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Skyscraper developer agrees to dig trench to look for quake fault

ScienceCapitol RecordsGeology

The developers of a Hollywood skyscraper project said Friday that they had agreed to dig a trench on the property to help determine whether an earthquake fault runs under it.

Officials at New York-based Millennium Partners said they do not believe the Hollywood fault runs under the site, but if a fault is found, they would not build over it.

Seismic experts consider extensive digging under a site as the best way to determine the path of a fault. The developers said they agreed to do the extra work at the request of the city.

GRAPHIC: Where is the Hollywood fault?

“We want to make sure that it’s safe and that everyone sees that it’s safe,” Philip Aarons, one of Millennium’s founding partners, said in a phone interview.

“We do not believe … there’s a fault there, but we’re going to examine and do further testing just to make sure that everybody sees it exactly the same way as we do -- most importantly, the city,” he said.

California state geologist John Parrish has said he considers the Hollywood fault active and capable of producing a devastating earthquake. Parrish said strands of the fault appear to run underneath the proposed skyscraper site, but additional tests are needed to determine exactly where the fault runs.

RELATED: Skyscraper site in Hollywood may sit on active fault, state says

State law bars the construction of buildings on faults, which can be ripped in half as one side of the fault thrusts past the other. Some schools have demolished buildings once they’ve discovered they straddle faults.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he trusts the city’s scientists and engineers to supervise the developer’s studies, which would place two towers, 39 and 35 stories tall, flanking the iconic Capitol Records building near Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street.

“We rely on the government engineers who are experts in this area. They’re not softies. They’re people who are tasked with protecting lives and property,” Garcetti said.

The 1-million-square-foot project was backed by the City Council last week in a 13-0 vote, but the city Department of Building and Safety must sign off before permits are given to green-light construction.

The California Geological Survey is accelerating a previously scheduled mapping of the Hollywood fault in light of the Millennium project.

Published geology reports cited by Parrish, the head of the state Geological Survey, describe physical proof of the Hollywood fault west and east of the development site, but not directly below it.

Connecting the dots suggests the fault may go underneath the proposed construction area. Jerry Neuman, a lawyer for Millennium Partners, called that suggestion “speculation.”

Neuman said observations made from six bore samples dug by the developer’s geologists were a better way to come to conclusions, and they have “shown no evidence of the existence of a fault."

Other geologists called the developer’s geology reports inadequate and urged scientists to bore dozens of holes or dig a trench to find the fault -- diagnostic techniques considered the gold standard in finding a fault.

City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who called the $664-million project a “game changer” that would revitalize Hollywood, said the location of the Hollywood fault has “never been definitively determined.”

“It is more or less a claim that there is a fault that lies underneath the property, but that claim has never been substantiated," he said. "And for that matter, it might lie right directly underneath the Capitol Records building or any number of buildings in Hollywood."

O’Farrell said he welcomed the additional studies: “We all take any sort of seismic concern very seriously.”

But he cautioned about setting an example that would delay development.

“There are fault lines that run all across the city. And we want to make sure we don’t set some sort of precedent because there are suspicions that a fault line might be somewhere, that it stops all economic activity and development activity. It would cause irreparable harm to our economy if we proceeded that way,” O’Farrell said.

A lawyer for opponents of the Millennium project, Robert Silverstein, said he was concerned that the city had not done a thorough job overseeing the developer’s study of the fault. He urged the appointment of an outside panel of neutral experts, and the involvement of the state, to perform the fault investigation.

“If the city and the developer are in charge, it’s like the fox guarding the hen house,” Silverstein said.

The developer said its trench investigation would take place under the city’s guidance.

“We have no interest in building a building on an earthquake fault,” Aarons said.

If a fault were found, though, Aarons said the developer would try to find a way to make the project work legally.

“We would attempt to do a project that met the building code requirements that do exist in terms of building near and around earthquake faults,” Aarons said.

ron.lin@latimes.com 

michael.finnegan@latimes.com

rosanna.xia@latimes.com

Times staff writer Doug Smith contributed to this report.

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Twitter: @ronlin | @finneganlatimes | @rosannaxia | @LATDoug

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