Lingering fear about the methane explosion that gutted a clothing store and injured 21 people may cripple the economic development of the Fairfax district, City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky has told community leaders.
He cited the experience of Mammoth Village, a ski resort in the Sierra where real estate prices dropped and business suffered after scientists raised the threat of subsurface lava movements.
"It retarded the area, and there has been no volcano, and as a matter of fact, now it has been determined that the danger is not as great as it was indicated," he said.
While property owners will have to take the threat of future methane seepage seriously, there is no point in regarding the abandoned oil field near Fairfax Avenue and 3rd Street as a time bomb ready to explode again, Yaroslavsky said during a speech last week.
"We can beat ourselves into a state of total sleeplessness about the methane accumulations under Los Angeles," he said. "And those who want to lose a lot of sleep over it, be my guest. It's not necessary. It's a safe community."
Speaking at a monthly breakfast forum, Yaroslavsky said a City Hall task force is working on ways to deal with similar gas concentrations in the future.
"We have nothing in our codes which governs or guides the Building Department other than their common sense when they find an accumulation of gas or some other kind of substance underground," he said.
But he noted that the explosion was "relatively inexpensive; nobody lost their life, thank goodness," and added, "We have a responsibility to learn the lessons but not go crazy."
A panic mentality could scare shoppers away, he said, "and then all of you who have been looking for that inexpensive massage are going to find it right here, available in walking distance. . .. You'll have plenty of that, because that will be the only kind of business that will make it here."
On other points, he said development of the CBS-Gilmore tract, which includes Farmers Market, could be "a very big plus for the area, if done right, sensitively and with attention to the needs of the surrounding area."
But he warned that existing zoning would allow for a project larger than Century City, which is served by about 80 lanes of traffic, compared to 19 lanes feeding the CBS-Gilmore property.
He also said it is sympathy for low-income residents of deteriorating rental apartments in the blocks east of Fairfax and north of Beverly Boulevard that stops the city from cracking down on code violations by landlords.
"If you aren't impressed negatively by the quality of the buildings there, then your standards aren't as high as mine," he said.