Maps released today by the California Geologic Survey show an active earthquake fault running along Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood from North La Cienega Boulevard on the west to Sunset’s intersection with Havenhurst and North Kilkea drives on the east. The fault moves north of Hollywood Boulevard after its intersection with La Cienega.
The earthquake fault zone identified by the map lies beneath or near several major projects approved or under construction in Hollywood and West Hollywood. The fault zone covers about 500 feet around the fault line. Developers in established fault zones must do studies to ensure they don’t build directly on a fault. Since the new map is preliminary, and won’t be officially adopted until around early July, the City of West Hollywood doesn’t have to require these studies.
In West Hollywood, the biggest project potentially affected by the fault is the Sunset LaCienega, formerly known as the Sunset Millenium project, on which construction is underway.
The project was approved by the City Council in 1999 but lay fallow because of problems the original owner of the property, Sunset Millennium Associates, had in funding it. In 2011, Sunset Millennium sold the land to CIM Group, which also owns the Lot movie studio on Formosa Avenue and the Hancock Lofts at 901 Santa Monica Blvd. at Hancock.
It spans three pieces of land – the southeast corner of Sunset and La Cienega, the southwest corner of Sunset and La Cienega and the southwest corner of Sunset and Alta Loma. The Sunset / Alta Loma corner project has been completed and consists of 100,000 square feet of retail space and a 10-story office building. CIM plans to build two 10-story towers with 296 hotel rooms and 15,000 square feet of retail space on the southeast corner of Sunset and La Cienega. The middle parcel will have two eight-story towers with 190 residential units and 55,000 square feet of retail space.
Another major project in the at-risk area is one at 8150 Sunset Blvd. at Crescent Heights, on the fringe of West Hollywood. It is being developed by Townscape Partners, developers of the controversial 8899 Beverly project in West Hollywood. Townscape plans one nine-story and one 16-story building with a total of 249 apartment units along with 111,000 square feet of commercial space to house restaurants, a grocery store, retail shops, a fitness center and a bank.
Residents of adjacent West Hollywood neighborhoods objected to the project at a public meeting in September, with some raising questions about its location near the 10-mile earthquake fault. California law bans building directly on top of active earthquake faults capable of rupturing the surface, but until today state geologists hadn’t mapped the Hollywood fault, leaving officials to rely on older, less-detailed maps.
The map issued today shows the fault stretching beyond West Hollywood, stoping abruptly just before La Cienega on the west and just before San Fernando Road on the east. The La Cienega boundary indicates not the end of the fault area but merely the end of the mapped area. The area to the west of the newly mapped zone—i.e., the map that would show where the fault is to the west of La Cienega—is the next one the California Geologic Survey wants to map.
Whether CGS proceeds or not depends on funding, Tim McCrick of the California Geologic Survey explained. He hopes that the governor’s budget will allocate enough general fund money for a person to work on that map this year. (UPDATE 1/10: Jerry Brown wants more funding to go toward mapping, the L.A. Times has reported; the governor’s proposed budget includes about $1.5 million in new funding for for the next fiscal year.)
“It’s been pretty tough economic times for a lot of us. We’re doing what we can with what we’ve got,” McCrick said.
Since the map is preliminary, its implications for Sunset Strip developments isn’t clear. Its release sets into motion a 90-day review process, during which members of the public (and particularly those with expertise on earthquakes) can submit feedback. The review process will be followed by a 90-day revision process. Finally, the process will culminate with the release of an official area map in about six months (circa July 8).
Only after the map is finalized will cities be compelled to require developers within the zone to do seismic studies. However, the cities in question —including West Hollywood—could mandate these studies right away.
“That seems like the prudent thing to do,” McCrick said.
He noted that the purpose of fault line mapping is avoiding or mitigating earthquake dangers. Within a fault zone, that can mean developing building codes that address the risk of shaking. But if a proposed development is right on the fault line, it means not building at all. If an earthquake tears apart the ground beneath a structure, McCrick said, it might collapse and endanger the lives of those inside.
“It’s very much a life safety issue,” he said.
John Keho, West Hollywood’s assistant community development director, declined to comment on whether West Hollywood would take any specific action as a result of the map. He said that the city contracts with a geologist, who needs time to review the information.