Big Oil washed over the race for Los Angeles mayor Thursday when City Controller Wendy Greuel called on her chief rival, Councilman Eric Garcetti, to end his relationship with the drilling company Venoco.
At issue is a 1998 lease agreement allowing the company to drill for oil and gas under a Wilshire Boulevard property owned by Garcetti's family. Under the agreement, Venoco could slant drill from nearby Beverly Hills High School, as first reported Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times.
“It is absolutely wrong that Eric is allowing children to be put in danger by leasing his property to this company,” Greuel said Thursday.
Garcetti immediately shot back: “This is a desperate attack by a desperate Wendy Greuel.”
The testy exchange between the candidates comes just days before the March 5 election. Greuel and Garcetti have been neck-and-neck atop the polls and they are expected to advance to the May 21 runoff.
Garcetti said the property was once the site of his maternal grandfather's clothing store. He said he’s always known Venoco would never drill for oil on it because of staunch opposition from Beverly Hills residents. Garcetti said he earns $1.25 annually from the lease.
“No oil has ever been extracted from it, and none ever will,” he said.
In fact, two years ago, the Beverly Hill City Council unanimously approved an ordinance banning oil and gas drilling in the city starting in 2017.
Greuel said her opponent should have no relationship with Venoco, a company some environmentalists claim emits dangerous gases at its Beverly Hills High School drilling operation.
Venoco has said its oil wells at the campus are safe.
“One day Eric claims to be an environmentalist," Greuel said. "The next day he has 20- year relationship with Venoco oil."
But Garcetti retorted that it is Greuel who is closest to oil companies. He said she has received $250 in donations from Venoco’s lobbyists and $11,000 from oil and gas companies over the years.
A representative of the Sierra Club’s Angelus Chapter, which has endorsed Garcetti, came to his defense.
“He clearly is the leader on environmental issues,” Sierra Club spokesman David Haake said, citing Garcetti’s work on renewable energy and cleaning up the L.A. River.
As for the lease, Haake said many property owners have them – even though no company will ever drill. “Its pretty standard,” he said.