Newsletter: 30 years after the Northridge earthquake, have we let our guard down?

Earthquake damage at the interchange of the 5 and 14 freeways in 1994. A motorcycle police officer died at the scene.
(Jonathan Alcorn / For The Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Saturday, Jan. 20. Here’s what you need to know to start your weekend:

    It has been 30 years since a major earthquake hit L.A. Are we prepared?

    The 30th anniversary of the Northridge earthquake this week was important in no small part because it marked the last catastrophic temblor to hit a major California city.

    For those living here in 1994, it was an experience they will never forget — one of those “Where were you when?” moments told when the ground shakes, even just a little. It had added shock because it came less than five years after Northern California was battered by the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. The quakes killed scores and caused $6.8 billion (Loma Prieta) and $20 billion (Northridge) in direct economic damage, according to state estimates.


    The disasters focused California’s attention on quake risk like never before. Officials responded with an unprecedented seismic safety campaign that remade California’s freeways and bridges, required retrofitting on many types of buildings and generally raised awareness about the financial and personal stakes.

    Thirty years later, have we let down our guard?

    Experts have expressed worry that the post-Northridge zeal for seismic safety has slowed as memories fade and California sees a growing population of people who have never experienced a disastrous quake.

    Some have called this California’s seismic drought. The grave risks from the San Andreas fault, the Hayward fault, the Hollywood fault and many others are real, but when the next catastrophe strikes, will we be ready?

    Across California, there have been strides in seismic safety. Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities are forcing changes to wood-framed apartments to make them safer. Concrete buildings are also on the agenda, along with simple fixes to protect homes.

    But there is still much work to do. Officials worry that a huge temblor would cut off Southern California from vital utilities and communications for days, if not weeks. Despite the retrofits, many structures would remain at risk, from office buildings to the foundations and chimneys of single-family homes.

    When it comes to living in earthquake country, denial is a powerful thing.

    Have you checked your earthquake supply pack and downloaded the early-warning app? Also, sign up for Unshaken, a six-week newsletter course on earthquake preparedness.


    The week’s biggest stories

    Rebecca Grossman, co-founder of the Grossman Burn Foundation, leaves Van Nuys Courthouse
    (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

    Murder trial begins for L.A. socialite

    Living in California

    Palisades Tahoe avalanche

    The best season of the year? Awards season

    It’s Sundance weekend

    How well do you know L.A.?

    More big news

    • Alec Baldwin was charged again with involuntary manslaughter for his role in the fatal 2021 shooting of the cinematographer during production of the movie “Rust.”
    • State Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo pleaded no contest to driving under the influence of alcohol.
    • The DMV boss has trimmed silly test questions and is trying to fix the license renewal mess. Can he succeed?
    • Will billionaire Bill Ackman ever learn to shut up?
    • Billionaire-backed futuristic city no longer shrouded in secrecy. Here are the details.

    Get unlimited access to the Los Angeles Times. Subscribe here.

    The week’s great reads

    Group shot of Curb Your Enthusiasm cast
    (Daniel Prakopcyk / For The Times)

    ‘Am I just being me or am I acting?’ An oral history of HBO’s ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ After 24 years, Larry David’s cringe-inducing chronicle of social transgression is coming to an end. David and the cast took The Times behind the scenes of the most indelible moments.

    More great reads


    How can we make this newsletter more useful? Send comments to

    For your weekend

    Murrieta Hot Springs Resort is a geothermal spa that goes back more than a century.
    (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

    Going out

    Staying in

    L.A. Affairs

    Get wrapped up in tantalizing stories about dating, relationships and marriage.

    A man and woman are seated as holiday lights are about to be plugged in and a shadow runs through the background.
    (Isabela Humphrey / For The Times)

    We had a dreamy missed connection. How do I find you again? We laughed over “National Lampoon” at the bar. Could the bartender help us connect again? And did you feel the same way about our time together?


    Have a great weekend, from the Essential California team

    Shelby Grad, deputy managing editor
    Samantha Mealbourneweaver, assistant managing editor for audience
    Karim Doumar, head of newsletters

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