Following Through on Earthquake Safety

Photo of building damaged in earthquake from LADBS web site.

Photo of building damaged in earthquake from LADBS web site.

For a while now I’ve been meaning to follow up on a post I did in 2014 about seismic retrofitting. Back then Mayor Garcetti proposed evaluating buildings based on how they’d weather an earthquake, and to make the information available to the public. This was to be the first step in creating a program to reinforce thousands of soft-story apartment buildings, i.e., older wood-frame structures with parking tucked under the units.

It was a great idea, but I have to admit I was skeptical about the Mayor pulling it off. Everybody agreed that it was important to upgrade these older buildings, but implementing such a program meant that landlords and tenants would have to shell out a lot of money to make it happen. I was afraid that after the initial hype faded away, the initiative would die a quiet death at the hands of some committee at City Hall.

I was wrong. Garcetti brought Lucy Jones on board, and she successfully spearheaded the effort to make this happen. The City Council adopted the ordinance in 2015. Earlier this year the Department of Building and Safety started sending letters to property owners letting them know what they have to do to comply. The program will be rolled out in phases, tackling the most risky buildings first. Landlords will be allowed to pass a portion of the cost along to tenants.

The Mayor deserves credit for making this happen, as does Lucy Jones. It wasn’t easy selling it to anxious landlords and tenants. It’ll take years for the process to be completed, but this ordinance will save lives when the next earthquake hits.

If you’d like more information, follow this link to the page at the Department of Building and Safety.

Soft-Story Retrofit Program at LADBS

How Safe Is Your Home?

Quake Graphic 3

I have to say I’m impressed by Mayor Garcetti’s earthquake safety plan. The idea of rating buildings according to how well they’d weather a quake, and making that information available to the public, is pretty smart. It’s been suggested that LA should a adopt a mandatory retrofit program for soft story buildings, which is what San Francisco has done. The problem, of course, is that property owners are freaked out by the potential cost. Renters aren’t happy either, since San Francisco’s law allows landlords to pass the cost along to tenants over a twenty year period.

But soft story buildings need to be upgraded. Failing to do so could mean a massive death toll when the next major quake strikes LA. So how do you get property owners and renters to support a costly retrofit program? By rating buildings according to how safe they are. Garcetti’s plan will make the public aware of how serious the threat is. People will probably be much more willing to support retrofitting once they realize that their property or their life could be at stake.

The only drawback is that this will take time. Garcetti’s earthquake czar, Lucy Jones, has emphasized that this isn’t going to happen right away. The work of creating a rating system and then actually evaluating all the buildings at risk will probably take two or three years. Let’s hope we have that much time.

But this is a good first step. I’m impressed that Garcetti is leading the way on this. I’ll be even more impressed if he makes it happen.

For more details, here’s the story from the LA Times.

Garcetti Wants Buildings Graded for Earthquake Safety

Caution: Quake Zone

Nrthrdge Quake

Yesterday’s small temblor was really no big deal. But it does serve as a reminder that we need to be thinking about earthquake safety. Researchers at UCLA and Berkeley have determined that there are many buildings in LA which could collapse in a major quake. They warn that thousands of “soft-story” buildings (mostly condos and apartments), and over one thousand “nonductile” concrete buildings are at risk.

Earlier this month, the LA Weekly ran an excellent article by Gracie Zheng, which not only discusses the danger we’re facing but the inability (or unwillingness) of local politicians to take action. You can read the article by clicking here.

We can make these buildings safe. It won’t be easy. It will cost money. But it can be done. San Francisco has already tackled this problem and found a solution. We need to follow their lead. If, after reading the article, you’re as concerned as I am, a good first step might be to call your council representative. Let them know you want action.

The photo above is from Wikimedia Commons. It shows a damaged building after the Northridge earthquake, and was taken by Gary B. Edstrom.