The Los Angeles City Council directed various agencies Tuesday to investigate a chemical spill in the Rancho Park area that caused a strong gas-like odor to blanket a large swath of the Westside last week, with two councilmen voicing heavy criticism of Southern California Gas Co.'s handling of post-spill communications.
According to the utility, the odor that began permeating the area around 9:10 p.m. last Wednesday was not caused by a gas leak, but by a spill of a nontoxic odorant that is added to natural gas as a safety precaution. The spill was cleaned up, and SoCalGas said last Thursday that the odor was expected to dissipate gradually during the day.
But City Councilman Paul Koretz said some residents were still complaining about the smell and may be suffering health problems related to it.
"Even now, nearly a week later, I am still getting emails from folks saying the smell is still in their car or their homes, and worse yet people are still coughing things up," Koretz said.
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Koretz's motion calling for an investigation also noted that "in an age of Twitter and instant information, there was no effective way to find out information" about the spill.
According to Koretz's motion, the leak involved SoCalGas odorant tank equipment in a fenced, locked area at the Rancho Park Drill Site at 10460 W. Pico Blvd. The drill site is operated by the Hillcrest Beverly Oil Corp. above the Cheviot Hills Oil Field within a city-owned golf course.
The motion directs the city's petroleum administrator, Department of City Planning, Department of Building and Safety, Los Angeles Fire Department and the Department of Recreation and Parks to work with SoCalGas and Hillcrest Beverly Oil to investigate and report on the size and cause of the spill, the chemicals involved in the odorant and any potential health impacts, and what can be done to prevent such a spill from happening again.
The motion also directs SoCalGas and the Emergency Management Department, among others, to report on effective communication methods and tools that could be used in any future emergency situations.
Before the council voted on the emergency motion, a spokeswoman for SoCalGas was peppered with questions and critical comments by Koretz, who represents the area impacted by the spill, and Councilman Mitchell Englander.
Englander called some answers given by Lisa Alexander, vice president of customer solutions for SoCalGas, "ridiculous," "pathetic," "just wrong" and "angering."
Koretz asked why the company told concerned customers, his office and the Los Angeles Fire Department that the leak could be in neighboring areas like Culver City, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills when, according to his timeline, the utility likely already knew the cause of the leak was in the Rancho Park area and didn't start giving out the right information until about midnight.
"It's kind of a bizarre and inexplicable situation. Why would your people, who I assume must have been told the right answer, be providing wrong information all over the place, including possibly to the fire department?" Koretz asked.
Koretz said many of his constituents did not know if the source of the smell was hazardous and they should evacuate the area.
"It was on us to make sure nothing was going on beyond that odorant leak at the producer facility (in Rancho Park),'' Alexander said.
She added, "The information was coming in in real time, so that is where some of the source of some of the confusion came, distinguishing where the odor complaints were coming from versus where the producer facility was."
Englander wanted to know why the company did not directly call Koretz's office until the next day. Englander's district in the Northwest San Fernando Valley was the site of the massive methane leak at SoCalGas' Aliso Canyon facility near Porter Ranch. That gas leak, which was discovered in October 2015 and not completely capped until February 2016, poured an estimated 109,000 tons of methane into the air and forced an estimated 15,000 residents to temporarily relocate.
Alexander said the company had notified the agencies it was required to contact, which she previously had said included the LAFD and the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
"That's a ridiculous answer," Englander said, interrupting her.
Englander also said the lack of a call "is just wrong, it's really pathetic and angering that we're here again -- and you'll be back again, or somebody else representing the company -- saying, 'Yeah, we notified everybody that we were required to.' Sometimes we have to do much more than we are required to do. We've got to do the right thing."
Englander also said that he had been assured by SoCalGas after the Aliso leak that if there was ever another leak or blowout at one of its facilities, the local council office would be notified.