LA City/Playa Vista Cover-up! Investigative Journalist Discloses City Collusion to Deny Explosive Gas/Inadequate Safety Mitigation
- 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?
By J. WILLIAM GIBSON
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
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