In 2018, Chatsworth resident Richard Mathews received a text from Gavin Newsom, a candidate for California governor at the time, seeking his support in the election.
The soon-to-be governor asked what mattered the most to Mathews, who sat on the executive board of the California Democratic Party at the time.
It had been more than two years since the gas blowout at Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility spewed massive amounts of methane and chemicals into nearby communities in the San Fernando Valley, including Mathews’ neighborhood.
The chemicals caused problems with his eyes and his allergies, and his mother, who was in her late 80s and now in her 90s, continues to suffer health-wise to this day, he said.
Mathews texted back: “Two things matter to me: STRONG action on climate, and immediate shutdown of Aliso natural gas storage.”
And Newsom responded: “Same page – will do everything I can to shut it down !”
Now, more than four years later, Mathews joined dozens of other Valley residents outside the SoCalGas offices in Chatsworth to rally around the freshly introduced state Senate Bill 1486 that would set 2027 as the hard deadline for the shut down of the storage facility.
“Governor, it’s time to keep your promise,” he said.
The residents and activists say they have heard countless promises to permanently close the storage facility within 10 years, and now they hope to launch a campaign via this bill, to ensure lawmakers and elected officials to make good on them.
They argue that the years after the blowout, during which the facility had been closed, should have shown that its absence would hardly be felt, despite the company’s and state energy officials’ claims that it is necessary for energy reliability.
The state bill comes after public officials decided to reopen and expand the capacity of storage facility, alarming activists and residents who have been pushing for its closure.
On Wednesday, they held up signs reading, “Our health matters” and “SoCalGas Makes Me Sick,” and chanted “Shut it down! Shut it down!”
SoCalGas representatives say they are taking part in an ongoing process to study the feasibility of the closure, and say they are looking into using hydrogen as a potential alternative energy source.
SoCalGas has maintained that they have worked with independent experts and state regulators to improve the facility since the 2015 gas leak, and that the site is safe.
The bill not only calls for a concrete deadline for the facility’s closure, as well as reducing it’s operation to only being used as a “last resort,” it also includes provisions that anticipates any opposing arguments aimed at delaying or avoiding the facility’s closure — such as claims that doing so would threaten jobs and energy reliability.
Jane Fowler, of Granada Hills, and others on Wednesday argued that this means Stern’s bill should make it “easy” for lawmakers and the governor to sign off on it.
“SB 1486 is the beginning,” said Jane Fowler, of Granada Hills.
“And one of the things I love about this bill … we’ll have workers transitioning to jobs in the clean-energy sector,” Fowler said.
The bill also calls on public agencies to formulate a plan to reduce natural gas demand.
Nevertheless, the new bill faces headwinds in Sacramento, and Stern says that anticipated hearings in the Senate Energy Committee will likely draw “a lot of firepower” from those pushing back against a swift closure to the facility.
“But this is a mighty army,” Stern told the activists and residents.
Mathews said Wednesday they are optimistic because they have managed to sustain and grow their effort’s momentum in the past seven years, and now plan to push hard for the bill’s passage.
Mathews is on the board of Save Porter Ranch, one of several groups that have coalesced around the fight to close the natural gas storage facility.
Mathews and others often grew emotional at the introduction of a bill that definitely calls for the facility’s closure. And they said they were heartened by the turnout for the rally.
“This kind of support from all over the state is going to blow right through that political (stuff),” said Matt Pakucko, president of Save Porter Ranch. “And so, I really am speaking to North San Fernando Valley people. If we don’t come out and support this, why should anybody else?”