SoCal Gas reaches agreement for relocations affected by leak

Responding to legal action by the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office, attorneys for Southern California Gas Co. agreed today 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. also agreed to 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 last week, about 1,700 residents had been relocated, and another 1,000 were in the process. Attorneys said today the goal of the agreement is to move residents within 72 hours once they request it.

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.

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