On Local:  Government Ode to a gadfly: Tom O’Leary began once quixotic campaign to close the AES power plant

Plans to convert the Redondo Beach Power plant into a 50-acre park began with efforts to stop the Heart of the City development proposed in 2001. Easy Reader file images.

by Bob Pinzler

On the Carnelian Street side of the Redondo Beach City Hall campus, a tree is dedicated to Tom O’Leary. The site was chosen because it faced the, then, Southern California Edison power plant that he had spent much of his life working to close down. At the dedication, we had the hope and expectation that, someday, that tree would get a better look at the ocean, unencumbered by the sight of those ugly stacks.

As a Redondo Councilmember, one spends a good deal of time listening to people come to the podium during public participation to air their particular political grievances. Mostly, they are personal peeves. But Tom was different. He was focused on one idea: the existence of the power plant was detrimental to the health and welfare of the people of the South Bay and had to be removed.

While he was regaling the Council about the pollution, particulate, noise and visual, that spewed from the plant, one would have thought he was calling for a storming of a proverbial Bastille. But it was more than that. Tom had done his homework. He had made measurements. He had spoken to experts. He was not the typical gadfly.

Considering that 30 years later this dream of his is finally coming to fruition could be viewed as a sad testament to a quixotic venture on his part. He likely wouldn’t feel that way. Tom knew that what he was asking for would take years to happen and that it would require others picking up the flag he had ultimately had to drop to get to a final victory.

When it was announced in the late 1990s that two of the oldest stacks were going to be taken down, some of the then sitting Councilmembers were invited to climb to the top and knock off the first pieces. I remember us talking about dedicating this to Tom. I still have the sledgehammer we used.

Yet, it took another 20-plus years to get to this day when we can finally see the end of this eyesore. The people who picked up that flag got it done. Their efforts have been herculean and we, and those who come after us, are and will be enormously grateful. They deserve every accolade. 

But much of the land that we stand on is built from the sediment of those who came before us. We need to thank them as well. 

Editor note: A ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, Sunday, December 31, to mark the closing of the AES power plant, after 69 years of operation. State Senator Ben Allen, Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, Mayor Bill Brand and others plan to attend. ER

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