The Playa del Rey gas storage facility is an industrial relic that’s overstayed its welcome

By Wendy Zacuto

The author is an education consultant who lives in Playa del Rey and an organizer of Protect Playa Now.

Like a kindly uncle who lingers on the sofa long after Christmas is over, the Southern California Gas Company has overstayed its welcome in Playa del Rey. And like the kindly uncle who pulls candies out of his pocket to appease his hosts, SoCalGas plies the community with gifts.

The public affairs manager has the untenable task of covering up for this growing blight on our community. A kindly, competent person whose job it is to maintain the status quo, he works hard to fund educational grants for our community. Those gifts help us forget about the pollution caused by the relic that the gas storage facility has become.

{Editor’s Note: SoCalGas disputes claims made by this story.}

I grew up in Westchester and spent my days at The Gillis like every good Westchester High student. When I asked my parents about the smell, and later, when my children asked me about the smell, the answer was “That’s just the gas company, honey.”

But times have changed, and as a grandparent who has seen the deleterious effects of the Aliso Canyon leak and smaller mishaps around the country, I want to see our local leadership protecting our community instead of facilitating grants for education from SoCalGas and looking the other way.

As I have become more informed, when my grandkids ask “What’s that smell?” I now say, “That’s mercaptan, honey. It’s a toxic chemical. When you smell that you know that gas is where it’s not supposed to be.”

I have attended many Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa meetings to learn more about this issue. As I sit in these meetings I am stunned by the range of issues this body oversees. I appreciate their hard work on behalf of our community. But I wonder how long the SoCalGas will control the confidence of this body, despite mounting evidence that the site has lost its value to our community. Given lessons learned from Aliso Canyon, the very real dangers the Playa del Rey gas storage facility poses cannot be ignored.

Constructed when Playa del Rey was no more than a rural outpost, the storage facility now coexists with a tight cluster of homes, schools and businesses. When the Aliso Canyon leak happened, everyone within a five-mile radius had to evacuate for months. Take a minute to think about how many homes, schools, businesses and other infrastructure — including the airport — would be affected if a similar event took place here. I worry that an earthquake, leak or undetected break — any one of a myriad of unexpected events at a plant initially built in the 1930s — could lead to disaster.

SoCalGas seeks to calm such fears. They also said Aliso Canyon couldn’t happen. But it did.

A Dec. 22 news release by the South Coast Air Quality Management District cited many violations related to foul odors and public nuisances at the Aliso Canyon facility. The same bulletin notes that “since January, SCAQMD has issued nine Notices of Violation to SoCalGas facilities across the Southland, including at Playa del Rey, Pico Rivera, Monterey Park and Los Angeles. Two of those violations were for causing a public nuisance, and the remaining seven were for violating various SCAQMD rules and regulations.”

These are the kinds of things that can happen at an antiquated facility. I encourage community members to ask for a tour of the Playa del Rey gas storage facility. You can contact Mike Harriel directly (213-244-4633; to set one up and see for yourself what we drive by while looking the other way.

When you visit, ask questions. Ask about the gas that is transported to and from the site. Ask about whether the California Public Utilities Commission and the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources also monitored the Aliso Canyon facility for safety when it spilled its toxic fumes. Ask the purpose of the continued use of the site, and whether it stores gas imported from all over the country until the price of gas is lucrative and can be redistributed. Couldn’t storage for such purposes be relocated to a less dense and less environmentally sensitive location?

Let’s not thoughtlessly leave ourselves vulnerable to a preventable disaster. We have a responsibility to speak up for ourselves, our children and the generations yet to come.

Protect Playa Now hosts a town hall on the Playa del Rey gas storage facility from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday (April 14) at Holy Nativity Church, 6700 W. 83rd St., Westchester. Visit for more information.