10 Freeway fire in downtown LA could have been prevented, audit says

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

Caltrans should have done more to prevent the massive pallet fire that heavily damaged the 10 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles and snarled traffic for weeks, according to a state audit.

While investigators believe the fire was intentionally set, the California Department of Transportation’s Inspector General’s Office noted Caltrans did not take measures to “make this property safer for the motoring public who traveled about it.”

One of the key findings noted that Caltrans did not inspect the property as required although the fire site was adjacent to the busy freeway, with a lot of flammable material including pallets, trailers and vehicles in the premises.

The latest audit by the California Department of Transportation’s Inspector General’s Office said for years, Caltrans allowed flammable materials to be store under the 10 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles. (Credit: Inspector General’s Office)

Caltrans was also supposed to have inspected the property at least once a year. But the audit revealed over the 15 years of the lease, Caltrans only conducted the annual inspection five times. 

When Caltrans did inspect the property in November 2023, a month before the fire, a picture taken by Caltrans inspectors shows there were stacks of flammable material underneath the freeway. 

“Caltrans once again appeared to have ignored the conditions,” the report said.

Another mishap by Caltrans, according to the report, is that the transportation department seemed to have ignored other lease violations.

Photos that auditors found on Google Images over many years indicate the main tenant was subleasing or renting out the property to others. A series of photos show large stacks of flammable materials stored on the property. 

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The state had said the area where the fire originated was owned by Caltrans but leased to a private business named Apex located in Calabasas.

Although in the days following the fire, Newsom called the company “bad actors,” saying it was thousands of dollars behind in rent owed to the state and was illegally subleasing the land, Apex claimed it hadn’t had access to the premises since October 2023.

In response to the latest audit, Caltrans said it has paused approving any new leases, subleases and renewals of open storage properties for now.

“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,” Caltrans said in a statement, adding that it will review other safety recommendations.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.