Opponents Call for Neutral Panel of Experts to Study Quake Risks
Opponents of the Millennium Hollywood project today released secret emails that show the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (DBS) and the Millennium developer acknowledged behind closed doors that the Hollywood Earthquake Fault potentially crossed the property and that the State of California had officially mapped the active fault on or near the Millennium property.
This is in sharp contrast to months of public denials by the developer and the City of any seismic concerns, said Robert P. Silverstein, attorney for a coalition of 40 community groups opposed to the project. None of these facts were disclosed in the Environmental Impact Report for the project, as legally required, Silverstein added.
The secret emails were obtained through the California Public Records Act. “This is our first good look at what was going on behind the curtain of deceit at City Hall,” said Silverstein.
“Now that we have documentary proof of a cover-up, the big question is: who at City Hall okayed the cover-up?” asked Silverstein. “We intend to follow the paper trail until we get an answer, no matter how high up it leads.” Silverstein said more revelations are likely as the City responds to his other Public Records Act requests.
Silverstein said the new information further drives home the need for a neutral panel of experts to study the earthquake risks at the Millennium site.
The secret emails show that:
1) In a March 16, 2012 email to DBS General Manager Raymond Chan and the Millennium developer’s attorneys, City Case Manager Charmie Huynh, P.E. confirmed that City Geologist Dana Prevost “met with the project team to discuss the Hollywood Fault line that could potentially be crossing the property.” Link to Exhibit pdf file
2) In a March 15, 2012 email from the Millennium developer’s attorney to Chan, the attorney admitted “[t]here is a Hollywood Fault trace mapped by the California Geological Survey that prompted the discussion with Mr. Prevost.” (See Page 2 of Exhibit pdf)
Despite these alarm bells, none of this critical information appeared in the project’s Environmental Impact Report. The EIR was required to provide the public and the city’s decision-makers with an even-handed assessment of the project, including its seismic risks.
“These are smoking gun emails,” said Silverstein. “The City and developer have been claiming that no evidence shows an earthquake fault across the property. The EIR failed to acknowledge the State of California’s 2010 Active Fault Map showing the Hollywood Fault crossing the Millennium property,” Silverstein said. “But internally, the City and developer were fully aware of these inconvenient truths, and they were hiding them.”
Silverstein’s Public Records Act requests were sparked by suspicions about the developer’s geologic report which was attached to the EIR. The world expert on the Hollywood Fault, USC Prof. James Dolan, called that study “completely inadequate.” Prof. Dolan went on to say there was “no way that they could ever hope to determine where faults are” based on the methods used by the developer’s engineers. He described the developer’s report as “[s]o stunning that I would suspect that they weren’t looking for a fault at this location.” (See Page 3 of Exhibit pdf file)
The recently-discovered secret emails reveal that the developer and the City knew of the State’s 2010 Active Fault Map showing the Hollywood Fault through the site. Yet in all public statements, the developer and city asserted the fault was 4/10ths of a mile – or 7 football fields – away. City Planning and DBS approved the Langan Engineering report which promoted this falsehood. The developer and Citys’ duplicity is now on full display.
“This is documented proof that the City and developer knew this information seven months before the EIR was released to the public, and they actively concealed it,” Silverstein said.
“Obviously City staff and the developer did not want to open this Pandora’s Box of troubles by mentioning the earthquake risks in the EIR. But the public had the absolute right to have this information under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA),” said Silverstein.
In the March 16, 2012 email, Hyunh wrote Chan that the city’s geologist had met with the developer about the Hollywood Fault line that “could potentially be crossing its property.” In addition, Huynh told Chan that City Geologist Dana Prevost had told the developer’s team that “they need to do their own investigation to locate the fault.”
In his reply to Hyunh’s explosive email, Chan wrote: “Thank you Charmie!!!”
Two months later, City Geologist Prevost told officials in the City’s Planning Department that “[a]ccording to the Fault Activity Map of California, dated 2010, prepared by the California Geological Survey the Hollywood Fault is considered active and appears to exist in the vicinity of the subject [Millennium] site. Therefore, a fault investigation report should be performed as required by Code Section 1803.5.11 of the Los Angeles Building Code.” (See Pages 4 – 6 of Exhibit pdf file)
In July 2012, the developer began the secret study by drilling four test holes on the Millennium site to look for earthquake fault signs. The test drillings were conducted by Langan Engineering, Millennium’s geotechnical advisers. In turn, they are now being investigated by the State Board for Professional Engineers and Geologists in Sacramento regarding their work in this matter. It is jaw dropping that this special study was never included in the EIR.
This study was badly flawed from the get-go. It tested for fault signs only at one of the two Millennium project properties (the site west of Vine Street was tested; the site east of Vine was not). One of the test drillings also showed evidence of the earthquake fault, a discovery that was never revealed to the public.
“The city orders an earthquake study, and then does not make the results public,” Silverstein said. “And what’s wrong with that picture: it’s a violation of state environmental law to suppress such material. CEQA doesn’t give the developer – or the city – the right to pick and choose its facts.”
The new documents released today also chronicle that the developer’s geological consultant, Langan Engineering, originally produced a map showing that the City’s “Fault Rupture Study Area” ran through the Millennium project site. But when the EIR was produced, the map was altered to show the project ran outside that critical zone. “The city knew or should have known the map was altered,” Silverstein said. (See Pages 9 – 12 of Exhibit pdf file)
The new documents prove the public can’t trust Millennium to conduct an impartial analysis of the seismic risks of its own site, popularly known as the Capitol Records property. “The developer has a clear conflict of interest,” Silverstein said. Nor, based on its slip-shod “oversight” to date, can the City be trusted to monitor the study to assure that it is above-board, he added.
Millennium project developer Phillip Aarons, in the wake of the tidal wave of adverse publicity about his $650 million twin-towers project, vaguely agreed last week to dig an unspecified trench somewhere on the property. “That would be totally worthless,” said Silverstein. “This is nothing more than desperate damage-control by the developer.”
“From what we now know about how the city handled this sordid mess, it would be irresponsible to let any study go forward under a scheme proposed by the developer or the city,” Silverstein said. “We don’t need another bogus earthquake study. We need an unbiased analysis, not one shaped by City politics or a developer’s multi-million dollar lobbying machine.”
The new study must be carefully designed by, monitored by and the results analyzed by a panel of neutral experts, said Silverstein. Silverstein suggested that Dr. John G. Parrish, the California State Geologist and chief of the California Geological Survey, be in charge of the panel.
Both Dr. Parrish and Prof. Dolan in recent days have challenged the developer and Citys’ claims the project can be safely built.
“Putting together a neutral expert panel should be the easy part,” Silverstein said. “Then, if the results show – as we believe they will – that the project would be built directly on top of the Hollywood Fault, City Hall must show the courage and political will to stop this train-wreck before it happens.”
Two weeks ago, the Los Angeles City Council ignored warnings about the safety of the Millennium project and voted to approve it. “The Council defied warnings by top earthquake scientists,” said Silverstein. “It’s like the City Council became card-carrying members of the Flat Earth Society.”
“It’s time for the City Council and Mayor to reassure the public that they will listen to objective science and that they are not in the hip-pocket of a wealthy developer and his high-priced lobbying machine,” Silverstein said. “City government’s credibility is at stake. If they can’t get this right, what can they get right? Thousands of lives are in the balance.”
Silverstein said he was particularly looking to Hollywood Councilman Mitch O’Farrell and Mayor Eric Garcetti, both supporters of the Millennium project, to show leadership by requiring the appointment of a neutral panel of respected seismic experts. “Only that can restore the public’s faith in the process. Only that can ensure the entire project site is fully and properly investigated,” Silverstein said. “Anything less continues to be a City Hall and developer cover up,” Silverstein said.