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Porter Ranch businesses sue over natural gas leak

Porter Ranch business owners filed a class-action lawsuit against the Southern California Gas Co., parent company Sempra Energy and several state regulators that seeks to recover damages from the natural gas leak that began in October.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday, bundled a real estate agency and a nail salon together and says they are losing “massive numbers of customers and business opportunities, making it impossible to survive during the mass evacuation.”

So, far an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people have relocated to homes and hotels outside the Porter Ranch area while the Southern California Gas Co. attempts to stop the leak that began in late October. There are multiple class action and individual lawsuits circulating amid the community of about 30,000.

Patricia Oliver, an attorney with Lancaster-based PARRIS Law Firm, said the court will likely consolidate the collection of individual claims and class action lawsuits before the defendants respond to the complaints.

The 29-page lawsuit, filed on behalf of Zack Saab and his family and Reem Naaman and her family, doesn’t specify a dollar amount for damages, but Oliver said “a billion dollars is the floor, not the ceiling.”

Saab is a Realtor and Naaman is a co-owner of a nail salon.

Sempra Energy, according to its 2014 annual report, had $11 billion in revenues. As of Monday, the San Diego-based energy firm was trading at $92.07 a share.

The leak, which was discovered on Oct. 23, has pumped an estimated 87.5 million tons of methane, a greenhouse gas, into the air, according to the California Air Resources Board. The lawsuit claims residents in the area have suffered nosebleeds, headaches, nausea, dizziness and long-term exposure to methane, mercaptans and aromatic hydrocarbons.

“We are working hard to both stop the leak and to address our neighbors’ concerns,” Sempra Energy spokeswoman Kristine Lloyd said in a statement. “Beyond that, we are not going to comment on the legal action and will respond to the lawsuit through the judicial process.”

Naaman, whose Nail Garden salon is in a shopping center with a Whole Foods grocery store, said her business is off by at least 50 percent since the leak was disclosed in late October.

She said her salon, which has been there for about a year-and-a-half, is heavily reliant on local traffic and that many of her regular clients have relocated out of the area. She said they are looking into applying for small-business loans offered by the Van Nuys-based Valley Economic Development Center. Those loans range anywhere between $1,000 and $250,000 and carry current interest rates, but payments wouldn’t begin until the leak was fixed.

“Our business is nowhere near where it was or where it was going,” Naaman said. “We were building a client base and climbing, but now we’re back to square one.”

Naaman said her family also suffered personally.

She said they lived in Porter Ranch for eight years but had to relocate to La Crescenta about 30 minutes away in December. She said she’s had to pull her two daughters out of their preschool and hasn’t been able to get them into a new one in La Crescenta.

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