Posted on 01 March 2015 by La Habra Journal
By Daniel Hernandez
La Habra Journal
While Measure A, or the Healthy City Initiative, remains the contentious issue on the ballot for La Habra Heights residents, three candidates who support and oppose the measure aim to place themselves in two open city council seats March 3. Yet this isn’t the only matter these candidates feel strongly about. The League of Women Voters held a forum at the LH Heights council chambers on Feb. 12 featuring candidates Alex Villanueva, Roy Francis and Jane Williams. They answered questions submitted by the audience ranging from the Matrix Oil project and Measure A to looking back at the council’s decision to change trash haulers. “The Oil. That’s what made me want to run again,” said Francis, a retired fire chief who based his decision to seek re-election on the ongoing Matrix Oil saga. “I’m not against big oil, but I am against big oil using unconventional drilling techniques in a residential community.” The Healthy City Initiative, drafted by members of the Heights Oil Watch group to halt proposed drilling operations at 2490 Las Palomas Drive, purports to not allow for any new oil drilling operations while ending unconventional or “high intensity” drilling operations in the city of LH Heights. Both Francis and Villanueva support the Healthy City Initiative, expressing concern with unconventional drilling operations, like fracking and big-rigs driving through the small streets of the rural community. While Williams, most concerned with the costs of possible legal litigation from the aftermath of the measure, opposes the anti-oil initiative. “I think it’s very dangerous for the city,” Williams said. “They [Matrix Oil] have every right to propose whatever they damn well please for a project. We don’t have to approve.” And Villanueva, an 11-year LH Heights resident and a current lieutenant in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said the Matrix Oil project is what centered his attention on city hall and his campaign to run for city office “Nothing is deceitful or poorly drafted about [Measure A]. It does exactly what it is intended to do. And that is the problem with the oil industry executives and their lawyers. They’re afraid of that,” Villanueva said in support of the controversial initiative. In other issues, all three candidates agreed that the recently negotiated contract between the city and Republic, the city’s new trash haulers, should have been scrutinized more. A little over a year ago, Republic won a bidding battle to take over waste management duties from Haul-Away Rubbish Service, who was the unofficial trash hauler for the city before officials required all residents to pay for trash services. Previously LH Heights did not mandate trash services and some residents hauled away their own waste. Council at the time praised Republic as the cheaper alternative to Haul-Away, touting the large company as able to utilize its big business as a means to make services cheaper. However, after Republic began operating in the city, the public and city council became aware of extra charges that were normally covered by Haul-Away for free. “A lot of the service that was formerly done by Haul-Away are not done by Republic unless it is done at a higher rate, and that unfortunately is a problem when there’s issues like that that are not vetted carefully and not discussed openly with public involvement,” Villanueva said. He also mentioned using law enforcement services to enforce current rules for the amount of damage the waste-hauler trucks are allegedly causing to the roads. Francis and Williams both agreed. They contend that city officials were duped into forging an agreement with Republic Services. However, Francis was mayor at the time of the vote. And immediately following the vote, he expressed remorse for leaving the old trash haulers in the dust. At the forum he expressed even more distaste for the change. “We missed some things in that contract,” Francis said. “I owe an apology to the community, and I’m laying it out there. I’m sorry. I made a mistake.” Williams asserted Francis’ apology and agreed about the mistake. “We used the wrong consultant. I had recommended another one who had years of experience with his own garbage company in Montebello,” Williams said. “The biggest mistake that I feel responsible for is that we didn’t ask the roads to be designated as definite roads that had to have a pup truck.” Also, road repairs, which previously had funding measures defeated in the last election and was also talked about in a special meeting months ago between the city and the community, will be an issue officials will probably tackle in the near future. Williams believes the group discussion between council and the community brought forth ideas about certain roads and that more meetings can lead to more consensus considering the expenses and what the community is willing to contribute in funds. “Some of these roads are really basically cow paths that have been asphalted over … Do you really want to rebuild that or do you want to just keep it so you can still get through,” Williams said. “We wanted to get the community’s point of view.” Villanueva expressed concern about frivolous spending within the city ranks and the need for squaring away the city’s budget before asking the community to fork over cash for the road repairs. “To maintain the roads and keep them in good order where they’re not deteriorating, it costs us more and more money,” Villanueva said. “We can’t decide how we’re going to pay for the roads until we have our financial affairs in order. Then we can start deciding how much pain we want to tolerate and how much individually we’re going to have to sacrifice to pay for the roads.” Yet Francis, who was on the council when the city tried to pass the last bond, felt that the city council and the city did a poor job of communicating to the city residents about the roads before the bond was turned down in the last election. “The drainage problems in the city are partly to blame for some of the road conditions,” Francis said. “We’re probably going to have to dig into our pockets to help fund these roads.” At the forum residents and former and current officials, like former mayor Stan Carrol and current mayor Brian Bergman, listened quietly to the candidates answering questions posed by the audience. League of Women Voters of Whittier member Sally Rivera lead the forum and asked the questions. “I thought it was very informative,” said John Steele, a 25-year LH Heights resident and a retired real estate agent. “And it’s very important to see them in action.”
Video and audio podcast of the candidates forum is available under the media archive section of the city website.
Measure A on Heights Ballot
La Habra Heights residents face a choice at the ballot box on March 3 regarding the future of oil drilling and production within its boundaries.
The exact ballot wording for Measure A is: “Shall an ordinance be adopted that prohibits land use for certain treatments of oil or gas wells that are designed to enhance production or recovery, any new oil and gas wells, and reactivation of idle wells?” In 2010 Matrix Oil proposed to drill up to 30 possible wells on the property at 2490 Las Palomas Drive. The city decided an Environment Impact Report was necessary to learn about the possible impact of the project like traffic and noise. A local group, Heights Oil Watch, collected enough signatures to get a ballot measure and fought word changes in court in a short amount of time to include the initiative on the ballot this year.
The initiative has resulted in Measure A.
A “yes” vote for the initiative it will attempt to stop Matrix Oil from drilling on the 18-acre parcel of land and would add the prohibitions in the city’s General Plan A “no” vote for the initiative would mean no policy addition and the council will still review the EIR and vote whether to allow Matrix Oil to proceed with its project. For more information, including arguments for and against the measure, please see the voter information guide or the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder website.
The election is set for Tuesday, March 3.