The fire that shut down Interstate 10 in Los Angeles for eight days earlier this month started on a site under the freeway that the California Dept. of Transportation had leased to a private company. State officials are now conducting an audit of the 600 other sites leased out through the same program.
The Caltrans Inspector General’s office began the audit at the request of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) after the fire. In a Nov. 22 memo on its preliminary findings, agency officials said they identified 38 sites leased through its Airspace and Telecommunications Licensing Program to inspect, based on findings on previous inspections and characteristics of the sites, such as the known uses and proximity to infrastructure.
“The department is conducting this urgent safety review of our leased airspace properties across the state to assure the public that these spaces pose no threat to their safety or the integrity of our state’s critical infrastructure,” Caltrans Director Tony Tavares said in a statement.
After inspecting 30 of those sites and arranging to visit the others, Caltrans inspectors found “only a limited number of sites have been identified as presenting a specific fire or safety risk,” they wrote in the memo. Those airspace sites included five leased by Apex Development Inc., lessee of the site of the I-10 fire. The state is currently suing Apex, alleging it is months behind on rent and had sublet at least one of the sites without authorization.
Officials were providing three-day notices to correct deficiencies at other sites, according to Caltrans.
Inspectors also identified 112 sites not inspected since 2021 or earlier. Most are telecommunications leases for cell phone towers or parking. Caltrans said it is not aware of any specific risks at the sites, but has scheduled inspections.
State fire officials have said they suspect arson in the Nov. 11 fire. They released photos of a person of interest and have offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
Emergency repairs led by Security Paving Co. of Westlake Village, Calif., and Griffith Co. of Brea, Calif., allowed the freeway to reopen Nov. 19 with temporary shoring in place. Permanent repairs are ongoing.