The city of San Fernando sits atop a structurally complex, sedimentologically diverse, and tectonically evolving late Tertiary-Quaternary basin situated within the Transverse Ranges of southern California. The surrounding San Fernando Valley (SFV) contains the headwaters of the Los Angeles River and its tributaries. Prior to the advent of flood control, the valley floor was composed of active alluvial fans and floodplains. Seasonal streams emanating from Pacoima and Big Tujunga Canyons drain the complex western San Gabriel Mountains and deposit coarse, highly permeable alluvium that contains generally high-quality ground water. The more shallow western part derives mainly from Tertiary and pre-Tertiary sedimentary rocks, and is underlain by less permeable, fine-grained deposits containing persistent shallow ground water and poorer water quality. Home of the 1971 San Fernando and the 1994 Northridge earthquakes, the SFV experienced near-record levels of strong ground motion in 1994 that caused widespread damage from strong shaking and ground failure.
A new map of late Quaternary deposits of the San Fernando area shows that the SFV is a structural trough that has been filled from the sides, with the major source of sediment being large drainages in the San Gabriel Mountains. Deposition on the major alluvial fan of Tujunga Wash and Pacoima Wash, which issues from the San Gabriel Mountains, and on smaller fans, has been influenced by ongoing compressional tectonics in the valley. Late Pleistocene deposits have been cut by active faults and warped over growing folds. Holocene alluvial fans are locally ponded behind active uplifts. The resulting complex pattern of deposits has a major effect on liquefaction hazards. Young sandy sediments generally are highly susceptible to liquefaction where they are saturated, but the distribution of young deposits, their grain size characteristics, and the level of ground water all are complexly dependent on the tectonics of the valley.
The San Fernando area lies on the southern slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains. The basement rocks here include high-grade metamorphic rocks of Precambrian age. The mountains are largely composed of crystalline basement that includes the Pelona Scist of probable Mesozoic age that has been overthrust by Precambrian gneisses; the gneisses were subsequently intruded by Mesozoic plutons prior to overthrusting along the latest Cretaceous Vincent thrust. Gneisses of somewhat variable composition and possibly varying ages are found in four terranes, but not all are in contact with Pelona Schist. Large tracts of Precambrian (1.2 billion years old) andesine anorthosite are intrusive into 1.7 billion year-old Mendenhall gneiss, and are found in the western part of the San Gabriels. Mixed with these are younger marble, limestone, and schist of possible Paleozoic age found in association with plutons along the southern margin of the range. The older rocks are intruded by diorite, quartz diorite, and granodiorite of Jurassic age. Also present are siliceous sedimentary rocks of Jurassic age.
A thick section of Tertiary sedimentary and volcanic rocks overlie these units. The sediments located south of the San Gabriel Fault are totally different in character from those on the northern range flank, and mostly resemble the western Transverse Ranges due to their deposition in the southeastern Ventura basin; approximately 3,000 m of these sediments are exposed north and west of the city of San Fernando in the Tujunga syncline. Some of the Tertiary rocks are Paleocene and Eocene in age, but the bulk of these rocks are Oligocene and Miocene in age. The Vasquez and Sespe Formations of basal basaltic volcanic and sandstone are Oligocene and lower Miocene in age. These are overlain by clastic rocks of Tick Canyon and Mint Canyon Formations of middle to late Miocene age. Above these rocks are the Castaic, Modelo, and Santa Margarita Formations of fossiliferous marine shale, sand