It’s a Sunday afternoon and the NFL season is in high gear. But Wines of the World in Porter Ranch, a popular spot for locals to pick up football party supplies, is quiet. No customers are dropping by.
A pall has settled over the tiny North San Fernando Valley community as a massive leak at Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility above their homes continues to spew an estimated 1,200 tons of methane into the air each day.
The two-month mark for the leak is Wednesday, and the fix might not be in until the spring.
It’s prompted an exodus of residents. Small businesses in the area are feeling financial pain, and some employees are dealing with physical discomfort.
As of Friday evening, 2,009 families were in temporary housing, 884 were awaiting a decision on their request, and the company was trying to contact 1,474 families seeking assistance.
So far, 821 families have declined assistance, and 93 have moved back into their homes, the company said.
It’s not a good situation for Ronnie Singh, who owns the wine shop near the Whole Foods Market in a small mall at the southeast corner of Tampa Avenue and Rinaldi Street.
“Yeah, business started going down when the people started leaving. I haven’t seen a lot of my regulars coming by,” Singh said. “One came by the other day to check on his house and said he may be in a hotel for the next three months.”
Singh has owned the store for three years and business was good before the leak was discovered Oct. 3 at well site SS 25 near the crest of Oat Mountain.
“The neighborhood is very together. There are a lot of Sunday afternoon gatherings, and business really picks up. But its been like this since November,” he said.
Last week, the Los Angeles Unified School District voted to relocate the students and staff at Castlebay Lane Charter Elementary School and Porter Ranch Community School, the two campuses closest to the gas field.
This is not good news for the owners of Dance Dance Dance Studio in a storefront a few doors away in the same mall. It was already being impacted by the leak before the district action.
“We’re losing some students because some were relocated,” said Bill Stevenson who helps his wife Linda run the studio, which has been a fixture in the community for 14 years.
Stevenson said they were waiting to see how many students would return after the end of the fall sports season and Christmas break.
Now the school relocation’s impact looms.
Losing one student usually has a ripple effect on the revenue the studio gets from class tuition, he said.
“It’s not the one student because they can take three, four or five classes,” he said.
It will take a while for the full impact of the school relocation to be felt.
Over at the larger Porter Ranch Town Center at the northwest corner of Corbin Avenue and Rinaldi Street, Lydia Parson, manager of the Color Me Mine store, is dealing with the physical aspects of the leak.
The storefront faces the west, and when the wind blows Parsons inhales the mercaptan, an additive which is used to give natural gas its rotten egg odor.
She spends 20 hours a week at the Porter Ranch store.
“I’m having health-related issues because of it,” she said of the leak. “I’m suffering from migraines, and I’m having respiratory problems, So it is difficult breathing during my shift here.”
Parsons said she can smell the leak when the wind picks up.
“It is as pungent as if it were in your own kitchen, and you smell it for hours. It pretty much sucks,” she said.
The response from various agencies to the leak has been slow at best. It took the LAUSD nearly two months to order the relocation.
About the only step left is for one of the agencies to issue a voluntary evacuation order.
And I would not be surprised if that happened soon.
This article was written by Greg Wilcox from Los Angeles Daily News and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.