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L.A. to Weigh Mandatory Quakeproofing

Monday, January 26, 2015

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Apparently dissatisfied with voluntary efforts, Los Angeles officials are drafting an ordinance that would mandate seismic retrofits for thousands of vulnerable buildings, according to reports.

The ordinance would turn an ambitious 30-year plan introduced by Mayor Eric Garcetti into a reality.

Los Angeles
tpsdave / pixabay / CC0 Public Domain

Under a new plan, thousands of concrete and wooden structures across Los Angeles would be retrofitted with seismic reinforcements within 30 years.

The city’s attorney was asked to begin drafting the mandatory policy after a presentation Jan. 14, news reports say.

Garcetti’s proposed plan is outlined in a detailed report developed by seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Mandated Retrofits

According to the report, the mayor seeks to mandate retrofits of the two most dangerous types of structures built in the city before 1980.

The targeted structures are brittle, old concrete buildings and multi-story wooden buildings supported by weak columns on the ground floor, according to the Los Angeles Times.

These are the buildings at the highest risk of collapse during a quake, the report says.

USGS / J. Dewey

The Northridge Earthquake of Jan. 17, 1994 caused losses estimated at $42 billion. Many buildings thought to be earthquake-resistant throughout the Los Angeles area were cracked or collapsed. Northridge Earthquake was a 6.7-magnitude temblor.

Once the measure takes effect, owners of wooden structures would have five years to retrofit.

Owners of concrete structures would have 30 years to complete the process, which would include an evaluation by a structural engineer to determine types of retrofits needed, according to the plan.

The mayor’s proposal does not have a price tag. However, reports say it could cost as much as $130,000 for a wooden apartment building and millions for a taller concrete building.

The report also recommends a voluntary rating system for seismic safety as well as citywide water and telecommunication infrastructure upgrades.

Supporters Rally

Following the presentation, many council members expressed support for mandated seismic strengthening of the city’s building stock, including Councilman Gil Cedillo, the Times reported.

“There’s no question about it,” said Cedillo. “It has to be done. It’s been demonstrated that voluntary programs do not work.”

Cedillo asked the city attorney to begin drafting the ordinance, the news outlet said.

“If we do this right...the retrofits can create jobs, and preserve housing and stimulate economic growth for the region,” he added.

Who will Pay?

The City Council heard from property owners and tenants during the meeting.

byrev / pixabay / CC0 Public Domain

Property owners are urging funding sources to be found to alleviate the cost burdens involved with the retrofitting plan.

While generally supportive, they urged city leaders to find financial support for the undertaking.

“There are three issues with us: funding, funding and funding,” said Earle Vaughan, past president of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, according to Daily News.

Carlos Aguilar of the Coalition for Economic Survival agreed, the Times reported.

“The cost cannot only rest on the back of tenants,” he said.

“We urge funding sources to be found to alleviate the burden on property owners and tenants, or that at least a shared-cost mechanism be found.”

Quake Scenario

Jones’ 126-page report considers the impacts of a probable magnitude 7.8 earthquake on the southern San Andreas Fault line.

“It is not the worst possible,” the report notes.

A quake of that magnitude could cause 1,800 deaths and $213 billion of economic losses across Southern California, consisting of:

  • $47.7 billion in shaking damage;
  • $65 billion in fire damage;
  • $96.2 billion in business interruption costs; and
  • $4.3 billion due to traffic delays.

Previous plans to secure weak Los Angeles’ buildings before another major quake hits have failed due to cost burdens, unrealistic timelines and other issues, according to reports.


Tagged categories: Concrete; Construction; Disasters; Government; Maintenance + Renovation; North America; Regulations; Retrofits; Wood

Comment from john lienert, (1/26/2015, 10:04 AM)

why doesn't the idiot mayor ask some renters if they would rather take chances w/earthquakes....or increase already astronomical rent

Comment from peter gibson, (1/26/2015, 7:32 PM)

The mayor is a damn fool...there is no money for this. Easy to make rules without telling us how it will be paid for.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (1/28/2015, 11:22 AM)

John and Peter....while I agree that funding compliance for such an ordinance is going to be a royal pain, I can also see things from the other side. If voluntary compliance is not happening, there are few options for the mayor and city council. If they don't act, I can see the headlines and lawsuits when buildings collapse in a major earthquake. City hall will be blamed for not enforcing the standards, the losses of property and the losses of life. "They should have done more!" will be the rallying cry of the residents. Everyone wants government to protect them and pay when a natural disaster strikes...but how many take responsibility for themselves before those disasters? Hopefully some form of subsidy or funding program (perhaps a tax incentive?) can be found to make the program viable in a market of already high housing prices.

Comment from Mark Anater, (1/28/2015, 11:29 AM)

It's nonsense that there's no money for retrofits. It's just that there's no will. Building owners don't want to pay, their insurance won't cover it, and government won't help defray the cost. All of this could be changed, and everyone will regret that it didn't when (not if) the next big earthquake happens.

Comment from john lienert, (1/29/2015, 10:18 AM)

oops, darn!..........that part of my "tax" money was already spent killing people in the "stans"

Comment from jim dolan, (1/29/2015, 12:58 PM)

Enough of the government funding ideas. There are many choices to be made; do I want live in a bankrupt state, do I want to live or work in this "dangerous" building, do I want to own this building, can I afford the retrofit? Once you answer these questions, problem solved! The people who have chosen to live and pay taxes in areas not routinely devastated by earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes are sick of paying for the choices of others. Someday the money will run out!!! Pass a law that makes sense! Should you live in an area that is plagued by these potential disasters, you may not sue, or get financial recovery! People make those intelligent decisions every day of their lives (buy a lotto ticket). Make it mandatory to buy insurance for these possibilities, the cost of insurance will sort out the ones who are serious (dumb) enough to live or work there....

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