L.A., Santa Monica Building on Fault Lines in Absence of Maps that State Won’t Fund

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Somehow, it didn’t seem that it was the end of the story back in August when the Los Angeles Times brought to people’s attention that L.A. officials had approved the huge Millennium Hollywood development without checking to see if it sits on top of an active earthquake fault, which it very well might.

It quickly became apparent that a handful of other proposed projects might also be at risk because California officials never finished officially mapping 300 earthquake faults in the state, and local governments were poised to OK projects blind, at or near them. But lurking beneath the unfolding tale was the realization that there had been a lot of construction near the faults in the 2000s, when mapping that had been aggressively pursued in the ‘70s and ‘80s ground to a halt.

So Times reporters took a stroll along the Hollywood and Santa Monica faults and found 18 projects that had been approved without state mapping during that fallow period, including apartments, condos and an office building. Fourteen were in Los Angeles and four were in Santa Monica. These numbers are dwarfed by the total number, 1,400, of buildings sitting on or near the faults.

One of the approved projects is currently under construction near West L.A. According to the developer, it sits 1.9 miles from the Santa Monica fault. But a state map released in 2010 indicates the 49-unit apartment building could be right on top of it. One possible visual giveaway is the hill the property sits on, created when one side of the fault pushed up against the other side.  

The Times points out that L.A. officials, in lieu of state maps, could have required developers to do elaborate seismic tests, like the tiny city of West Hollywood has done for years, instead of accepting their in-house geological assessments.

The state banned construction on fault lines after the 1971 Sylmar earthquake and official mapping of faults began. Over the years, the mapping depended to a large degree on work done by academia, which was then translated into official documents. They drew 500 maps in the first two decades—and 20 during the next two, when funding for the ongoing project became dicey. Even after the Northridge quake in 1994 revealed a fault no one knew about, official mapping went nowhere.  

While questions are being raised about the state’s official fault mapping, or lack thereof, the organization charged with doing the work, the California Geological Survey (CGS), is running out of what little money it has.

According to the Times, the CGS will run out of project money next June. Where six people used to do the mapping, only one will be toiling in the new year and that position will be gone soon.    

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

L.A., Santa Monica Buildings May Sit Atop Quake Faults (by Rosanna Xia, Rong-Gong Lin II and Doug Smith, Los Angeles Times)

2010 Fault Activity Map (California Department of Conservation)

California Set to Cut Funding for Mapping Earthquake Faults (by Rong-Gong Lin II, Rosanna Xia and Doug Smith, Los Angeles Times)

Quake Threat Puts Hollywood Skyscraper Project on Hold, Raises Questions about Others (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Recent Earthquakes in California and Nevada (Southern California Earthquake Data Center)

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