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LA City/Playa Vista Cover-up! Investigative Journalist Discloses City Collusion to Deny Explosive Gas/Inadequate Safety Mitigation

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  • Marcia Hanscom
    Playa Vista/Los Angeles City Cover-up at the Ballona Wetlands: In today s Los Angeles Times Opinion section, J. William Gibson discloses the City of Los
    Message 1 of 1 , May 5, 2002
      Playa Vista/Los Angeles City Cover-up at the Ballona Wetlands:

      In today's Los Angeles Times Opinion section, J. William Gibson
      discloses the City of Los Angeles and Playa Vista's collusion to
      cover-up the real extent of highly explosive methane (propane, butane
      and ethane too!) gases. He also uncovers the inadequacy of gas
      mitigation systems in the face of a huge geological formation that is
      slowly migrating westward from an 80-acre El Segundo gas field four and
      a half miles south of Playa Vista and rising from the historical LA
      River bed to the surface through a newly discovered "seismic disruption
      zone" directly beneath a colossal gas seep.

      Gibson's piece is re-printed below....

      "It's the largest seep I've ever seen in my whole career," - Paul A.
      Witherspoon, professor emeritus of petroleum engineering at UC Berkeley.

      "At least two council members, Feuer and Cindy Miscikowski, say they saw
      none of Jones' follow-up studies or hints that these studies raised any
      new significant concerns." (re: geotechnical expert Exploration
      Technologies' Dr. Victor Jones whose follow-up reports were kept out of
      public hearing and disclosure processes which Feuer and Miscikowski
      originally called for; these reports *did* in fact include significant
      new information that might have led the City to not approve more than
      $100 million in Mello-Roos bonds.)

      "...there are multiple faults beneath Playa Vista that are bringing gas
      to the surface." - Paul A. Witherspoon

      Outraged citizens throughout the nation, whose public funds are going to
      construct this ill-advised development at the Ballona Wetlands, need to
      call on elected officials and news editors to support an investigative
      hearing into the facts behind the corruption that would allow such
      information to be covered up and kept from the public and from public
      officials charged with making decisions about this project. Who is
      responsible for this cover-up? The public deserves to know.

      Los Angeles Times

      Just How Much Gas Flows Below?

      J. William Gibson is a professor of sociology at Cal State Long Beach
      and author of "Warrior Dreams: Violence and Manhood in Post-Vietnam

      May 5 2002

      Playa Vista's first tenants have moved in. If any of them worried that
      the ground below them contained methane gas, they were reassured by
      leasing agents that, yes, there's gas, but meters and alarms provide
      advance notice of any leaks.

      The city of Los Angeles has been similarly soothing. Last spring, a
      report released by the city's chief legislative analyst said the methane
      under Playa Vista's proposed buildings could easily be mitigated.
      Shortly afterward, the City Council approved issuing the first
      $135-million installment of $428 million in tax-exempt "community
      facilities" (or Mello-Roos) bonds to build its infrastructure. But
      documents recently obtained by the Santa Monica Bay-Keeper from the
      State Lands Commission point to a more complicated and troubling

      In 1993, the environmental impact report done by Playa Vista's
      then-developer said there were only small amounts of methane on the
      property. By 1999, however, critics charged that the problem was far
      more serious. In response, the city Department of Building and Safety
      hired Houston-based Exploration Technologies Inc. (ETI) to conduct new
      methane studies and act as "peer reviewer" of others already completed.

      In April 2000, the company issued its preliminary findings. ETI found
      methane seeps much larger than any previously reported, one about 1,000
      feet long, and a second slightly smaller, in the area east of Lincoln
      Boulevard and south of Jefferson Boulevard.

      The company's president, Victor Jones, hypothesized that methane was
      flowing to the surface via a fault running westward under Lincoln and
      that the gas was coming from deep underground leaks in the Southern
      California Gas Co. storage facility at Playa del Rey.

      On the verge of issuing the Mello-Roos bonds, the City Council instead
      asked the city legislative analyst to oversee a new round of studies
      done by Playa Capital Co.'s original consultants.

      ETI was retained to conduct additional studies of its own, as well as
      serve as peer reviewer for the work done by Playa Capital's team.
      Then-council member Mike Feuer appointed Jones to serve on the
      legislative analyst's review committee.

      Last spring, the legislative analyst's office released its conclusions.
      Jones' initial hypothesis, it said, was wrong. There is no fault zone
      under Lincoln, and gas samples taken from the storage facility at Playa
      del Rey did not match those taken from the big seeps east of the
      boulevard. The report concluded that "no significant fault is possible
      under the entire Playa Vista development project site." The City Council
      then approved issuance of the Mello-Roos bonds, generating funds needed
      by the developers.

      Although Jones sat on the review committee, he and his team contributed
      almost nothing to the city legislative analyst's report. He was never
      invited to any meetings, nor were due dates for reports given to him or
      his team. When Jones volunteered to fly to Los Angeles, at his own
      expense, to testify before the council acted on the Mello-Roos bonds, he
      was told by the city legislative analyst to stay put. At least two
      council members, Feuer and Cindy Miscikowski, say they saw none of
      Jones' follow-up studies or hints that these studies raised any new
      significant concerns.

      In fact, Jones brought up a number of problems in his second report. For
      example, although ETI acknowledged that there was no fault below Lincoln

      Boulevard, it reported finding a new seismic "disruption zone" directly
      under the large methane seeps.

      Paul A. Witherspoon, professor emeritus of petroleum engineering at UC
      Berkeley and a member of the ETI team, explained that "there are
      multiple faults beneath Playa Vista that are bringing gas to the

      This is because the Ballona Wetlands and surrounding land--what's now
      becoming Playa Vista--were, until modern times, the mouth of the Los
      Angeles River. Over eons, innumerable layers of sediment have been
      deposited there. They have slumped in places, creating the fault zone.

      The methane comes from the Pico Sands, a geological formation 500 to
      3,000 feet underground that stretches along the coast for many miles,
      according to ETI. Four and a half miles south of Playa Vista lies the
      80-acre El Segundo gas field. Wells dug into the Pico Sands have
      produced more than 23 billion cubic feet of methane, and chemical
      analysis shows that methane from the two places is similar. It's not
      that the El Segundo field is leaking but rather that gas in the whole
      geological formation is slowly migrating westward.

      In a recent interview, Witherspoon expressed concern that during an
      earthquake the "large number of faults in the area could allow a cloud
      of methane to come to the surface and overwhelm a building's mitigation

      Citing research on the Los Angeles Basin published in the U.S.
      Geological Survey, he said just because a fault had not been active
      recently did not mean it could not again become active during an

      Witherspoon also emphasized just how much methane was at issue. In
      January 2001, after rains had flooded much of the property between
      Jefferson Boulevard and the Westchester Bluffs, he walked out on the
      land and noticed big bubbles breaking the surface in many places. He
      called for an observation well to be dug; it soon produced more than
      nine liters of gas a minute. "It's the largest seep I've ever seen in my
      whole career," he told me, big enough, he surmised, to be a commercially
      viable gas field. Drilling a gas well into the Pico Sands would help
      deplete methane to more manageable levels, he said, and reduce the
      danger of a methane cloud rising in an earthquake.

      In his original report, Jones and his ETI colleagues recommended not
      building on a 60-acre piece of Playa Vista that seemed to contain most
      of the methane. When the city of Los Angeles and Playa Capital, the
      developers, said this was not a viable option, Jones narrowed his
      analysis. His second report--the one the city legislative analyst did
      not mention--says that the most serious methane flows occur on about
      1.5% of the total property, or about 16 acres.

      Data in the report cast doubt on the effectiveness of mitigation systems
      planned for these areas, where apartments and condos will be built. ETI
      reviewed the "logs" of 120 test wells, dug by another firm, to evaluate
      the effectiveness of the mitigation systems. The wells were designed to
      bleed off methane gas from a belt of sand and gravel known as the
      50-foot aquifer and to serve as mitigation systems for structures to be
      built over the most active seeps.

      But ETI found that most of the test wells had failed because they
      quickly filled with sediment or flooded with water, making accurate
      measurement of gas impossible. This suggests that the wells might not be
      suitable for mitigation purposes. ETI's report recommends extensive
      testing of vent wells and monitoring devices to mitigate leakage from
      the biggest seeps.

      What's needed now is full disclosure. Playa Capital and Los Angeles
      should release all consultant reports, city staff reports and
      correspondence concerning environmental studies on the Playa Vista

      Moreover, either the state or federal courts should hold an evidentiary
      hearing to officially record the documents and ensure the public's
      access to them. All consultants to the project should be subpoenaed and
      required to testify under oath at the hearing. Only then can they speak
      openly without fear of being sued by Playa Capital.

      Many parties will benefit from such full disclosure. The city of Los
      Angeles needs to know what liabilities it faces when it approves
      construction and releases the Mello-Roos bonds. Insurance companies need
      to review all the data, not just the city legislative analyst's reports.
      Potential investors can be more secure in their financial decisions if
      they have all relevant information in hand.

      State politicians and the nonprofit Trust for Public Land are currently
      negotiating with Playa Capital to buy all the Playa Vista land west of
      Lincoln and some to the east. More reliable information might affect
      appraisals. And Playa Vista's prospective residents have a right to know
      what's under them.

      (In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is
      distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest
      in receiving the included information for research and educational

      Wetlands Action Network
      protecting & restoring wetlands
      along the Pacific Migratory Pathways
      PO Box 1145
      Malibu, CA 90265
      fax: 310-456-5612
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