There is oil underneath the land below the Via de las Olas bluffs and offshore in the Pacific Ocean. In fact, at one time the site was dubbed the Pacific Palisades oil field. Occidental Petroleum projected that 60 oil and natural gas wells could be placed on two acres alongside Pacific Coast Highway, across from Will Rogers State Beach.
Why aren’t there drilling rigs? People who are new to Pacific Palisades can thank a group of dedicated residents here and on the Westside who came together in 1968 to wage the 20-year No Oil campaign, aided by the Pacific Palisades Residents Association (PPRA), which was founded in 1958.
An L.A. Times story in May 1985 noted that the “No Oil” group had filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, alleging that its approval of Occidental’s drilling proposal was based on an inadequate study of the resulting environmental impact. The group’s officers, including treasurer Barbara Kohn, estimated that legal costs could be as high as $250,000.
Ultimately, the “people” defeated Occidental’s oil-drilling quest in a citywide vote in 1989. Thus, no oil wells to ruin that coastal stretch of land.
In other grassroots activism, the PPRA worked to reduce the size of the original Marquez Knolls development by the Lachman brothers and the scope of the Palisades Highlands development by the Headland Corporation. In addition, the group lobbied to ensure that the operations for the Getty Villa renovations were followed.
More recently, the PPRA led a “Save the Bluffs” campaign that prevented a major nonconforming apartment development at 16900-17000 Sunset Boulevard, across from western Marquez Avenue.
Currently the PPRA board is seeking support from Pacific Palisades residents as it wages a legal battle with the City regarding the proposed eldercare facility in the Highlands.
In court, the PPRA asked the City to address traffic and noise issues at the assistant living facility. And neighbors are concerned about a proposed public bistro on the ground floor of the four-story building.
PPRA also contends that the building is too large and too tall by City Code, and that it fails to comply with surrounding architectural style. They also argue that the developer’s plan failed to consider the impact the building will have on two adjacent hiking trails.
On March 12, Judge John Torribio, 80, presided over a hearing on the Writ. Prior to the trial, the judge issued a “Tentative Ruling” that was in favor of the City. But he did not address all issues raised by PPRA’s Petition.
During the oral argument by PPRA’s attorneys at the trial, Judge Torribio appeared to realize that the entire case had changed substantially and merited further review. He said, “This whole thing has kind of changed from what I originally wrote — I may give another tentative and bring you back, because I’m thinking this has really changed a lot. It’s changed substantially more than what I normally see. That’s what I’m inclined to do….I’m just talking about after today’s hearing I am going to redo everything, and I think I’ll set it for — because it changed. First of all, I didn’t give a tentative. Secondly, even on the CEQA stuff and the plan interpretation, it’s changed substantially…” [Pg. 64 – Transcript of Proceedings].
Given Judge Torribio’s comments, PPRA’s lawyers were stunned when he announced yet another decision in favor of the City.
Why would the judge reverse himself a second time?
Comments about individual judges can be found on The Robing Room, where the six negative comments about Torribio from attorneys outweigh the one positive comment.
One attorney gave Torribio 1 star out of 10, saying: “There is something not right with this judge. There is a history of something beyond extreme bias, Woodland Hills v. Westfield, Beverly Hills v Metro, SaveHyde v City of L.A. There seems to be a pattern of making up facts. Maybe he has some extra bias against CEQA cases.”
In July 2018, another attorney gave Torribio 1.8 stars out of 10, saying: “If you are assigned Judge Torribio in any case, get the hell out there under CCP 170.6.” (A 170.6 is a California statute that says a judge can be disqualified if the judge is prejudiced against an party or attorney.)
In a January 2019 case, the judge received a 1.0 rating with the comment: “How does Torribio get by without reading a damn thing?! He is AWFUL! He doesn’t read a signal document filed in the case and believes the words of the bigger attorneys. Never seen anything like it.”
Later that same month, Torribio received another 1.8 rating: “Judge Torribio is either intellectually dishonest or simply does not read his tentative rulings. He inexplicably reversed himself on a tentative that was likely written by someone else without explanation and adopted a position that was in direct contravention of California law. When asked why he did an about-face on his tentative ruling, he was rude, dismissive and angry. In short, he simply refused to provide a reason or logic for his apparent last second change of heart. If you are a Plaintiff, file a 170.6 the moment he shows up on your case, whether you are on a master calendar or not.”
In a February 2018 CityWatch story (“Judges Who Lie: Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire”), the author wrote: “When we look at our own judicial system, we see a lot of complaints about judges who lie. Some judges like John Torribio in Norwalk are bold enough to tell outright lies which are easily disproved. When he labels his falsehoods ‘undisputed facts,’ the higher court pretends that Torribio’s lies are true despite the fact that Justices such as Paul Turner (deceased), Kriegler and Baker know that Torribio lied.”
PPRA would like the appellate court to review Torribio’s decision, and be allowed to make closing arguments, which they were denied in this case. But the PPRA needs to raise money for this appeal.
The PPRA board wrote to residents, “Your help is urgently needed to protect and preserve our neighborhood.” And it asked for donations. (Visit: Go FundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/f/protect-california-coastal-act). Or: Mail checks to PPRA, c/o Joann Barry, 15000 McKendree Ave., Pacific Palisades, CA 90272, and made payable to PPRA.)