Saturday, March 19, 2011

PXP's "one size fits all" approach

Howdy friends and neighbors of the hills!

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."  

A lot of folks haggle over who came up with the expression above.  Some folks think it was Benjamin Franklin. Others argue it was Albert Einstein.   Still others champion Rita Mae Brown who published this line in her book, Sudden Death.

In any case, the important lesson to glean is that it makes no sense to keep doing what doesn't work and then keep on doing it anyway!  This is the type of "magical thinking"  that makes the one armed bandits in Las Vegas so profitable, for the casino owners that is!

When it comes to learning though, it seems some folks are either too lazy, too ignorant or just too mule-headed to learn anything. 

Houston-based oil company Plains Exploration & Production (PXP) and it's real estate development subsidiary Cook Hill Properties LLC,  have a funny way of "doing the same thing" when it comes to their real estate dealings here in California.  According to the press release about their partnership:
Under the terms of the agreements, Cook Hill Properties, a new development venture based in Los Angeles headed by Lodwrick M. Cook, former Chairman of ARCO and current Vice Chairman of Pacific Capital, will be responsible for creating a development plan and obtaining all necessary permits for real estate development in an environmentally responsible manner on the surface estates of PXP's holdings at its Montebello property in Los Angeles County, Lompoc in Santa Barbara County and Arroyo Grande in San Luis Obispo County. 
In early August of 2007, the City of Lompoc was presented with a pre-annexation  request for 804 acres north of the city for a proposed "Purisima Hills" housing development.  Many residents were not in favor of the idea.  The Lompoc Record reported:

The issue of building homes on an abandoned oil field has upset area residents who say the idea is dangerous for future residents. Opponents of the plan fear fire danger, health hazards from building on an oil field, explosion or leak danger from the nearby Lompoc Oil and Gas Plant, and poor access in and out of the proposed development in the event of a disaster.

Now doesn't that sound eerily familiar?  These are the same concerns residents of Montebello have been talking about at our city council meetings!

Then in 2008 the road to annexation of the "Purisima Hills" took an ominous turn into "The Twilight Zone" when PXP brokered a deal with local environmentalists.  In an effort to gain approval to drill off the Santa Barbara coastline in a place called Tranquillon ridge, PXP agreed to "donate"  the land intended for the Lompoc housing development as part of a package deal.  A brief notice of this change of plans was made in the Lompoc City Council Agenda, May 20, 2008.

Unfortunately for PXP, their deal was shot down by the California State Lands Commission in January, 2009.

[Now this is where things get a bit "complicated" folks so pay close attention!]

May 5, 2009:  PXP asked to have it's annexation proposal put back on the City of Lompoc's City Council agenda.  Just in case things didn't go so well with the city council, the developer came up with a Plan B.

"The developers have stated in the past that they will turn directly to the county to approve development if the city chooses not to annex the land."  Santa Maria Times

On this same day, the Lompoc City Council made a decision on the pre-annexation request:
ACTION: Motion/Second: Siminski/Ruhge. By a 1 to 3 vote (Mayor DeWees and Councilmembers Martner & Ruhge voted NO, Councilmember Lingl did not participate), the City Council denied the request to process the pre-annexation request processed on a parallel track with the General Plan Update with the applicant paying associated costs.  Minutes of the Lompoc City Council Meeting, May 5, 2009
So, does this mean the developer will now "turn directly to the county?"  It'll be interesting to find out.

By the way, whatever happened to the update for the City of Montebello's General Plan?  Seems funny how that's taken a back seat to the Montebello Hills Specific Plan.  Isn't that kinda like putting the cart before the horse?

July 24, 2009: the California Assembly "fails to approve" the Tranquillon ridge proposal.  Sys-con media

Sept. 10, 2009:  PXP claimed a state-wide survey, which PXP commissioned, shows 66% of Californians favor new offshore drilling.  "Take Three on Tranquillon Ridge:  PXP Hopes Third Time the Charm in Push for Offshore Oil Project",

I recall a particular "phone survey" here in Montebello that asked a whole lot of questions about the Montebello hills.  In my humble opinion, the questions were so convoluted that it would have been mighty easy to answer them in favor of the MHSP, even if you didn't really support the project.

Dec. 23, 2009:  A story published in Calbuzz revealed several problems associated with the PXP Tranquillon ridge deal, among these were "insurmountable title issues" attached to the land donation in Lompoc.

Jan. 15,  2010:  Darwin Bond Graham wrote an article for Counterpunch, 'The Green Drillers." 

Then there's the issue of land. Setting aside thousands of acres in preserve is certainly a great achievement in the urban sprawl of Southern California, but once one reads PXP's corporate literature it becomes clear that it may not only be the public that would benefit. PXP has plans to develop much of its landholdings into tracts of housing which it would sell off at a total profit of about $800 million in California. To facilitate this business plan the company has entered into an agreement with Cook Hill Properties, LLC, a real estate consulting firm that helps large corporate owners develop land. One of these planned subdivisions is in Lompoc. As the company describes in its 2007 Annual Report:

    "We are actively pursuing the entitlement process for our Montebello and Lompoc properties and are engaged in pre-entitlement activities in Arroyo Grande. Our current development plans include master planned communities with a range of housing from entry level to executive and estate homes, parks and recreational land uses."

From PXP's perspective, wouldn't it be fantastic if its housing developments were boosted in value because of their proximity to such large beautiful "ecological preserves" or state parks? In Montebello, an East LA neighborhood, PXP has pursued the same exact strategy with its 500 acre oil field, asking for political approval to build a suburban sprawl of condos and Mcmansions by promising to set aside part of the land as a park.
Aw shucks Mr. Graham, those aren't "condos", those are "residential units!"

The end of Tranquillon Ridge?*

April 20, 2010:  World attention was riveted on the tragedy unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico after the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon claimed the lives of 11 men and led to one of the worst oil-spill disasters in history.
  A month later, Gov. Schwarzenegger withdrew his support for the Tranquillon ridge drilling proposal. ABC News

I don't know what the future holds for the "Purisima Hills" housing project but PXP made sure to preserve it's right to try AGAIN:

"If this Agreement is terminated, PXP shall be entitled to resubmit its applications for and resume its pursuit of entitlements for the Purisima Hills Project." See the EDC Agreement.

Well folks, what WE have are the MONTEBELLO HILLS.  The Montebello City Council needs to take a long, hard look at the type of shenanigans PXP and Cook Hill Properties have tried elsewhere but we as a community can't just sit by and expect our elected officials to do all the work.  Please be sure to come out to the next Montebello City Council meeting on March 23, 2011 and express your opinion to our local officials.

Daisy Mae

* Sadly, it looks like Tranquillon ridge is the "drilling plan that wouldn't die."  See: The Santa Barbara Independent Does this mean the "Purisima Hills" project is back in limbo?  It seems dealing with PXP is like trying to get rid of the dandelions in your yard, they just keep coming back.

Animated gif "customer relations" by Rick Weil

No comments:

Post a Comment