California Cities See Momentum in Requiring Retrofits of Existing BuildingsMar 18 2014 · 0 comments · Nishkian Chamberlain, Seismic ·0
After the Northridge Earthquake in 1994, seismic retrofit was on the minds of many Californians. Within several years of that event, the Santa Monica City Council introduced new Retrofit Ordinances to address and mitigate vulnerabilities of these existing, older buildings. The City Council ordered its staff to locate potentially vulnerable types of wood, concrete, masonry or steel framed buildings and require the owners to strengthen or demolish them.
At nearly the same time, the Los Angeles City Council discussed mandatory retrofitting for soft-story apartments as well. Hal Bernson, the city councilman who proposed the measure back then, said in an interview that property owners fought him “tooth and nail.” In the end, the proposal never passed.
With the recent 20th anniversary of the Northridge Earthquake, retrofitting of these at-risk structures is again being discussed. At the forefront of these discussions are cities such as Santa Monica, Los Angeles and San Francisco. And requirements for retrofitting are beginning to be passed this time around.
City of Santa Monica
Santa Monica passed several retrofit ordinances addressing unreinforced masonry buildings (URM), non-ductile concrete structures, steel moment frames and others back in the mid-1990’s.
As time passed, the retrofit ordinances were not strictly enforced. They typically were only enforced when new work such as a tenant improvement was to be done on a building AND the building official noted that the building fell into the scope of one of the retrofit ordinances. In fact, the original list of vulnerable buildings has since been misplaced.
Recent news articles in the LA Times as well as recent awareness events by SCEC for the Great California Shakeout and SEAOSC with Buildings At Risk have shed light on the vulnerability of these buildings.
In response, the City of Santa Monica has announced a new effort to document what buildings within the City fall within the scope of these ordinances and will begin mandating retrofit at some time in the near future. They have allocated more than $100,000 over the next year to inspect and identify potentially dangerous buildings. This survey is expected to cover hundreds of buildings within Santa Monica. Of those hundreds, at least 70 alone are thought to be non-ductile concrete frame buildings.
City of Los Angeles
In early January 2014, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced his plan to tackle earthquake safety, including new efforts to strengthen vulnerable buildings. The City Council is considering several seismic safety initiatives, including creating inventories of potentially dangerous concrete and wood framed apartment buildings. The identification of these buildings is considered a crucial first step in any effort to strengthen them.
Garcetti said Los Angeles would for the first time partner with the U.S. Geological Survey to better protect private buildings as well as telecommunications and water supplies during a major temblor. Mayor Garcetti has appointed U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Lucy Jones as the “Earthquake Czar” who will spend a year meeting with stakeholders and experts and devising policy recommendations for the city of Los Angeles. He said he expected Jones to play a key role in convening a group to work on earthquake safety challenges. The plan would be to look not just at seismic retrofits of unsafe buildings, but the full gamut of earthquake preparations. “We’re going to try to do a more comprehensive thing,” he said.
City of San Francisco
On September 15, 2013, the City of San Francisco sent notices to building owners requiring existing wood framed structures with soft-story vulnerabilities have a screening form or an optional evaluation form completed by a licensed engineer or architect and turned in by September 15th, 2014. There are tiers as to when permit applications with plans for seismic retrofit work must be completed by. Property owners would be given four to seven years to complete the retrofitting after receiving the notice with the shortest timelines for those buildings with certain occupancies where there is a high potential for loss of life. Property owners must pay for these retrofits out of their own pockets; however, they can fully pass 100% of the cost on to the tenants even if they are in a rent controlled building, with a few exceptions, over a period of 20 years.
[J.K. Nakata, U.S. Geological Survey]
With the varied requirements of each City within the State of California, it can be very confusing navigating thru ordinances and mandates as they apply to different types of structures. Nishkian firms can help assist with building evaluations, interpretation of Code, as well as implementing new retrofits. Our offices and staff stay on top of the latest Code updates and requirements through our ongoing continuing education program. Please contact any of our offices if we can be of assistance.