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 dropped a political bomb today: a “regulatory” map of the Hollywood Earthquake Fault that creates a slender, 6-mile-long restricted zone starting at the trendy intersection of La Cienega and Sunset, crossing Hollywood and Los Feliz and even affecting Atwater Village. The new quake danger zone throws into chaos perhaps millions of dollars in proposed developments in L.A. and West Hollywood, cities that must, by law, insure that all projects planned within their boundaries are earthquake-safe.
The map, which will be finalized in July, delivers a big blow to Hollywood developers and their investors: It preliminarily shows that the fault runs right beneath the proposed Millennium twin skyscraper project at Vine and Yucca streets – and cuts directly under Blvd 6200, a nearly complete, living-and-shopping complex at Hollywood Boulevard and Argyle Avenue. L.A. Building and Safety officials had pooh-poohed the idea that Blvd 6200 was close to the active fault. ]
Experts tell L.A. Weekly that developers are poring over their plans to see if their holdings are inside the big, proposed restricted zone – or worse, atop the fault itself. Some are predicting serious political fallout.
The new restrictive zone, which is subject to change after further research between now and July, is a serious blow to Mayor Eric Garcetti and the L.A. City Council's “Hollywood Community Plan” (see partial view of the community plan, above).
Their dream is to reconfigure Hollywood with skyscrapers and density to serve what Garcetti, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and City Council members claimed were unavoidable population growth demands being made upon Hollywood.
But an opposition group in December showed a Los Angeles Superior Court judge that U.S. Census data shows Hollywood to be shrinking – not growing – in population. The judge ruled that the Hollywood Community Plan is “fatally flawed” and based on untrue population forecasts – and advised that the plan be killed by the City Council.
“They lied about people moving to Hollywood, which is not the case, and now they have a fault right beneath it,” says Frank Angel, an attorney for Save Hollywood, yet another group suing the city over its Hollywood density plan.
Garcetti's skyline remake of Hollywood was to be launched by the construction of the Millennium twin towers.
But last fall the Manhattan developers of Millennium put the two skyscrapers on hold – after allegations from opponents that the Hollywood Fault ran right below their site. That now appears to be true, if the current map holds up in July. Nobody yet knows the fate of Blvd 6200, which also sits atop the fault in the preliminary map.
The state's map shows that key east-west boulevards make up the spine of the long but slender new restricted zone, including stretches of Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood and Yucca Avenue, Franklin Avenue, Los Feliz Boulevard and Silver Lake Boulevard in L.A.
Tens of thousands of people live within the new zone, and hundreds of older buildings sit directly atop the fault traces.
The active “rupture” fault, which cuts along the flatlands just below the Hollywood Hills and crosses directly under the L.A. River, is a particularly dangerous one, capable of delivering a Magnitude 7 that opens the earth and rips buildings in half. By contrast, most L.A. faults are deep underground and cannot cause the earth to open.
The state's 1972 Alquist-Priolo Act was approved to save lives when a major quake hits. It prohibits new buildings on top of fault traces and requires mandatory geological investigations of projects proposed within the broader “fault zones” drawn around such faults by the state.
In July, when this official map by the State Geologist is finalized, big chunks of Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, Los Feliz and Atwater will come under those restrictions.
One looming question is what becomes of the six-story, $200 million Blvd 6200 project next to the Pantages Theater, which was approved by the City Council in 2007 without a seismic study. The city was not required to enforce the state law because the state had not mapped the “regulatory zone” – until now.
However, as the Los Angeles Times recently reported, even though no state regulatory map had been completed for the Hollywood Fault, its existence and basic location were well-known to city leaders and geologists. The city of West Hollywood, for example, ordered an extensive seismic study of a proposed major building site, then required the building to be moved 50 feet to avoid the Hollywood Fault.
Los Angeles officials have never done that, saying they weren't required by law because no Hollywood Fault Zone map had been completed by the state. They have gone so far as to approve a large project in Hollywood whose Environmental Impact Report claimed the nearest “known” fault was about five miles away – in Inglewood.
Updated at 12:24 –– Robert P. Silverstein, an attorney representing community members who sued City Hall over the Millennium project, reacted to the new map showing fault traces under the Millennium site at Yucca and Vine:
“Maybe they can squeeze a much smaller building somewhere on this property, if at all … But it is improbable that anything like the giant twin skyscrapers the City Council approved can ever be built.”
Their lawsuit, pending in Superior Court, alleges that numerous Los Angeles city officials broke state laws to “white-wash” the dangers below the Millennium project.
Silverstein says, “This map will now become 'Exhibit 1' in our lawsuit.”
Updated at 12:35 – Outspoken community activist George Abrahams called for a grand jury investigation to review how the Millennium project won its approvals, saying:
“This whole matter stinks so badly that it's time for a criminal investigation to get to the bottom of how City Hall colluded with the developer for so long to hide the truth.”
Updated at 1:20: City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, who represents much of Hollywood, issued a series of unusual comments, including:
“Today we learned that Hollywood is open for business.”
“State geologists confirmed what we already knew.”
“The City of Los Angeles will continue to have the most restrictive regulations when it comes to building in earthquake zones.”
Updated at 1:40: State Geologist John Parrish said Wednesday morning the purpose of the state map is to “keep local decision makers fully informed where the geological hazards are” – but Parrish insisted that decisions about specific projects are made by local officials. Parrish stayed away from commenting on the controversial projects such as Blvd6200 and Millennium Towers, saying what his agency does is “pure science.”
Parrish said he is “very confident the fault exists very close to the lines” shown within the fault zone even though this is a “preliminary” map.
However, the state's Hollywood Fault Zone Map won't carry the effect of law until the map is finalized on July 8, after possibly taking in new data during a public review period.
The state didn't do new trenching – digging deep into the ground – to map the Hollywood Fault. Parrish's department instead pulled together 50 existing geological studies and vintage air photos to draw the new boundaries for the zone.
If a proposed project falls inside the zone, developers are require to do a detailed geological study, including trenching, to determine where the fault is.
“The absence of evidence doesn't allow you to build there,” warns Parrish.
Updated at 2:40: After the state released the Hollywood Fault map, Robert P. Silverstein, an environmental attorney, added:
“We feel completely vindicated by the state map. The state map confirms exactly what we and the public were saying about the grave seismic safety dangers at the Millennium Hollywood project site.
The developer and the City are completely unbelievable. … This whole process has been a travesty. This is the worst example of high city officials being in bed with developers and violating state law and public trust.”
Updated at 2:45: In a statement, Brian Lewis, a spokesman for Millennium Hollywood, said the developer found “no evidence of an active fault on the property” in the geological studies and tests required by the City's Dept. of Building and Safety.
Part of the statement reads:
“We note that the map of the Hollywood Fault in the vicinity of the Millennium Hollywood site is demarcated as an 'approximate location,' since it was based on data collected from other sites and visual observations only. As the map itself declares, 'Information on this map is not sufficient to serve as a substitute for the geologic and geotechnical site investigations.' The detailed subsurface geologic and geotechnical investigations that were performed on our site (which included borings and subsurface exploration) found no evidence of an active earthquake fault on the property.”
Updated at 3:44: Robert Sydnor, a retired engineering geologist who worked for 25 years at the California Geological Survey, said “detailed fault investigations need to to be performed” if a project falls within the boundaries of the official fault zone. The geological fieldwork includes fault-trenching, deep boreholes and surface geophysics. He adds:
“In some cases, seismically-weak buildings that are astride the known-active Hollywood Fault may need to be demolished, as evaluated by the Building Official, who has legal jurisdiction.”
Updated at 4:21: Luke Zamperini, a spokesman with the Dept. of Building and Safety, said in an email that the department will apply the state map to its automated permitting system.
“Once this process is completed, all new projects submitted to LADBS that lay within the preliminary earthquake fault zone will be required to provide a fault rupture study to the LADBS Grading Division for approval.
Previously approved projects that lay within the preliminary fault zone which have not yet begun construction will be evaluated on a case by case basis to determine if a fault rupture study will be required.”
Additional reporting by Megan Diskin and Jill Stewart.