Earthquake fault risk to Hollywood skyscrapers hidden, foes say

Robert Silverstein, attorney for a coalition of 40 community groups opposed to the Millennium Hollywood project, speaks at a press conference in front of Los Angeles City Hall in Los Angeles.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

A lawyer for opponents of a controversial Hollywood skyscraper project criticized the developer and city officials for not disclosing important facts about an earthquake fault that may be directly underneath the site.

The Millennium Hollywood project has come under increased scrutiny after the City Council approved the project 13 to 0 last month.

The head of the California Geological Survey then told The Times the Hollywood fault’s path might go underneath the site of the towers and said his office would accelerate a block-by-block mapping to trace the fault’s path. Several geologists also told The Times they believed more extensive testing was required to make sure the project would be safe.

The developer has since agreed to do more underground testing -- including digging a trench -- to determine whether the fault runs underneath the property.


The new criticism centers on whether the environmental impact report for the project adequately disclosed all the facts about the fault.

At a news conference Wednesday on the steps of City Hall, Robert Silverstein cited an email written by an employee of the city’s Department of Building and Safety and sent to the developer’s law firm.

The email, dated March 16, 2012, said city geologist Dana Prevost “met with the project team to discuss the Hollywood fault line that could potentially be crossing the property.”

Another email written by an employee of the developer’s law firm said there was “a Hollywood Fault trace mapped by the California Geological Survey that prompted the discussion” with Prevost.


A separate geology report dated May 23, 2012, from Prevost said that, “According to the Fault Activity Map of California, dated 2010, prepared by the California Geological Survey, the Hollywood Fault is considered active and appears to exist in the vicinity of the subject site.”

Silverstein questioned why the project developer then asserted in its October 2012 environmental impact report -- a document required for the project to be approved -- that the Hollywood fault is located about 0.4 miles from the project site, attributing that fact to the California Geological Survey and ZIMAS, the city’s zone information system.

“They said there’s no evidence of a fault on their site. But yet there’s good evidence from the California map -- which they knew about -- but which never made its way into the [environmental impact report],” Silverstein said.

The head of the California Geological Survey, John Parrish, has previously told The Times the state’s official map updated in 2010 appears to show strands of the Hollywood fault going underneath the Millennium site, where the developer wants to build towers 39 and 35 stories tall flanking the iconic Capitol Records building. Parrish said more underground testing is needed to confirm the fault’s path.


Luke Zamperini, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Building and Safety, said the city agrees that more investigation is needed.

“We completely agree that further study needs to happen, and that’s why we asked the developer to do more,” Zamperini said.

In a statement to The Times, Philip Aarons, a founding partner of the New York-based company Millennium Partners, called Silverstein’s allegations “baseless.”

“The emails simply prove that we and the city have considered and disclosed information regarding the pre-existing maps and other general information for many months,” Aarons said.


Aarons added that geology tests so far conducted at the site show no evidence of the Hollywood fault underneath it. He said the company will dig a trench to continue to look for the existence or absence of an earthquake fault to comply with the city’s requirements.

“We are 100% committed to building a safe project,” Aarons said.

California’s Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act bars the construction of buildings for human occupancy that straddle both sides of an earthquake fault.

One side of the fault can explode outward in a different direction from the other side in an earthquake, which would tear a building in half.


Silverstein said he has lost confidence in the city’s ability to oversee the investigation of the Hollywood fault at the Millennium site. He urged the appointment of an independent panel of geologists and the intervention of the state to determine the true course of the Hollywood fault.

“We have to have an independent panel of experts…. If the city and the developer have a hand in it, it’s going to be tainted,” Silverstein said.

Mayor Eric Garcetti has said he would rely on the neutral conclusions of government scientists and engineers to determine whether it’s safe to build on that site.



Graphic: Where’s the Hollywood fault?

Skyscraper site in Hollywood may sit on active fault

Skyscraper developer agrees to dig trench to look for quake fault

Twitter: @ronlin | @rosannaxia