The 1994 Northridge, Calif., earthquake caused widespread permanent ground deformation on the gently sloping alluvial fan surface of the San Fernando Valley. The ground cracks and distributed deformation damaged both pipelines and surface structures. To evaluate the mechanism of soil failure, detailed subsurface investigations were conducted at four sites. Three sites are underlain by saturated sandy silts with low standard penetration test and cone penetration test values. These soils are similar to those that liquefied during the 1971 San Fernando earthquake, and are shown by widely used empirical relationships to be susceptible to liquefaction. The remaining site is underlain by saturated clay whose undrained shear strength is approximately half the value of the earthquake-induced shear stress at this location. This study demonstrates that the heterogeneous nature of alluvial fan sediments in combination with variations in the ground-water table can be responsible for complex patterns of permanent ground deformation. It may also help to explain some of the spatial variability of strong ground motion observed during the 1994 earthquake. ?? ASCE,.