Paleoseismological data suggest the occurrence of four bursts of seismic moment release in the Los Angeles region during the past 12,000 yr. The historic period appears to be part of an ongoing lull that has persisted for about the past 1000 yr. These periods of rapid seismic displacement in the Los Angeles region have occurred during the lulls between similar bursts of activity observed on the eastern California shear zone in the Mojave Desert, which is now seismically active. A kinematic model in which the faults of the greater San Andreas system suppress activity on faults in the eastern California shear zone, and vice versa, can explain the apparent switching of activity between the two fault networks. Combined with the observation that short-term geodetic and longer-term geologic rates covary on major southern California fault systems, this suggests that either (1) a temporal cluster of seismic displacements on upper-crustal faults increases ductile deformation on their downward extensions, or (2) rapid ductile slip in the lower crust beneath faults loads the upper crust, driving a seismic cluster. We suggest that alternating periods of rapid seismic displacement may be the expected mode of seismicity when two fault systems accommodate the same plate-boundary motion, and slip on one system suppresses slip on the other.