Southern California Gas must keep paying for subsidized housing for residents displaced by the natural gas leak in Porter Ranch through at least March 29, a state appellate court ruled Tuesday.
The order by a two-judge panel of the Second District Court of Appeal stayed last Friday's ruling by a lower court that ended SoCal Gas' responsibility to keep paying for the housing. The order from Justices Laurence Rubin and Madeleine Flier came in response to an appeal filed by Los Angeles County, which wants the courts to force the gas company to continue the subsidies for nearly two more months.
While dissolving the injunction that required SoCal Gas to keep subsidizing the temporary housing, the lower court said the firm had to continue payments until this Friday. Tuesday's appellate ruling gave the gas company until Friday to respond to the new order, and it gave the county until next Tuesday to file its response.
L.A. County attorneys argued last week for an extension of the subsidized housing so the county could design and conduct indoor air tests to determine why some residents had complained about symptoms including headaches and nosebleeds after the leak was capped Feb. 18. The county also wanted more time to analyze data from a door-to-door survey Public Health conducted two weeks ago.
SoCal Gas has argued there is no need for an extension because its tests and those conducted by state and local regulators have shown the air in the area is safe.
In a statement, the company said the appellate decision "will add to the confusion and frustration for the small percentage of Porter Ranch residents who remain in temporary housing and who were scheduled to return home this Friday."
SoCal Gas said L.A. County has "been unable or unwilling to provide clarity or to demonstrate any evidence-based need for relocated residents to stay away from their homes."
Nearly 8,000 households relocated during the gas leak and according to the gas company, as of March 15, 1,912 were still in long-term interim housing, 3,114 households were staying in hotels or with friends or family, and 3,189 households had checked out of their temporary lodgings.
This story has been updated.