Mr. D. Golstein’s letter and wild accusations about myself and Santa Monica Police Sgt. Jay Trisler, and our reaction to two serious crimes that took place just outside my residence on the evening of Aug. 19, seemed to be based on significant misinformation (“Thieves or environmentalists,” Letters to the Editor, Aug. 27). I believe it would be helpful to Mr. Golstein and your readers to have the actual facts about this incident and important issue.

Around midnight of that evening I witnessed two men stealing large quantities of a valuable commodity from an adjacent business, which is a Carl’s Jr. fast food establishment. My questions to the men of what they were doing displeased one of the thieves and he struck me. These two individuals were later apprehended and arrested for the theft and the assault.

The material that was being stolen was used restaurant cooking oil. This is a highly sought-after commodity and when properly collected and recycled into biodiesel fuel it becomes an essential tool in getting our nation off our foreign and domestic oil dependency and putting an end to the madness of continuing to drill for oil.

For used cooking oil to be successfully recycled into biodiesel, it must be properly handled by reputable companies that are certified and follow environmentally sound practices. One of the legitimate companies that collects used oil in Santa Monica and recycles it into biodiesel is family-owned, has a large investment in their business, goes through a lot of costly governmental regulation and has employees that depend on their jobs to pay their bills and take care of their families. These are hard working people struggling to stay in business and provide a valuable environmental service to our community.

Mr. Golstein characterized the thieves that were caught stealing the oil and committed the assault as a couple of kids with an “entrepreneurial sprit.” In fact, these “kids” were large men with a sophisticated operation consisting of a heavy-duty commercial truck, hoses, generator and at least four professional grade containers capable of holding several hundred gallons of oil. This type of operation could easily rake in $5,000 to $10,000 per week stealing used cooking oil. These are organized and violent thieves and are stealing source material from the rightful, environmentally-responsible recyclers.

Mr. Golstein claimed that the efforts of Sgt. Jay Trisler and myself to stop these thefts are motivated by our support of “corporations” and “big oil.” There is no evidence to support Mr. Golstein’s irresponsible accusations. As for Sgt. Trisler, he is an excellent officer, serves our community with integrity and I believe he is owed a public apology.

As for myself, I initiated Santa Monica’s first Alternative Fueled Vehicle Policy 18 years ago when I was on the City Council. This policy prohibits the purchase of a gasoline vehicle if any other fueled vehicle exists. Because of this policy and my constant rally against the use of fuel made from crude oil, Santa Monica has become a leader in the use of electric, natural gas and biodiesel-fueled vehicles. Besides my efforts to further the use of biodiesel made from recycled cooking oil, I’m an active member of and volunteer for the electric vehicle advocacy group, Plug In America, I’m a member of the Sustainable Transportation Club, I have an electric vehicle on order and I’m a major bicycle advocate. If I’m working on behalf of “big oil” and “corporations” as Mr. Golstein contends, I’m not serving them very well.

Mr. Golstein stated that the thieves should not be stopped and instead I should “lead an effort with young people, local businesses and the sanitation authority to begin a project which converts cooking oil into biodiesel which could be used to operate buses, garbage trucks and generators.”

These are the exact things I have been doing for the past several years. I organized a day-long biodiesel educational summit at Santa Monica’s Crossroads School where students from that school as well as Santa Monica High School were taught about the benefits of biodiesel. I convinced the owners of a Santa Monica garbage collection company to run their fleet of collection trucks on biodiesel made entirely from recycled cooking oil, including oil recycled from Santa Monica fast food establishments and hotels.

I organized the first Los Angeles area Biodiesel Conference, which was held here in Santa Monica. I have advised several of the past and current council members on the use of recycled cooking oil based biodiesel, and at the request of the city manager, I met with senior city staff to educate them about the benefits of recycled cooking oil based biodiesel and how the collection and recycling of the oil could be expanded in our community and the resulting fuel used by the city’s vehicles. I have been doing the things Mr. Golstein suggested, except I put them in action and made them a reality many years prior to his letter.

I ask that Mr. Golstein consider supporting our efforts to ensure that this valuable environmental resource is not allowed to be turned into a commodity for organized, violent thieves that make our neighborhoods unsafe, and is instead collected, recycled and returned to our community as fuel by companies that are locally owned, job supporting, neighbor friendly and environmentally responsible.

Kelly Olsen is a former Santa Monica City Councilman and planning commissioner.

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