Opinion Opinion L.A.

Millennium Hollywood: First, check the fault

There is plenty up for debate about the towering Millennium Hollywood residential and retail project: Will it add too much density to the neighborhood? Will it make traffic even more horrible in Hollywood? But whether the skyscraping complex will crack like a coconut in an earthquake should not be debated like a community issue. Either the project is straddling a fault line or it’s not.

And no matter how enthsuiastically the City Council approved the controversial project this week, no building permits should be issued until the California Geological Survey, the state agency that does geological and seismic research, weighs in with a new survey, which should be done by early 2014.

It’s not that the project developers didn’t do seismic tests. Of course they did. But it’s not clear that they considered a more recent 2010 survey for the area.

Here’s the problem: The Hollywood fault line runs down Yucca Street. The city drew a linear zone of impact that spans several hundred feet on either size of the fault line. The Millennium project appears to go right up to the edge of that zone, according to John Parrish, who is the state geologist (and how cool is it to be the state geologist?) and chief of the California Geological Survey.

That’s fine, more or less. But Parrish believes the fault line isn’t quite what experts thought it was 20 years ago. Newer mapping shows that “it’s not one single line but a series of parallel breaks,” says Parrish. “We see the fault as considerably wider” than was once thought.

That means it’s possible that the Millennium project could be not just within a readjusted earthquake zone but sitting on the fault itself. The state’s Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act prohibits new construction -- or substantial remodeling of buildings -- on active faults that have been known to rupture on the surface. The danger is that, in an earthquake, when the ground ruptures, so would the foundation of the building sitting on it. Other structural surfaces could fracture as well, according to Parrish.

Of course, the reality is that thousands of buildings are on active fault lines in Los Angeles. But out of the roughly 100 active faults in Los Angeles, only a couple dozen, says Parrish, are the kind that rupture on the surface. And, by state law, there shouldn’t be any new buildings going up on those fault lines.

What this means for the city -- and Millennium -- is pretty straightforward: Wait until the state finishes its study of the Hollywood fault line and then commission an independent geological study of the project to see if it’s sitting on that fault. If it is, the project needs to be moved. It shouldn’t be permitted if it’s sitting on that fault. This is a matter of public safety and structural integrity. All other concerns must come later.


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