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Millennium Hollywood Fault Coverup? Emails Show City Knew

How do you ignore a massive, active fault in Hollywood?
How do you ignore a massive, active fault in Hollywood?
Gracie Zheng

Please read about L.A. officials' feverish approval of big projects near Franklin and Yucca above and near the active Hollywood Fault.

Updated at bottom with a "before and after map" to show how skyscraper location got moved outside the Fault Rupture Study Area. Description of map corrected at 7 p.m.

It's looking more and more as if key people at L.A. City Hall knew about potentially huge earthquake risks beneath the planned Millennium Hollywood skyscrapers. Now Robert P. Silverstein, a lawyer representing some 40 groups who oppose the towers, is predicting, "This is going to be a political earthquake at L.A. City Hall."

Critics of the twin skyscrapers are investigating who hushed up the potential 7-magnitude quake risk. Outside City Hall today, Silverstein revealed two March 2012 emails obtained through the California Public Records Act and called them "smoking-gun emails."

Attorney Robert P. Silverstein
Attorney Robert P. Silverstein
Gracie Zheng

"They prove that City Hall and the developer, Millennium Partners, knew about the fault issue, worried about it and tried to study it in a half-baked way," Silverstein says.

Opponents are using as their weapons a sheaf of alarming geological studies, maps -- and, now -- private emails between city officials and the developer.

In one email sent to Building and Safety chief Raymond Chan and Millennium attorneys, a city "case manager," Charmie Huynh, confirmed:

City Geologist Dana Prevost "met with the project team to discuss the Hollywood Fault line that could potentially be crossing the property." Prevost also discussed with the project team that "he has granted one modification in the past on another project that allowed them to build right adjacent to the fault line."

Really?

Now that could be of great interest to the attorney general of California, if "right adjacent" means that development-smitten Los Angeles approved a new building that's illegally close to an active fault.

In California, in a bid to avert catastrophic loss of life, all cities and counties, since 1972, have been prohibited by law from allowing future buildings above or next to active faults. The Hollywood Fault is particularly treacherous because it is capable of rupturing the surface and cracking a building in half.

The opponents of the Millennium project also have discovered:

In an email to Raymond Chan from Millennium attorney Alfred Fraijo Jr., the attorney wrote: "There is a Hollywood Fault trace mapped by the California Geological Survey that prompted the discussion with Mr. Prevost."

Project opponent attorney Silverstein declared in a statement today:

"The big question is, who at City Hall OK'd this giant coverup? Would low-level bureaucrats stick their necks out risking their jobs for the developer? Or did the coverup come from above? We don't have the answer yet, but rest assured we will follow the paper trail until we get an answer."

Luke Zamperini, a spokesman for Building and Safety, says: "I don't see a sign of a coverup. We have nothing to hide here."

It's hard to know how he would have that information at this early stage in the controversy. But he did add one interesting note: that Building and Safety asked the developer to add additional geological studies.

"Nobody wants to build on top of a fault line," Zamperini says.

He also made clear that city employees can't control the contents of an Environmental Impact Report. In this project, as is generally the case, the EIR was written by the developer and then all but rubber-stamped by the Los Angeles City Council.

But something got left out. A fascinating map got left out.

A "preliminary geo-technical engineering study" by Langan Engineering, a private firm hired by developer Millennium Partners, dated Nov. 22, 2011, and obtained by Silverstein, shows the Hollywood Fault Rupture Study Area runs right through the twin towers. (Developers of any project in a rupture study area must conduct a fault investigation.)

However, that November map produced by Langan is nowhere to be found in the Environmental Impact Report.

"We knew something was fishy. We were almost not surprised," says George Abrahams, a director of Beachwood Canyon Neighborhood Association and longtime resident in Hollywood.

"But we were certainly disappointed the City Council has gone to such a low level to endanger lives simply for the sake of a few campaign contributions" the city council typically accepts from a wide range of pro-density developers in Hollywood.

Silverstein said "almost certainly" the community groups are going to file a lawsuit against the city and the developer within two weeks.

[Update at 5:00 p.m.] Mayor Eric Garcetti's office responded with a statement:

While the City has approved the project's design and concept, the City's Department of Building and Safety has directed Millennium to conduct trenching that will be reviewed by the department's geologist. The state is also mapping the area for any active faults. The city will not permit the construction of new buildings on top of active faults.

[Update at 5:54 p.m.] Side-by-side maps below, stamped Langan Engineering & Environmental Services -- the left one dated Nov. 22, 2011, the right one dated May 10, 2012 -- show how the developer's technical team moved the location of the Millennium development site out of the Rupture Study Area:

Millennium Hollywood Fault Coverup? Emails Show City Knew
Data obtained via California Public Record Act