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Pro-green Garcetti hasn’t revealed his interest in oil lease

February 26, 2013 |  9:22 pm

In his bid for Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti has promoted himself as the greenest of candidates.

The city councilman from Silver Lake has pushed for an expansion of L.A.’s rooftop solar-panel program and the creation of thousands of clean-energy jobs, all to reduce the region’s dependence on oil. Those positions helped Garcetti win the Sierra Club’s endorsement.

Missing from Garcetti’s environmental platform, however, is any hint that he has long stood to profit from a lease interest in a headline-making oil drilling operation -– the wells run by Venoco Inc. at Beverly Hills High School.

According to documents on file with the Los Angeles County recorder’s office, Garcetti and several family members signed a 20-year lease with Venoco in 1998. It gave the company the subsurface drilling rights to a nearby Beverly Hills retail property that the councilman co-owns through a personal trust.

The lease enables Denver-based Venoco to tap oil and gas underneath the Wilshire Boulevard property by slant drilling from the high school about a half-mile away.

The high school wells have been the target of some alumni, residents and environmentalists who claim the drilling has emitted dangerous levels of benzene.

Venoco insists the wells are safe and says it has taken no oil or gas from the Garcetti property in the 9600 block of Wilshire Boulevard. Company spokeswoman Lisa Rivas said Venoco secured the lease in anticipation of extending its drilling to that part of Beverly Hills but does not know if the company will follow through on the plans.

Garcetti spokesman Jeff Millman said the candidate “has no memory” of signing the lease. In response to Times queries, Millman said, Garcetti looked into the agreement and found that he earns just a “few dollars” or less from it per year.

“It is a trivial amount of money,” Millman said. “It’s not really an issue.”

But Garcetti and several of his relatives who co-own the Wilshire property could collect potentially lucrative royalties if Venoco began producing oil or gas from the parcel. Meanwhile, they are paid nominal rental fees.

Because the amount of money is so small, Garcetti apparently has not been required to list the lease or the fees on his annual financial disclosure forms. It is unclear whether Garcetti has followed state and city disclosure rules for his ownership interest in the property.

When the lease was in its seventh year, Garcetti voted in favor of a 2005 council resolution opposing Venoco’s efforts to increase its drilling offshore. At the time, he said in a statement that the ocean drilling “would harm the legacy that we're guarding for the generations that come after us,” but he did not mention that he could benefit financially from Venoco’s onshore wells.

Millman said the Wilshire property once housed a clothing store run by Garcetti’s grandfather. It is now the site of a hair salon that pays rent to Garcetti and the relatives, including his sister and cousins, and his grandfather’s trust, Millman said.

In general, state law requires  disclosure of real estate holdings that are within two miles of a city office-holder’s jurisdiction, said Gary Winuk, enforcement chief for the California Fair Political Practices Commission. The Beverly Hills property is within that distance of Los Angeles. For the most part, the city rules are similar to or stricter than the state’s.

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-- Paul Pringle















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