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Stern criticizes $119.5 million Aliso Canyon settlement deal

Henry Stern, 27th District State Senator. Courtesy photo

Most of the funds from $119.5 million Aliso Canyon settlement are earmarked for unrelated projects outside of Los Angeles County and Porter Ranch, according to Sen. Henry Stern, D-Canoga Park, who said the settlement fails to address those most impacted by the gas leak.

In response to a tentative $119.5 million settlement reached Thursday among city, county, state officials and the Southern California Gas Co. over the 2015 Aliso Canyon blowout, Stern criticized the deal and announced legislation that would prohibit settlement funds from leaving the community for unrelated projects such as dairies in the Central Valley.

Earlier in the week, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger and Assemblyman Dante Acosta, R-Santa Clarita, applauded the settlement agreement — Barger describing it as “ensuring justice,” and Acosta saying it was “an excellent first step.”

Both also applauded funding of the health study, as did Stern Friday who sees it as the vehicle promising to “get to the bottom of this public health mystery.”

“The public health study is certainly a big win,” Stern said Friday. “But, this settlement does nothing to reduce our dependence on Aliso Canyon… Instead of improving the lives of residents and ratepayers impacted by the blowout, it would fund pet projects for the Gas Company hundreds of miles away.”

Stern said the keyword to take from news of the settlement is “tentative.” Since the tentative settlement could be approved by the court after the next 60 days, the time to discuss where the money should go is now, Stern said.

“I’m going to lean on them and see if we can change their minds,” he said, referring to the allocation of settlement funds.

“It just didn’t smell right,” Stern said about settlement funds earmarked for Central Valley dairy farmers.

“There are plenty of things to do in our own backyard,” he said. “We should be looking at the homeowners and ratepayers in the (Porter Ranch) area that got hit so hard.”

Christy Smith, candidate for Assembly District 38, seized the chance Friday to echo Stern’s call for a closer to home funding arrangement.

More than three-quarters of the $119.5 million settlement would go to projects that do not directly benefit the community impacted by the 2015 disaster that forced over 10,000 residents from their homes, and continues to plague the north San Fernando Valley with health problems, said Stern, whose district also includes portions of the Santa Clarita Valley

For example, he said, $26.5 million is proposed to go for methane capture for dairy farms in the Central Valley.

Stern says that’s unfair.

Dangerous & expensive

“I appreciate the hard work of the lawyers and parties involved, but they have to take a second pass at this. There are better ways to spend these dollars locally that would offset the damage done by the blowout and reduce our dependence on this dangerous and expensive gas field,” he said.

“We are building tens of thousands of gas-fired homes in the region, which will only deepen our dependence on Aliso,” Stern said. “Why not offer those who have suffered the opportunity to make a better life?”

3 days in October

The gas leak, which began in October 2015 and was capped in February 2016, spewed massive amounts of gas into the atmosphere, prompting a state of emergency, widespread evacuations of the area and the filing of criminal charges against SoCal Gas.

In September 2016, Southern California Gas Co. pleaded no contest to polluting the air at its Aliso Canyon facility in Porter Ranch in October 2015, agreeing to pay at least $4 million in fines and upgrades to monitoring gas leaks.

For three days in late October 2015, SoCal Gas violated the state’s Health and Safety Code when it failed to report the release of hazardous material to the California Office of Emergency Services and to the local Certified Unified Program Agency, the court learned back in 2016 when SoCal Gas entered its plea.

Stern wasn’t the only elected official to weigh in on the substantial settlement and about where the money should go.

Christy Smith

In a written statement released Friday, Smith, a candidate for the 38th Assembly District seat, called the settlement: “Too little, too late.”

“Every dollar of the money in this agreed settlement should have been allocated to ensuring the safety and health of the surrounding Aliso Canyon Communities,” Smith said in her statement. “It is an insult to residents directly impacted by the blowout to have funds distributed across the state when they still have so much at stake.”

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