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LA County to seek extra time for Porter Ranch displaced to go home

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich talks to the board during a board meeting at the Hall of Administration on June 6, 2012.
Andres Aguila/KPCC
Supervisor Michael Antonovich. A top aide says L.A. County will ask a judge to force SoCal Gas to continue paying for temporary housing for displaced Porter Ranch residents beyond Friday's deadline.

Los Angeles County will ask Southern California Gas Co. to keep paying for temporary housing for Porter Ranch residents displaced by the natural gas leak beyond Friday's deadline, according to a top aide to L.A. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich.

If the gas company refuses, the county will ask a judge to extend the deadline, said Tony Bell, Antonovich's assistant chief deputy. 

The deadline has already been extended once. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu M. Berle granted a three-week extensionon Feb. 25, in response to L.A. County attorneys' argument that some of those who had already returned to their Porter Ranch homes were complaining of health problems, such as nausea, headaches, dizziness and respiratory problems.

The four-month leak was capped on Feb. 18.

The County Department of Public Health needs more time to plan how to carry out tests of air inside the homes of Porter Ranch residents, said Dr. Cyrus Rangan, director of the department's Bureau of Toxicology and Environmental Assessment. 

"We don’t want people to go home without assurance that there is nothing there that is going to have an impact on their health," Bell said.

SoCal Gas spokesman Mike Mizrahi would not comment on the idea of another extension, but he said that ongoing tests in Porter Ranch are proving that the air "is safe to breathe."

"There’s really no reason when it comes to the air in Porter Ranch for people not to return to their homes," Mizrahi said.

SoCal Gas opposed the original extension in February, arguing at the time that the air in and around the community "has returned to the typical air-quality conditions that existed prior to the leak."

The County has received more than 300 health complaints since the well was capped and people began to return home, said Public Health's Rangan. 

The gas company is testing the air inside about 75 Porter Ranch homes this week and plans to share the results with the county and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency next week.

L.A. County Public Health needs more time to set up its indoor air testing because it has sought planning help from the EPA, said Rangan. He said the county's testing would differ from what SoCal Gas is doing, because "we will try to figure out why people continue to express symptoms." 

Last week, L.A. County Public Health collected more information on health complaints during a three-day, door-to-door survey of Porter Ranch residents who live within two to three miles of the leak. The department says it will have the results of that survey in the next several days.

Nearly 8,000 households relocated during the gas leak, according to the gas company. It says that as of March 13 3,189 households had checked out of their temporary lodgings, 1,912 were still in long-term interim housing, and another 3,114 households were staying in hotels or with friends or family.
This story has been updated.