisor Yvonne Braithwaite Burke for her efforts in initiating the EIR and for instituting a ban on new oil drilling by PXP in Baldwin Hills.

“The county, under the leadership of Supervisor Burke, has done a wonderful job of engaging and empowering the community through hearings and the environmental review process, and through the temporary moratorium on new oil drilling,” said Garcia, who was a member of Saturday’s panel.

“The EIR is going very well,” Burke told the News this week. “There has been tremendous interest about it, and we will continue our scoping meetings to ensure an open process.”

Another subject that was talked about was the plan for an urban park on the historic hillside, a long time dream of members of the Baldwin Hills Conservancy and conservation activists on both sides of the hill. Their hope is that once oil drilling operations cease, wells can be consolidated, land can be purchased and the park can be built.

The City Project’s director said that his organization will be paying close attention to the environmental analysis, with particular attention given to the park plan. “Our primary concern is that the EIR provide the information necessary to understand the impact of oil drilling and operations on the people who live, work, play and pray in the Baldwin Hills, and the people who will use the Baldwin Hills Park,” he explained. “The Baldwin Hills Parklands are vitally important to the health and well being of people in the region.

“The hillside is the last large open space in the Ballona Creek Watershed,” Garcia continued. “Nearly $100 million in state funds has been invested in creating the largest urban park in over 100 years. Parks provide places for physical activity to improve physical and psychic health.”

Culver City residents who attended the forum came for various reasons. Henry Shapiro is very interested in the concept of the urban park, and would like to see that outlined in greater detail in future meetings. “I believe in having a wonderful park, and whatever we do, we have to deal with capitalism and making money in the oil fields,” said Shapiro. “The two things are in direct opposition to each other, and you have to come to some kind of rational balance.”

Shapiro, a long-time Blair Hills homeowner, said that one-third of the land is available for parkland. “I say, let’s do that park as well as we can, and then in the next 10 or 20 years when more land becomes available, we can be in a position to be the world-class park that we want to have.”

Loni Anderson was curious to find out what other neighborhoods thought about the summit and the different topics that were raised. Regarding her thoughts about the conference, she was impressed with the structure of the meeting. “I thought it was well done,” she said.

Calls to Ridley-Thomas for comment were not returned at press time.