Despite a sharp warning to the L.A. City Council from Gov. Jerry Brown's top geologist on Saturday not to move forward on development permits, the council apparently is voting tomorrow on whether to approve the Millennium Hollywood twin skyscrapers, which many elected leaders embrace as a point of civic pride.
If the council approves Millennium Hollywood, that vote could set up a battle among four key groups: state geologists and the law they uphold, which prohibits new residences next to or atop earthquake faults; thousands of L.A. residents who oppose the towering skyscrapers planned next to the Capitol Records building; New York–based developer Millennium Partners; and a passel of pro-skyscraper elected officials and their supporters.
The controversial 35- and 39-story towers would dwarf the historic 13-story Capitol Records building, soaring hundreds of feet and containing 492 condos or apartments, a posh hotel, more than a quarter million square feet of offices, a sports club and retail space.
Caltrans is already furious about it because the city has ignored its reports of a potentially massive impact on the adjacent 101 freeway once the dual skyscrapers are shoehorned into congested Hollywood.
Then, just hours after City Council President Herb Wesson on Friday placed a schedule on the city's web page showing that the skyscrapers' approval hearing was set for Wednesday, State Geologist John Parrish fired off an unusual Saturday letter to Wesson.
Parrish, who is appointed by the governor and not exactly a guy to be trifled with, told Wesson to hold off issuing development permits until the City Council knows something incredibly basic: Is the project sitting on an active earthquake fault zone?
The letter reads, in part (our emphasis):
“They [cities and counties affected by the zones] must withhold development permits for sites within the zones until geologic investigations demonstrate that the sites are not threatened by surface displacement from future faulting.”
He went on to say that his division is involved in a detailed study of the Hollywood fault and its associated “splay faults” for possible zoning as “active.”
That can't be good news for city boosters who have been pushing this development along for years in the face of fairly intense community opposition.
The state's investigation and mapping of the fault is no small thing. It will take until the end of this year or early 2014 to complete.
Yet city planners and the City Council seem in a curious rush to go ahead to approve the giant project.
It reminds people of the Hollywood/Gower project, another skyscraper pushed hard by elected officials and developers for Hollywood yet hated by many in the community.
In that case, the City Council Planning and Land Use Committee rushed it through a final, truncated public hearing and failed to conduct an independent study of the traffic impacts.
The City Council then gave the highly dubious plan a stamp of approval in 2011 — without bothering to ask or learn that the “traffic impact” study was written not by the city Planning Department but by the developer.
In a very rare legal ruling, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge found that city leaders had violated the due-process rights of Los Angeles residents, and the Hollywood Gower project died — for now.
The Silverstein Law Firm is credited with discovering the true authorship of the bogus traffic study in the Hollywood Gower case.
Now, the Silverstein Law Firm is back, representing more than 40 community groups in and around Hollywood who oppose Millennium Towers.
The law firm undertook detailed research of the official fault maps from the state's California Geological Survey, according to a spokesman for the firm. It claims it discovered that part of the Hollywood fault travels right under the project.
The law firm then filed a complaint in June with the Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists against Millennium's private engineers, Langan Engineering. According to the skyscraper's opponents, Langan's engineers reported in their study that the Hollywood fault is hundreds of feet away from the towers.
The complaint letter to the licensing board accuses the engineers of allegedly lying about the location of the Hollywood fault:
They “failed to report the location of strands of the Hollywood fault” and “created … a local map depicting the Millennium project site location as being approximately 850 feet north of where it actually is.”
John Schwada, a spokesman for the numerous communities fighting the skyscrapers, says, “It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand what the California Geological Survey is saying.”
In addition to the state geologist's study of the fault itself, the state licensing board is investigating — with its probe focused on the claims made by developer's engineers.
“This is so crazy. The city is heading toward a project that the state has serious concerns about. You bet your sweet patootie people will sue if the city approves the project.”
[Update at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday]: In a prepared statement, Millennium Partners denied Silverstein's allegations regarding the environmental review of the Millennium Hollywood project as “false.” It did not directly address the discrepancy in the findings between the two camps.
“The only subsurface investigation done to date at this location was completed in connection with the project and found no evidence of an active fault on the project site.”
“The findings give us complete confidence that our project site is safe.”
“We have always understood that the state may further investigate the location of the Hollywood fault and we welcome such investigation. However, it is important to note that the most important data is the site-specific investigation that has already been undertaken. No amount of bluster on Mr. Silverstein's part changes that data.”
[Update at 12:58 p.m. Wednesday]: The City Council voted unanimously, 13-0, to allow the towers to be built. And Mayor Eric Garcetti says he'll sign the approval when it reaches his desk.