Sinkholes!

 What do you think of when you hear the word “sinkhole?” You might think of the Guatemala sinkhole of 2007. The sinkhole opened up, swallowed a city intersection, cars, and three people’s lives. 

Due to the heavier than expected rains this season, sinkholes have appeared throughout the city and county with the most newsworthy one in Studio City. In that case, the hole opened up on a residential street and swallowed a car with its female driver who was plucked out before a van fell on top of it. 

Apr17sink1Much closer to home, a sinkhole began to appear on the 3500 BLOCK OF WEST BOULEVARD on the morning of Monday, February 27, 2017. Those of you grabbing your coffee and scones should have caught it on local networks who had airships flying overhead. 

Photo by CHIN  THAMMASAENGSRI


What’s causing these gaping maws to open up? Is it science fiction? No, it’s science fact and the answer is very simple: our aging system of pipes are failing. In the city of Los Angeles, there are thousands of miles of pipes crisscrossing under our streets, homes, and hillsides. Many of these pipes are designed to carry water and remove sewage. In a 2007 article, an expert on piping told the Los Angeles Times that, on average, pipe systems in the U.S. were installed at least 60 years ago, but were only designed to last 50 years. In Los Angeles, some of our systems have been found to be 90 to 100 years old (or more) which wildly exceeds operational specifications. Many are made of cast iron and others are comprised of earthen materials like clay.  

Pipe failure takes place when portions of it are lost allowing liquid to flow and wash away the surrounding soil. If you remember your basic Earth Science, something called EROSION takes place and it happens over a long or short period of time. In the case of the 3500 Block of West Boulevard and Studio City, the sinkholes appeared after what had been described as “epic rains” soaked us. The water that was being channeled off of our streets, yards, and roofs ended up in the city’s flood control & sewer system where damaged pipes were part of the mix. Due to the speed & pressure of the water, erosion increased exponentially with soil washing away at record rates. The concrete & asphalt on the roadway surface HID the growing sinkhole until its own weight and the weight of passing traffic caused it to collapse like a brittle eggshell.
Apr17sink2Crews on Feb. 20, 2017 continued to repair a sinkhole in Studio City where a woman fell in while driving her car days earlier. (Credit: KTLA)

I recently visited both the Studio City and the West Boulevard sites. In Studio City, damage was so extensive that work will continue on into the foreseeable future. The street is closed to all pedestrian & vehicular traffic and shoring has been erected to stabilize sidewalls. Residents have complained to anyone who’ll listen, especially the media, that the stench of raw sewage is making life unbearable. Back here on the 3500 Block of West Boulevard, damage was far less extensive. The pipes under the roadway were repaired, the soil was replaced, and the roadway was resurfaced.

If you see unusual SINKING on roads or sidewalks along with the unexplained “POOLING” of water, call it in to the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services or the Department of Water & Power using the 311 App or by dialing 311 on your phone. Describe what you see IN DETAIL, the closest address, and anything else that can help the city determine the level of their response. Your call, though not a guarantee, could help you head off situations like those on West Boulevard and in Studio City. You’ll be saving yourself from dealing with the loss of utilities and even potential property damage issues. Use those three little numbers, 3-1-1, for everything L.A. City!

Chin Thammasaengsri is the Public Safety Liaison for the Mid City Neighborhood Council and is the Operations South Bureau Coordinator for CERT (The Community Emergency Response Team).

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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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