Written by Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, City News Service
Opponents of a planned Hollywood skyscraper development accused city officials Wednesday of covering up the possibility of an active earthquake fault under the project site, and called for an independent panel of experts to oversee a new seismic study.
Two weeks after the Los Angeles City Council signed off on the Millennium Hollywood development -- which would include 39- and 35-story skyscrapers flanking the Capitol Records building -- opponents of the project continued blasting the plans, threatening a lawsuit in the coming weeks.
Faced with criticism about a previous study that showed no earthquake risks, the New York-based developer, Millennium Partners, agreed to do a new study that would involve digging a trench under the project site.
Robert Silverstein, an attorney for several dozen neighborhood council and homeowner groups opposing the project, called the proposed study into question, saying city leaders should instead form a "panel of neutral experts" to conduct the new study.
"We do not need another bogus earthquake report," he said. "We need an unbiased analysis. Not one shaped by city politics" or by lobbying from the developer.
Silverstein said the outside panel is needed because of what he called a "cover-up" at City Hall about the project's earthquake risks.
The attorney said emails show city officials knew in 2012 about the project's potential proximity to an earthquake fault, but failed to disclose the concerns in the environmental impact report approved by City Council.
Philip Arons, the founding partner of the project's New-York based developer, Millennium Partners, dismissed Silverstein's accusations as "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," Arons said.
In the emails, sent in mid-March of last year, Building and Safety officials said the city geologist "met with the project team to discuss the Hollywood Fault line that could potentially be crossing the property," and that Millennium attorneys stated those meetings were prompted by a "Hollywood Fault trace mapped by the California Geological Survey."
Silverstein called the emails "documentary evidence ... that the city and the developer were worried the Millennium skyscrapers would be built directly on top of the Hollywood earthquake fault."
City Building and Safety Department officials asked for a study after learning about the fault, but it was "a completely half-hearted, slipshod study," he said.
Silverstein added the results from the studies "never made their way into the project's environmental impact report."
Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, who represents the area, repeated assurances that the developer's seismic study will be done by qualified "geological teams that are licensed by the city and the state" and that the developer still has hoops to jump through.
"To be clear, approval of the EIR does not equal building permits," he said. "Approval of the EIR by the City Council and the mayor is one of the many steps in the development process for the Millennium project."
Millennium Partners will need to "complete seismic and geological studies to the satisfaction" of building and safety officials, who decide whether to give out construction permits.
Jeff Millman, spokesman for Mayor Eric Garcetti, echoed that sentiment, saying the city "will not permit the construction of new buildings on top of active faults."
In approving the project earlier this month, the City Council and the mayor signed off on the Planning Department's 4,600-plus-page environmental impact report, which includes a study of a variety of "environmental impacts" such as noise and air pollution, traffic, and geological and soil conditions.
The environmental impact report also includes responses to questions from the public inquiring if the nearby Hollywood Fault would pose an earthquake risk.
The planning department's report states that geotechnical studies show the Millennium Hollywood project is "suitable" for the proposed site.
It further states that the closest fault is located 0.4 miles from the project site and is not part of the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Map, which plots out earthquake fault zones where further geological studies are required before projects can move forward.
In recent weeks, however, the state's top geologist called attention to possible earthquake risks at the project site and issued letters to city officials asking them to refrain from giving out construction permits until more study has been done on the exact location of the Hollywood Fault.
State Geologist John Parrish said he has fast-tracked a study to include the Hollywood Fault onto the Alquist Priolo Earthquake Fault Zone Map and expects it to be completed in December or January.