New Earthquake Fault Maps in L.A. Raise Legal, Moral Questions

New Earthquake Fault Maps in L.A. Raise Legal, Moral Questions

Legal and moral questions have risen as to what should be done about 12,000 properties–including landmarks such as the Capitol Records tower in Hollywood, the Mondrian and Standard hotels in West Hollywood, three elementary schools, and Immaculate Heart High School and Middle School — that lie in newly-drawn fault lines which were released in January by the California Geological Survey, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times

The maps are of the Hollywood fault and the Sierra Madre and Duarte faults in the northern San Gabriel Valley.

The back-to-back tremors that have recently shaken California have increased jitters in the Golden State, particularly as the arrival of the “Big One” is awaited with great angst. Mapping active earthquake faults is required under the 1971 state law Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act, which generally prohibits building over active faults. 

The recently-released fault maps have elicited reaction from individuals such as the former president of San Bernardino Valley College, who said that if people knowingly have a population inhabiting buildings that fall in the zone, “you’ve got not only a legal but a moral obligation to address it.” The school demolished several buildings along the San Jacinto fault in the 2000s after finding out its inhabitants were at risk.

Public schools reacted quickly to the new fault maps. The Los Angeles Unified School District in particular started an underground study to see whether any of their schools would be affected by the findings. In the past, LAUSD has demolished classroom buildings found to be on top of faults.

Tearing down the buildings, however, is something that would not be feasible for most structures, which has led to owners of high-valued properties to sometimes obtain their own geological reports in order to satisfy local building officials and to make the case that a fault does not run under their site or cross their land, according to the Times.

The highly controversial Millennium Hollywood skyscraper project is one such case. Millennium’s developers wish to proceed with the project despite warnings that it may be located within a fault zone and have hired geologists who have taken soil samples and plan to dig a trench to conduct an underground study – which seismic experts consider to be the best way — to determine the path of a fault. 

The developers say they are confident that the trenching will “demonstrate conclusively that no active fault exists on our site,” according to the Times. But that test is not always accurate or definitive as the trench might not be dug deep enough.

Other affected buildings, such as St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, cannot afford to conduct a test or geological survey, as they could cost tens of thousands of dollars. The church’s Pastor Edwards-Acton told the Times: “I don’t know what the resources are to address these things.” He then asked, “Is the state going to step up? Who helps?”



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