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Fault Maps Could Alter L.A. Development

Source: WSJ

Posted on 09 Jan 2014 by Neilson

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Hollywood developmentState geologists on Wednesday unveiled two new maps of active earthquake faults running through a handful of Southern California cities that could alter development--most notably in Hollywood, where investors are pouring billions of dollars into an ambitious plan meant to transform the scruffy tourist zone into an upscale neighborhood.

A 1972 state law, known as the Alquist-Priolo Act, forbids building directly atop active earthquake faults capable of rupturing the surface. Buildings straddling a fault could be ripped apart by the force of a major quake as the opposite sides of a fault slide past each other.

But developers and Los Angeles officials have been largely guided by fault maps that state officials have said were either outdated or imprecise, since the state hadn't gotten around to producing its new map of the Hollywood Fault until this week.

The city's chief building and safety inspector, Luke Zamperini, said Wednesday that all new projects that lay near the fault on the new map "will be required to provide a fault rupture study" and that projects already approved but that haven't begun construction "will be evaluated on a case by case basis."

State officials said lack of funding and an overwhelming task prevented them from moving more quickly on the new maps. So far, the state has mapped 5,000 miles of active faults in California, with 2,000 more miles left to go.

The new map of the Hollywood Fault--a 10-mile fracture scientists believe is capable of producing a 7.0-magnitude quake and rupturing the earth's surface--shows part of it spread in pieces, or splays, beneath the site of a proposed pair of $664 million residential and commercial towers. The project, Millennium Hollywood, has been the focus of a battle between neighbors who oppose it and the city and developers who back it.

"This map will now become Exhibit 1 in our lawsuit," said Robert P. Silverstein, the lawyer for a coalition of community groups who sued the developers in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Developers have said they don't believe the fault lies beneath the project, and have called it a convenient excuse for neighbors who oppose the project for other reasons, such as traffic congestion and the development's scale.

Millennium Partners, the developers, said initial testing showed no evidence of an active fault on the site. A spokesman said Wednesday the company will perform additional tests. "Millennium Hollywood remains committed to building a safe project to the highest earthquake resiliency standards," the company said in a statement.

Los Angeles's City Council approved the Millennium project last year, as well as a number of other Hollywood projects, based on the old fault maps. City officials last year said they were confident in their maps and the geological testing required of some developers.

Business leaders and city officials said the new maps wouldn't hamper development, adding that they would provide more certainty. "I think it's very positive that we finally have the fault zone mapped," said Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

Development in Hollywood--where cranes poke up among palm trees--has been championed by Los Angeles officials.

"Today we learned that Hollywood is open for business," said Mitch O'Farrell, the City Council member representing the neighborhood. "This information provides a clear map for development in the heart of Hollywood."

The maps also provide more detail on faults in several smaller cities east of Los Angeles. The maps won't be finalized until later this year, state officials said.

"We're not trying to hinder development," said John Parrish, the state's top geologist. The purpose of the maps is "to help local communities maintain the resilience of their communities."