The California Dept. of Transportation has indefinitely suspended approving any new leases, subleases, and renewals of open storage properties in the wake of a fire that damaged a section of Interstate 10 through downtown Los Angeles last fall.

Caltrans is preparing a mandated response within 60 days to an initial report by its Inspector General released May 30 that found “numerous problems concerning Caltrans’ oversight and lease management practices, spanning a period of approximately 15 years.” 

“Safety is Caltrans’ top priority, and the department takes the results of this audit report seriously,” agency spokesman Christopher Clark told ENR this week. “Since the fire under Interstate 10, Caltrans has implemented new oversight measures for airspace properties at both the district and statewide levels and imposed stricter requirements for prospective tenants," he said, "Additionally, in an emergency, Caltrans has the authority to enter onto a property to remove hazardous or flammable materials that pose an imminent danger or threat to a highway structure.”

The report, at the request of Gov. Gavin Newsom, focuses on the Lawrence airspace under I-10 located near 14th and Lawrence streets in the city, where a fire started on Nov. 11 among wood pallets, flammable solvents and fuels and vehicles stored there. 

Caltrans reopened the damaged section eight days later, although repairs to the elevated roadway continue.

According to the report, “Caltrans did not conduct required annual inspections of the property nor did it fully document inspection-related activity in its filing system. The agency conducted annual inspections in only five of the 15 full years of the rental period, leaving the equivalent of a 10-year gap without having performed any meaningful oversight.” 

Caltrans “failed to rectify numerous potential lease violations and other serious safety conditions that it had identified, involving unauthorized subtenants, unallowable business activity, improper storage of materials, rent delinquency and the absence of adequate liability insurance,” the report said.

The analysis noted that Caltrans should have responded more urgently to similar fires that started in the Lawrence airspace in 2022 and in another location in 2017.

The final report includes an initial response from Caltrans director Tony Tavares to its previous draft, stating that “in general, Caltrans concurs with the recommendations."

The Inspector General intends to issue a series of reports on Caltrans oversight of airspace programs statewide.