Environment & Science

Active fault under site of proposed Hollywood skyscrapers, California says

California Geological Survey's Tim McCrink pointing to the location of the Hollywood fault on the newly released map.
California Geological Survey's Tim McCrink pointing to the location of the Hollywood fault on the newly released map.
Sanden Totten / KPCC

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A new map released Thursday by the California Geological Survey shows the Hollywood fault running through the southern portion of property where developers plan to build a pair of skyscrapers.

This creates another roadblock for the developers, Millennium Partners, who hoped to construct two mixed-use towers on lots next to the Capitol Records building. The project is called Millennium Hollywood.

The map is the final version of a preliminary one released in January of this year.

Related: State geologist finds Hollywood project would sit on top of quake fault

It also adjusted fault projections so they no longer run under the Capitol Records building or the proposed site of a 16-story residential structure at 6230 Yucca Street.

(A close-up of the new map showing the area where the proposed Millennium Hollywood towers would sit.) 

The new map was based on more than a year of investigations by state geologists, who examined geological records from the area.

In recent months, geotechnical consultants Group Delta dug four trenches in the area between Hollywood Boulevard and Yucca Street and Gower Street and Cahuenga Boulevard. Trenching involves digging deep ditches to examine the layers of soil for traces of past earthquakes.

State geologists looked at the data from Group Delta and agreed that there was no evidence of a fault in those trenches.

However, Tim McCrink, with the California Geological Survey, said other evidence indicated the fault did cross the property in areas where Group Delta did not dig a trench.

"We're inferring it's location based on information to the west and to the east," McCrink said.

That additional information includes a fault scarp to the east and boreholes taken during an earlier MTA construction project.

It's unclear what this means for the Millennium Hollywood project. A state law known as the Alquist Priolo Act mandates that no new building can sit directly on top of an active fault since a quake there could tear the structure in two.

Buildings near such a fault must be set back from it, but how far back must be determined by city officials and developers, according to McCrink.

"The setback is going to depend on a number of things," he said, including how much the ground would be expected to deform during a large earthquake.

Luke Zamperini, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, added that the new map isn't necessarily the end of the controversy over the fault's location.

"The lines that are there are the best estimate that the state can give, it doesn't mean that's where it is," he told KPCC.

Millennium still needs to submit its final report on the property to the city. Then it's up to the Department of Building and Safety to decide if the project can move forward or if additional research is needed.

Even more evidence of a fault on the lot won't necessarily doom the project, said Zamperini.

"It means their building need to be at least 50 feet from that fault trace, or they need to do some engineering if they want to encroach on that fault trace."

In a statement, Millennium Partners said it would continue to work with the city to look for ways of safely continuing the project.

"We are confident that any further testing will corroborate our previous investigations and further demonstrate our expert’s conclusions that no active fault exists on our site."

John Schwada, who represents several groups opposed to the project, called the new CGS map gratifying, saying it affirmed concerns many residents had regarding the developments.

"I'm sure there will be lots of attempts to wiggle out of the implications of this map," he said.

But Schwada still thinks Thursday's release of the new map is a "devastating blow" to the Millennium project.

The Hollywood fault is believed to be capable of a magnitude 7 earthquake, and parts of it are deemed active because they have moved during the last 11,000 years.

City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, who represents the area, summed up the controversy in a press release when he said "there is clearly a disconnect between the data and the state's final map which must be reconciled."

The California Geological Survey also released an updated version of a fault map looking at the area around Azusa. The new map removed a swath of the fault from part of that city based on new geological data that came to light during the public comment period.