Black Gold at Beverly Hills High

Beverly Hills High School may be best known for its famous alumni, its film and television appearances and its affluent students. But one thing it isn't known for -- even by some of the students -- is the oil well towering 150 feet over the sprawling campus.

"We don't really pay attention to it," 15-year-old Beverly Hills High School student Kyle Motauasselan said.

"We don't notice it," agreed fellow student Mitchell Rose, 14.

"It doesn't mean anything to me -- it's just there," said Molly Sauer, another 14-year-old.

With hit television shows like "Beverly Hills 90210" and movies such as "Clueless" portraying the students as spoiled, shallow teens who only worry about their next purchase, the perception of Beverly Hills teens around the country probably isn't favorable. But with oil literally looming over the campus, students at Beverly Hills High School are well aware of the oil crisis hanging over the country and the environmental issues affecting the world.

"I think that a lot of people in my class are being taught about the environment and are becoming more aware," student and editor of the Beverly Underground Newspaper, Erich Sorger said.

"People need to drive big cars less," Rose said. "I think we should start driving hybrids -- they are better for the environment because they aren't emitting fumes as much and cut down on gas use."

"We are not rich -- we live in an apartment -- so gas prices affect how much we drive," 15-year-old student Gabriella Giorgio said. "It hasn't gotten to the point where we won't drive at all, but it will if the prices continue to go up. It's just ridiculous."

"I don't think anyone's rich enough to afford the gas prices," Sorger said. "I think everyone's trying to minimize driving. There are different types of students -- some have mothers driving Hummers or SUVs -- but I've seen a lot of Honda hybrids and smaller cars, too."

Los Angeles County covers 4,752 square miles and, according to Dave Sotero, spokesman for the Los Angeles Mass Transit Authority, 29 million trips are made in Los Angeles County daily.

"We count them as 'person trips' -- so if you have three people in a car, that would count as three trips," said Sotero. "But most people don't carpool. Even a small increase in carpooling would have a substantial impact on traffic conditions."

Now that gas prices in Southern California have skyrocketed to more than $3 per gallon for even the lowest grade, concerns are growing, even for those too young to drive.

"It's getting harder and harder, because we can't drive as much because of the prices," Rose said.

"I'm pretty upset about it -- I'm going to start driving soon and I'm going to have to get a job -- but now all the money will just go to gas," Giorgio said.

The Tower of Hope

On the streets of Beverly Hills, lined with vast homes, neatly manicured lawns and expensive boutiques oozing with sophistication, an oil well seems out of place.

But in 2000, the structure received an oil derrick's version of a face-lift: hand-painted, teal-colored tiles now adorn each side of the structure, from top to bottom, making it more art than eyesore.

"The unique aspect of it is that alumni put the project together," Beverly Hills High School principal Dan Stepenosky said. "They went to the hospitals and had terminally ill children paint the panels. A lot of our students went with them and contributed to this project."

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