June 20, 2013
Los Angeles — June 18, 2013 — In a case that pits Los Angeles County’s voter-approved Proposition A initiative requiring preservation of land for open space against a city’s desire to drill the same property for potentially lucrative oil, a judge has ruled that the City of Whittier and Matrix Oil Corporation must cease its oil drilling operations.
Proposition A, passed by voters in 1992, provided tax payer funds for land to be purchased and preserved for open space and parks. The land at issue is part of a 1,280-acre parcel that Whittier purchased with Proposition A funds.
The County and its Board of Supervisors, as the governing body for Proposition A, along with Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, maintained that Whittier was violating Proposition A and its related contract commitments to open space use by embarking on the oil drilling venture. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant sided with the County, the Board and MRCA, and granted an injunction against the oil drilling project.
Judge Chalfant, who signed his order on June 13, also found that Whittier failed to honor the right of the Board of Supervisors to approve or disapprove the project based upon its compatibility with Proposition A purposes before proceeding.
“It’s an important decision properly enforcing the will of the Proposition A voters in requiring the preservation of this land acquired with taxpayer funds and the right of the Board of Supervisors to exercise their discretion regarding any proposed change of this use,” said Glaser Weil Partner Sean Riley, who co-litigated the case with the Los Angeles County Counsel’s Office.
“The decision is also important in upholding the public trust doctrine attaching to the dedication of a portion of the same property for wildlife preservation over this inconsistent oil drilling project,” Riley said. “But, in the end, it is really an endorsement of the voters’ clear intent to preserve this space.”
The case and related cross complaint is Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority v. City of Whittier, et al., BS136211 and BS138796.
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