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City calls for new earthquake tests at Hollywood's Millennium site

ScienceCalifornia Department of TransportationCapitol RecordsHerb Wesson

Los Angeles officials have asked the developer of a controversial Hollywood skyscraper proposal to conduct new seismic tests to determine whether the project's towers could be at risk in an earthquake.

The request from the Department of Building and Safety comes as state officials are conducting their own geological investigation in the area to establish whether a known fault line near the building site is active. It also comes as the City Council is scheduled to take up a major vote on the proposal, which would add two towers -- one at 39 stories and the other at 35 stories -- to either side of the iconic Capitol Records building.

In initial geological reports filed with the Department of Building and Safety, the New York-based developer Millennium Partners found no danger of an earthquake fault.

The department approved those reports. But Luke Zamperini, a spokesman for the Department of Building and Safety, said city engineers recently asked the developer to conduct further tests after critics of the proposed towers raised objections over earthquake safety.

Until recently, criticism of the Millennium project had focused on its large scale -- initial architectural renderings showed two soaring towers, one 55 stories and one 45 stories -- and its potential impact on traffic around the complex. Earlier this year, the California Department of Transportation voiced its concerns, saying the city hadn't factored in the project's impact to traffic on the nearby 101 Freeway. 

But in recent weeks, an attorney representing community groups that oppose the proposal has warned that the project site is dangerously close to a fault line known as the Hollywood earthquake fault.

At a news conference Monday, attorney Robert P. Silverstein accused Millennium Partners of using falsified data to mask the building site's proximity to the fault. He also blamed city engineers for not doing their diligence in evaluating the risk.

His complaints about the city workers to the California Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists prompted the state licensing board to open an investigation into alleged misconduct by the city engineers last month.

Nancy Eissler, enforcement program manager for the licensing board, said she could not comment on ongoing investigations. Zamperini, the Department of Building and Safety spokesman, said the actions of the engineers in his department were ethical and suggested Silverstein's complaint to the licensing board was strategic.

"When people are trying to stop a project, they will pull out any stops," Zamperini said.

Philip Aarons, a co-founder of Millennium Partners, said the consultant hired by his company to test the ground at the project site found no evidence of an active fault. "The findings give us complete confidence that our project site is safe," he said.

A spokesman for City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, who represents the area where the project would be built, did not immediately respond to comment Monday. Last week, O'Farrell's spokesman said the newly elected councilman was meeting with stakeholders and would not say whether O'Farrell would support the project when it comes to the Council on Wednesday.

Last month, the Council’s Planning and Land Use Management committee signed off on the project after the developer agreed to lower the height of both towers, reducing one from 55 stories to 39 stories and the other from 45 to 35. Ed Johnson, a spokesman for Council President Herb Wesson, said Wesson plans to go ahead with Wednesday's hearing despite a letter he received over the weekend from John Parrish, the state’s top geologist.

Parrish, who is chief of the California Geological Survey, notified Wesson that the state is studying the Hollywood fault to see if it’s active. In his letter, Parrish said the investigation will not be complete until 2014, but he noted that if the fault were declared active, state law would require the city to withhold permits for new development projects until testing could prove that there was no risk.

According to the letter from Parrish, the California Geological Survey launched the investigation after several independent studies suggested the fault may be active.

Wednesday's vote would give the developer permission to build on the site, although the developer would still need to secure building permits with the city before beginning construction.

For the record, 4:15 p.m. July 22: An earlier version of this post incorrectly spelled the name of Capitol Records as Capital Records.

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ScienceCalifornia Department of TransportationCapitol RecordsHerb Wesson
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