Quake plan would require apartments to be retrofitted

City News Service

LOS ANGELES — Apartment building owners who would be required to retrofit their buildings under an earthquake resiliency proposal by Mayor Eric Garcetti urged the Los Angeles City Council last week to come up with ways to help them pay for it.

“Please provide the money. Put it on the table before you pass this kind of an ordinance,” said Daniel Fuller, president of the Van Nuys-based Apartment Owners Association of California.

Fuller said some of the members of his organization would need to raid retirement accounts to pay for “soft floor” earthquake retrofitting.

Charles Betz, 84, said he probably would not be alive in 10 years — the amount of time he estimated it would take to recoup tens of thousands of dollars in earthquake retrofitting at his 10-unit apartment building in Sherman Oaks.

“Where is the money going to come from?” he asked.

Council members said they would consider statewide loan programs and tax incentives to ease the cost. Among the sweeping measures in Garcetti’s plan, which also includes making improvements to the city water and telecommunications infrastructure, the most contentious could be the proposed mandates for owners of apartment buildings with “soft” first floors to reinforce the structures.

The requirement would specifically affect owners of wood-framed, soft-story buildings and concrete structures that were built before building codes updated in 1980 required earthquake resistant features. Seismologist Lucy Jones, who wrote Garcetti’s earthquake resiliency plan, told the City Council Jan. 14 that for these older buildings, the city has tried a voluntary approach to retrofitting program for the past 20 years, but it has gotten minimal results and “doesn’t work.”

“A few buildings do it, but most of them don’t,” she said.

“Non-ductile concrete” buildings are historically some of the “deadliest” during earthquakes, while collapsed soft-story buildings, which are vulnerable because they are built above un-reinforced carports, have also caused deaths, Jones said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been studying the most cost-effective ways of retrofitting buildings and is expected to release results next year or in 2017.

“It may mean some buildings won’t need to be retrofitted, and will mean cheaper retrofitting,” Jones said. Beverly Kenworthy, executive director of the California Apartment Association, expressed cautious support for the mayor’s proposal.

“We have a lot of details to work out, but I think we know we have to do it,” she said. “Our organization was instrumental in working in San Francisco to get this done, which we did, and we were able to support their efforts there.”

“We commit to do the same here,” Kenworthy said, adding that “financing is going to be key.”

Earle Vaughan, a past president of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, told City News Service that what city officials are asking for “is a very expensive proposition, and we need help.”

Retrofiting his 21-unit building in Hollywood could cost him $75,000-$100,000, he said. “They’re asking us to retrofit apartment buildings throughout the city, in the best interest of everyone,” he said. “We’re asking them for help in the form of tax credits, low-interest loans, or a bond measure, a countywide bond measure perhaps.”

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