State Coastal Commission approves Los Cerritos wetland restoration land swap

If you have driven or biked on Pacific Coast Highway near Shopkeeper Road by the San Gabriel River in Long Beach, you’ve probably noticed a fence around the area made famous for years by the seasonal Pa’s Pumpkin Patch and Christmas Tree Farm. The 5-acre property could be undergoing some major changes.

That’s because it’s part of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Oil Consolidation and Restoration Project, a land swap deal that received partial approval from the California Coastal Commission at its Aug. 8 meeting. (The project still needs to get approval of a Coastal Development Permit before it can proceed.)

The plan will ultimately give the public 154 acres of the wetlands, which is to be restored by Beach Oil Minerals Partners, a subsidiary of oil field operator Synergy Oil & Gas. In return, the oil company will be able to expand oil exploration and drilling while consolidating its oil operations onto two small parcels: The Pumpkin Patch property and a parcel on the northeastern corner of Studebaker and Second Street. Two other nearby properties which are operated by Synergy are also part of the land swap. All of the properties are in the city of Long Beach, which approved the land swap earlier this year.

Under the plan, the oil company will get the right to slant drill the Pumpkin Patch property. There could be up to 50 wells on the Pumpkin Patch site and up to 70 wells at the other site. The wells will consist of a combination of oil production, water injection and water source exploration.

Also planned for the Pumpkin Patch site is the building of a 5,200-square-foot, two-level office building and a 9,750-square-foot warehouse with rooftop solar, according to Jacqueline Medina of Long Beach Development Services. There will be vegetative screening, sidewalks, bike lanes and a city gateway/entry monument. She said the project is expected to take three to four years to be completed.

‘Visual and noise impacts’

“The Land Swap and its future development will have both visual and noise impacts for Seal Beach residents,” according to Seal Beach City Councilwoman Schelly Sustarsic, who represents the city on the board of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority or LCWA. The LCWA is a government entity that will be responsible for maintaining the wetlands if the land swap deal goes through.

“Drilling would take place 50 hours per week (with the noise associated with this) by a drilling apparatus that stands 160 feet high. Drilling each well will take approximately 3 (or possibly 4) months, so the whole process of drilling the 50 wells can go on for at least 8 years,” Sustarsic wrote in an email this week regarding drilling plans for the Pumpkin Patch site.

Another possible impact on Seal Beach is the potential generation of new revenue from slant drilling into oil reserves in Seal Beach. “If oil is taken from under our property or new oil pipelines cross through our public right-of-way, the city of Seal Beach would be entitled to new revenue,” Sustarsic wrote. At this point, no plans have been announced for slant drilling into Seal Beach.

An oil consultant recently hired by the city of Seal Beach said he has not been asked to review the wetlands issue by the city. In July, the Seal Beach City Council voted to hire Greg Kirste of Municipal Petroleum Analysts on a 15 percent contingency fee to collect unpaid fees and taxes from oil companies. Kirste’s contract does allow him to be hired to do other work for the city at a $200 hourly fee under the direction of City Manager Jill Ingram.

Long Beach resident and Coast Guard veteran Mark Moore is excited about the land swap project, which he thinks will increase property values and give the public more access to the wetlands.

But Moore will have to wait. While we won’t see drilling very soon, come next month, we should see pumpkins. Pa’s Pumpkin Patch is slated to open for business on Sept. 28, according to its website.