Photo via Pixabay
Photo via Pixabay

Responding to legal action by the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, Southern California Gas Co. agreed Wednesday to pay for a pair of retired judges to oversee and expedite relocations of residents affected by a continuing gas leak near Porter Ranch.

Under the agreement reached by the company and city attorneys — and approved by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge — the Gas Co. will also pay for security deemed necessary by police to ensure the protection of the vacated homes.

The City Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday it would go to court seeking such an order, saying it wanted to ensure that residents who want to move out of the area are able to do so expeditiously.

Residents have complained of nausea, nosebleeds, dizziness and headaches related to the leak, which was discovered by the Gas Co. on Oct. 23. So far, thousands of residents have voluntarily left the area and two schools have been closed.

As of Wednesday, 2,174 households have been temporarily relocated and another 2,694 are in the process, according to the Gas Co.

Attorneys said Wednesday the goal of the agreement is to move residents within 72 hours once they request it.

“They told us that they would do the best that they could. They are now under a court order to do better than they’ve done in the past,” said Jim Clark, chief deputy city attorney. “And assuming it’s physically possible, and the relocation place can be found, they’ll do it within the time frame of 24 to 72 hours.”

Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander, who represents the Porter Ranch neighborhood, said the gas leak has turned “a very special time of year” into a “nightmare for this community.”

“The relocation process has been stressful, complicated and frustrating for the residents of Porter Ranch — particularly the elderly and those with special needs that require additional accommodations,” he said.

He praised the agreement, saying its prioritization of people with special needs and the goal of responding to relocation requests in 24 to 72 hours “are critically important to ensuring the health and wellness of this community during crisis.”

The Gas Co. is in the first phase process of drilling a relief well that will ultimately allow the utility to cap the leak, but the process is expected to take three to four more weeks.

The company has been hit with at least two lawsuits, including one filed by Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer.

Gas Co. officials have said the utility’s “highest priority is to safely stop the leak as quickly as safety will allow.”

It is also important for the utility to help “affected customers” and “reduce the amount of natural gas emitting into the environment during this unfortunate situation,” according to a recent statement by the company.

Gillian Wright, vice president of customer service for the Gas Co., said Tuesday the company is “committed to best efforts to accommodate all residents in neighboring communities who need relocation, including people with disabilities and access and functional needs,” as well as people who need pet- friendly options.

“While we are working to accommodate people’s needs and are providing free, temporary housing accommodations, many people are pursuing their own options,” including Airbnb rentals and hotels, with the choice up to “each resident and their family,” she said.

—Staff and wire reports

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