Hollywood Earthquake Fault: Why Residents Should Care

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Mon, Oct 14, 2013 at 5:00 AM
click to enlarge Hollywood resident George Abrahams stands on Vista Del Mar Avenue's intersection with Carlos Avenue. The active Hollywood Fault runs below. - GRACIE ZHENG
  • Gracie Zheng
  • Hollywood resident George Abrahams stands on Vista Del Mar Avenue's intersection with Carlos Avenue. The active Hollywood Fault runs below.

Despite controversy over the L.A. City Council's approval of the Millennium skyscrapers, a project that would either straddle or sit next to the Hollywood Fault, residents here are mostly in the dark about their proximity to the 10-mile-long "rupture zone," which is capable of splitting buildings in half during a quake.

A common reaction among a few residents L.A. Weekly spoke to was that, even if traces -- meaning old ruptures -- of the active fault run under and around their homes, and even if the California State Geologist says that's alarming, doesn't the entire state sit on a giant earthquake fault?

Not exactly. This fault is capable of ripping the earth's surface on an east-west pathway north of Hollywood Boulevard and south of the Hollywood Hills with a magnitude 7 temblor.

That is not your typical California fault. Yet until this summer, it was one of the city's great secrets, well-known to one group: geologists.

click to enlarge Blvd6200 next to or within the fault zone is half-constructed. It was approved without a seismic study. - GRACIE ZHENG
  • Gracie Zheng
  • Blvd6200 next to or within the fault zone is half-constructed. It was approved without a seismic study.

We spoke about how this could be to Michael Woo, who represented Hollywood for eight years as city councilman and was later on the L.A. Planning Commission when it approved the $200 million Blvd6200 complex in 2007. (In above photo, Blvd6200 is under construction -- it borders Carlos Avenue, which geologists believe is within, or alongside, the fault zone.)

Woo tells us that when he was briefed on Blvd6200 as the Planning Commission considered and then approved Blvd6200 in 2007, "the earthquake issues were never brought up" by top city employees -- or anyone else.

And many residents are just now learning of the fault.

Eric Berg, 39, a television art director, has lived for two years just north of the intersection of Carlos and Vista Del Mar, and falls fully within the fault zone mapped by USC earth sciences professor James Dolan and a team of scientists in 1997.

Berg isn't terribly concerned about the potential safety issue. "I don't really know much about how far this is spread out and if something happens here how far would the damage go," he says.

Some feel safe because, in modernity, no devastating quake has hit Hollywood. The last time, after all, was more than 7,000 years ago.

Geologists shake their heads. That's a long time for human civilization, but a blink on Earth's time scale.

Abrahams, who lives in the Hollywood Hills and is among those suing the city and developer to overturn approval of the Millennium twin skyscrapers, says not enough Hollywood people are paying attention to the geology beneath them.

(The Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday that more than 1,000 poorly reinforced older concrete buildings in L.A. may be at risk for collapse in a quake, and that Hollywood has a particularly high concentration of them. Please also see L.A. Weekly's coverage of this phenomenon in 2011 in "The First 15 Minutes After the Big One.")

"I think everyone within at least a quarter-mile of each side of the fault line should be informed" by the authorities, says Abrahams.

The Wall Street Journal and other major media picked up the story about the Hollywood Fault many weeks ago, after the L.A. City Council approved the Millennium twin skyscrapers, 35 and 39 stories high. California state law prohibits new buildings from being constructed immediately adjacent to, or on top of, earthquake faults.

But the issue remains theoretical among those living in the quake zone.

"We wouldn't think about it until there is a problem, sort of like people on a flood plain in Louisiana. Then all of a sudden, floods. And everything is ruined," Berg says.

To save lives, the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act was signed into law in California in 1972. It says new buildings for human occupancy in California should be at least 50 feet from an identified earthquake fault.

Detailed geological maps show that the Hollywood Fault's "traces" are near Franklin Avenue, Yucca Street, Carlos Avenue, Las Palmas Avenue and several other heavily populated streets.

Next, find out why this was unknown to so many for so long:

Suggested Reading

  • News The Informer

    New Hollywood Fault Map Curbs Development in Hollywood, WeHo, Los Feliz 9

    Updated at the bottom: Response from the Dept. of Building and Safety and the developer of Millennium Hollywood project. Environmental lawyer slams city, and community leader demands a criminal investigation. Councilman O'Farrell issues unusual comments. State Geologist John Parrish is "confident" of locations of fault traces.  State Geologist John Parrish More >>

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