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Vernon abandons plans for huge power plant

September 24, 2009 |  4:29 pm

The industrial city of Vernon has abandoned a three-year-old proposal to build a 943-megawatt power plant bitterly opposed by the communities that surround it.

In a written statement today, Vernon City Administrator Donal O’Callaghan said his city’s electrical utility would submit a new application for a 330-megawatt facility, one he promised would be the nation's “cleanest burning natural gas power plant.”

Assemblyman John Perez (D-Los Angeles) described the announcement as a victory for residents who argued that the larger plant would emit thousands of tons of fine soot particles linked to cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.

“This is the little guys really being able to defeat this screwed-up feudal city,” said Perez, whose district includes Boyle Heights, Huntington Park, Maywood and Vernon.

The decision also was hailed by David Pettit, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that won a ruling last year blocking the project, which would have been built southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

Pettit said he planned to see what Vernon proposes next, but Perez said a smaller plant in the same location would still be “horrible.”

Vernon spent three years waging a political and public relations campaign for a power plant that, according to regulators, would have generated nearly four times as much electricity as the city’s residents and industrial businesses need.

The city relied on an array of former politicians to speak on its behalf, including former state Sen. Martha Escutia, who at one time represented small working-class cities near Vernon.

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry told The Times two years ago that she received calls from Escutia and former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre, who once represented Boyle Heights. Others described calls from former Assemblymen Tom Calderon and Mike Roos.

The campaign infuriated Msgr. John Moretta of Resurrection Catholic Church in Boyle Heights, whose parishioners fought the project.

“We have been sticking together, showing the city of Vernon that their money and their power doesn’t always count,” he said.

In recent weeks, the California Energy Commission had begun weighing a recommendation to terminate Vernon’s power plant application, in large part because Vernon has been unable to secure the proper permits from the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

“The fundamental problem was with air quality and the size of the project,” said Mike Monasmith, who reviewed the application for the commission.

O’Callaghan said a smaller plant, if approved, would provide power for his city’s 1,800 businesses. He also said Vernon is preparing a “climate action plan” to assess emissions in the city, which has about 90 residents.

“The city of Vernon is working hard to achieve the goal of becoming a leader in environmentally responsible energy generation,” he said in his statement.

—David Zahniser at L.A. City Hall