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A proposal to turn oil fields three miles north of Lompoc into a major housing development within an expanded city limit line, has reappeared on the table for debate at tonight's Lompoc City Council meeting. The annexation request had been on hold until a deal with environmentalists to turn the land into open space fell through last year.

"Now they're coming back, asking the city to process their request for an annexation," City Planner Lucille Breese said Monday.

Plains Exploration and Production Co. (PXP), based in Houston, Texas, has asked the city to once again consider annexing 807 acres north of Vandenberg Village and west of Harris Grade Road. Annexation would be a step toward building as many as 1,300 residential units in a development they have named Purisima Hills.

The proposed development would be built on top of a PXP oil field that would be phased out of operation.

The pre-annexation request will be the subject of a public hearing before the City Council at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 100 Civic Center Plaza.

If the council approves the pre-annexation request, the developers could present a specific plan, and pay to have it go through the environmental impact review process, as well as be included in the city's General Plan, which is currently under revision.

"There's a lot of unknowns with having a project of that magnitude, so we need to give them as much information as possible so they can decide whether to proceed or not," Breese said.

The council could certify the environmental study, and the annexation would move up to the county level where the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) would have the final decision.

A request for an interview with a PXP spokesperson was not returned by press time Monday.

The developers have stated in the past that that they will turn directly to the county to approve development if the city chooses not to annex the land.

In March 2008, the PXP annexation was kept in the city's General Plan by a majority vote of the City Council - Mike Siminski, Will Schuyler, and DeWayne Holmdahl.

Both Holmdahl and Schuyler lost their council seats in the November elections. New Councilman Bob Lingl voted against further study of the annexation in 2007 as a member of the city's Planning Commission.

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"At the time it was a no vote against leapfrog annexation," Lingl said Monday.

Lingl said he would be open to discussing northward annexation by the city, but said he had concerns about developing the housing project on the land due to the city's capacity to provide fire and police service to so many new residents, so far from the city center.

Other concerns voiced by opponents of the annexation included the traffic impacts on the Wye intersection, water for the new homes, and the safety of residents living on oil production land, and near another PXP oil and gas plant.

Since he voted on the issue as a planning commissioner, Lingl said he would be recused from the discussion and vote tonight.

PXP itself pulled the annexation proposal in May 2008, when the company entered into an agreement with several Santa Barbara County environmental groups. The deal would have halted offshore oil drilling by 2022, in exchange for the groups' support of oil exploration of the Tranquillion Ridge. As part of the agreement, PXP pledged to shut down its Lompoc oil and gas operations, and convert 3,700 acres, including the proposed Purisima Hills space, into public open space to compliment the adjacent Burton Mesa Ecological Preserve.

In January the State Lands Commission voted to kill the deal between PXP and the environmental groups when it voted against granting new offshore drilling permits.

May 5, 2009