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CD-12 Candidates Discuss Aliso Canyon, Decarbonization, and Other Issues at Forum

Among the topics at a recent candidates forum for City Council District 12 was the impending closure of the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility.

From left: John Lee, Loraine Lundquist, Asaad Alnajjar

Among the topics at a recent candidates forum for City Council District 12 were the impending closure of the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, the health study into the effects of the Aliso blowout on residents, and the possibility of decarbonization for new buildings in California. This forum was sponsored by the neighborhood councils for Granada Hills South, Granada Hills North, Northridge West, Northridge East, Northridge South, Chatsworth, and Porter Ranch.

The write in candidate, Asaad Alnajjar has been a civil and structure engineer for the City of Los Angeles for more than 30 years, with a bachelor and masters degree in engineering. Over the years, he has worked with all the council district offices and also with the 99 neighborhood councils. Among his accomplishments has been working on a team to design bridge homes, improve sidewalks and bikeways, deployment and installation of solar street lights, and is now part of the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) to help manage whenever there’s a major fire, such as the Saddleridge fire in October of last year.

He has also worked as a volunteer for the LA-CERT program, and became a board member of the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council, chairing its Safety and Traffic Committee.

It was his frustration with trying to bring ideas and projects to the city council that led to his decision to run for office.

Dr. Loraine Lundquist has a doctorate in Physics from Berkeley, and has worked as a fellow as an astrophysicist. Growing up in a military family, she and her husband decided to plant roots and moved to Northridge 11 years ago. She became involved in local issues, including fighting potential fracking at the Termo Oil field in Aliso Canyon, and then joining the shut down the Aliso gas storage facility movement after the blowout began in 2015. She joined the Northridge East Neighborhood Council board chairing the homelessness committee and was a co-founding member of the West Valley Neighborhood Alliance on Homelessness.

She said that she believes it’s a great community but can do so much better than “the chronic inaction that we’ve seen from our council office. I’m running for city council because I want to be a voice for us.” She added, “We deserve a leader who will dig into the underlying problems, root out the special interests, and root cause of problems.” She believes in working on data-driven problem solving for the issues of homelessness, reducing DWP bills by using clean energy solutions and getting rid of the special interests that have controlled city hall.

The incumbent (elected in the 2018 special election) John Lee grew up in the San Fernando Valley. He touted his work to create open spaces and opening a youth center to break up the cycle of gangs, got graffiti and trashed cleaned up by his office, and mentioned his introduction of a resolution to support Governor Gavin Newsom’s letter to the CPUC, directing the agency to expedite the closure of Aliso Canyon.

Regarding the closure of Aliso Canyon, Alnajjar said there is not any reason why it can’t be closed right now. He said “It’s unfortunate that this close to the election, all of a sudden, politicians are coming to us, and saying yes, we will support the closure.” He added “It’s not an engineering issue, it’s a political issue.” He said the data is there to support the program. He mentioned the solar panels on the street lighting as well as how the engineers have found that power is generated when people step on the sidewalks.

Dr. Lundquist said, “It’s imperative that we shut down Aliso Canyon right away. We do not need the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility.” She explained how much of the gas stored there isn’t used for Los Angeles, but the facility stores gas that SoCalGas buys at a low price and then stores until it’s sold at a higher price in order to make money. “That needs to stop,” she said. “We the ratepayers are paying $40-million to keep this facility open.”

As for the resolutions introduced by Lee and Supervisor Barger, she said, “The motions are admirable as we all want an accelerated closure, but it’s notable that these motions don’t include a timeline. They do not include a plan.” She added that since Lee has been in office, Aliso has been used more often than in the last four years.

“I want to create a clear plan of how to shut down this facility. There are are so many tremendous options for using that space that would be better for the community.” She also mentioned that there is enough pipeline capacity for gas for the city without needing the storage site.

Lee said that he understands the dangers. He wants to work with the governor to figure out a plan it shut down Aliso. He claimed the other two running against him didn’t understand how the city doesn’t have the power to shut it down. And said he’s already partnered with fellow Council member Mike Bonin and Supervisor Kathryn Barger, and hoped to bring on Supervisor Hahn to demand the governor to come up with an actual plan.

Dr. Lundquist explained as her rebuttal that “One of the reasons I decided to run for city council was our experience with the council office when our community was faced with this disaster.” She explained that when the blowout had started, “We were told to just call the gas company when we said we were smelling gas.” Her group got the infrared video that showed the plume, and Council member Englander’s office said they would work with them together on solutions. She said Lee, who was the chief of staff at that time refused to meet with the community for months. “The lack of action is continuing now while our council man is in office,” she added.

Lee said that when he was Englander’s chief of staff, they relocated households and the schools. “We were the ones who expanded the area for five miles from Porter Ranch.”

(NOTE: it was the County that went to court to get relocation ordered and it was the LAUSD Board of Education member who got the BOE to get the schools relocated)

Alnajjar says it is ironic that Lee is casting stones at Dr. Lundquist and him about not understanding the issue. He explained that he understands “City Hall from A to Z.” He added that the engineers have the proof, the solutions, and the funding. But he added that when these solutions “get to the City Council ‘shoe,’ nothing happens, that’s why I’m running.”

He said he feels it can be closed in as soon as eleven days.

Another topic covered in the forum was the $25-million health study that was allocated to the County by the 2018 consent decree.

Alnajjar felt that by the time the study goes to the testing state, there may not be much left in the budget after County personnel and other expenses are covered. He said, “I need to know what’s going to happen to me right now and what’s going to happen to me in a few years, and I need to know what’s going to happen to my daughters’ kids.” He wants the study to have more powerful tools to understand and analyze this health study, and doesn’t want to get back a report that says “you’re imagining things, take a pill, and you’ll be better.”

“It’s ridiculous that it’s been four years from the very beginning of this disaster, and we still haven’t started a health study. That should have been pushed forth by the city council office,” said Dr. Lundquist. She also mentioned the letter that the chief toxicologist had sent out in March 2016 to doctors telling them not to conduct tests on their patients. She said the council office should have spoke out against that. She also referred to the post-Saddleridge fire that was found on the SoCalGas property, saying that the community deserves better answers about what chemicals could be emitted, and that the Department of Public Health is dragging their feet on releasing the info.

Lee said, “First, we don’t a need a health study to tell us we were affected.” He suggested that the city could work with Senator Stern to push for a study conducted by the city. He said, “What came back in a study in a report I requested back for a study on Aliso Canyon was that the amount of money the state has receive through a settlement and we can actually work with Senator Stern and some of our state representatives to push our own study so we can actually move something forward.”

One topic discussed was the current trend of decarbonization that many cities are instituting, especially with new buildings.

Alnajjar said that within his job, he has worked on the different plans for getting off of fossil fuels based on 2030, 2040, and 2050 goals.

He gave an example of one way his team is working on these goals. Starting in 2006, with upgrading 189,000 street lights to LEDS, “we are reducing 62,000 metric tons a year of carbon dioxide with a saving of $11-million. In the CD-12, the street lights give a reduction of to 8,000 metric tons ayear with a savings of $1.3-milion.” He added, “We are putting in such a good plan for our grand kids.”

He touted getting an expo line to the ocean and putting in the first solar bus stop in Porter Ranch.

Dr. Lundquist said, “The science is crystal clear. We need to decarbonize the economy. We need to protect our children’s future.”

She explained that the faster the decarbonization process is done, the more it will save money. She said it’s crazy that new developments with gas hookups are still being built as “there are amazing new technologies.” She mentioned induction stoves and heat pumps that are available now that are easier and cheaper to use. She also said that moving to a green economy will mean millions of great new jobs.

Lee admitted that climate change is real, but said like City Hall, a plan was put forward without addressing the issues. He would like the decarbonization plan to address the issue of jobs, reliability, and affordability, and doesn’t want to see price of gas to raise.

Alnajjar rebutted what Lee said. He said that as part of the mayor’s planning team, “We explored every single angle.” He mentioned that downtown there’s the Blue LA project (for leasing electric cars), EV chargers, and soon there will be induction charging, where your electric car will be charged while it’s parked.

Dr. Lundquist also provided a rebuttal, saying that the Eland project will provide cheaper solar power with battery storage that at 3.3 cents per kilowatt hour will be cheaper than energy produced by any fossil fuel plant.

She also mentioned that Department of Water and Power union is pouring many thousands of dollars into last year’s and year’s election to kill that project, even though it won’t take any union jobs.

Lee answered that he supported the Eland project in City Council. He claimed the DWP union opposed Lundquist and the Eland project because they feel the project will raise rates. He also claimed that she wants to remove cars in 2025, but she interjected that this was a lie.

Other topics discussed during the event included working with Neighborhood Councils, use of Quimby funds for parks, sidewalk vendors, homelessness, affordable housing, the Metro rail rapid transit project, the Saugus school shooting, post-Saddleridge restoration of trees and parks, and traffic problems.