October 02, 2012

To Save or Open West Coyote Hills Oil Field, Abandoned

There's one last remaining patch of open space in the northernmost section of Orange County: West Coyote Hills.

The problem? No one can get to it. It's a former oil field of Chevron, who still owns it, and it's allegedly leaking oil. But despite its potentially toxic nature, Chevron wants to build a housing development on top of it. And despite its toxicity, local Fullerton residents want to conserve it as public park lands.

A bir farther north, up here in LA, remnants of our oily past and oil-dependent present are everywhere, though sometimes hidden: an oil drill still remains in the middle of Beverly Center, and oil derricks on man-made islands off the coast of Long Beach are camouflaged to look like condo towers. Plenty of our metropolis has been built on top of old oil fields, including LAX, The Grove, and Miracle Mile, not to mention all of the beach communities, and even an affordable housing project in Echo Park, near where the LA oil boom first began 120 years ago. But there is no doubt that the former presence of oil mining - and the explosive "methane zones" which result - presents possible threatening conditions to those who develop on top and around it. (See also: Greenpoint, Brooklyn's underground oil spill)

And sure, parkland is an option. In LA, the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area is completely surrounded by unsightly oil drills, which you can see when you drive up La Cienega through Baldwin Hills.

Even farther north, oil isn't part of the history of communities like Taft and Bakersfield, it is current and prevalent. Its rigs are drilling.

But right now, in Orange County, as the opposition over an oil field that hasn't been active in four decades goes to legislation, all anyone can do is walk or bike a mile-long stretch of dirt path, along a rusty, barbed wired fence, and be faced with seemingly similar but contradictory commands to "Save Coyote Hills" and "Open Coyote Hills." The latter, which is meant to encourage the proposed housing development that will also incorporate some parkland, speaks to the crux of the matter: is keeping the area closed altogether for an extended period of time better than opening it up for possibly a less-than-ideal land use? Will it be saved? Can it be saved?

Is it better to do something and regret it, than do nothing at all?

Or is there something to be said for doing nothing unless it's the right thing?

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Ventura Oil Refinery, Abandoned - Part 1
Photo Essay: Ventura Oil Refinery, Abandoned - Part 2
Photo Essay: California's First Commercial Oil Well
Photo Essay: Ed Davis Park at Towsley Canyon
Photo Essay: Inside Greystone Mansion

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