Greuel, Garcetti trade attacks over lease with oil drilling firm
Los Angeles mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel ramped up her attacks on chief rival Eric Garcetti on Thursday, alleging that his family’s financial connection to a controversial oil drilling operation at Beverly Hills High School has endangered children and raised questions about the authenticity of his environmental credentials.
“He has promoted himself as an environmental champion, but he has never mentioned his oil interests,” said Greuel, alluding to a Times article this week detailing Garcetti’s interest in a 20-year lease with Venoco, a multinational oil company.
“Who is the real Eric Garcetti? The fact is, nobody knows,” Greuel said. “Every day we get a new Eric Garcetti, someone who tries to be everything to everyone.”
Garcetti called Greuel’s allegations “a desperate attack from an increasingly desperate Wendy Greuel” during a news conference Thursday afternoon. He noted that Greuel accepted a $250 contribution from one of Venoco’s lobbyists during her campaign for city controller in 2009 and has accepted at least $11,000 in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies.
“There is one candidate in this campaign who is focused on cleaning up the environment, and there is one who is focused on flinging mud,” Garcetti said. “There is one candidate who is focused on the facts, and there is one whose numbers don’t add up. This is just the latest example of Ms. Greuel’s numbers not adding up.”
Garcetti was introduced by David Haake, vice chairman of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club, who said the lease was a “non-issue” and a distraction from the real issues in the campaign.
The allegations marked a sharply negative turn for Greuel that underscored the closeness of the race as Tuesday’s election draws near. Many voters are still undecided -- possibly one reason Greuel appears to be shifting to more personal attacks on her rival’s character.
As The Times reported this week, Garcetti and family members signed a lease with Venoco in 1998 granting the company subsurface drilling rights to a Beverly Hills retail property co-owned by the councilman.
“No oil has ever been extracted, and none ever will,” Garcetti said Thursday during the news conference at his Studio City headquarters.
Although Venoco says it has not taken any oil or gas from the property, some high school alumni and environmentalists have alleged that the Venoco drilling site at the high school has produced hazardous levels of benzene nearby.
In 2003, Venoco paid a fine and agreed to install monitoring equipment to settle pollution complaints from air quality officials. The same year, environmental advocate Erin Brockovich sued the company, the city of Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills school district alleging that the wells caused cancer in former students. The lawsuits were dismissed.
Greuel said Thursday that serious health concerns remain, adding: “As the mom of a child in public school, I understand the importance of this.”
She outlined environmental problems that Venoco has faced in recent years, including an oil spill off the coast near Santa Barbara. “It’s absolutely unconscionable to me that Eric is allowing children to be in danger by leasing his property to this company,” she said during a news conference at her headquarters in Van Nuys, where she stood beside an enormous chart with a “Garcetti/Venoco Timeline.”
Greuel said Garcetti should “apologize to environmentalists and to the families and the children that have been impacted by this oil field.”
Dismissing Greuel’s attacks Thursday, Garcetti repeatedly said that there is no drilling operation on his property: “Nor will there be -- there’s a ban on that in Beverly Hills -- and I think that children may have been used in her rhetoric to make that seem a little more extreme.”
Garcetti’s campaign said that the Los Angeles councilman has no memory of signing the lease, which yields him $1.25 a year, and that he would donate any future royalties from the agreement to the Sierra Club.
At one point during the news conference, Garcetti pulled $1.25 in change from his pocket to show the cameras.
“This is the amount of money each year that I get from no oil, not one drop coming out: five quarters,” he said.
Greuel suggested Garcetti kept the lease hidden from voters, and possibly violated disclosure laws that apply to political officials, by not reporting it on annual financial forms. (Garcetti did list the real estate holding on state and city forms from 2007 through 2009.)
“Either Eric Garcetti doesn’t understand the rules or he understands them and thinks that he doesn’t have to abide by them,” Greuel told reporters.
State law generally requires disclosure of real estate holdings within two miles of an officeholder’s jurisdiction. Garcetti’s advisors have said he did not report the property on his disclosure forms before 2007 because it was outside L.A. city limits.
-- Maeve Reston
Photo: L.A. mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, Kevin James, Jan Perry and Emanuel Pleitez at a debate at Loyola Marymount University on Feb. 5. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times