Los Angeles Councilman Proposes Quake Building Inventory

August 22, 2013

A Los Angeles councilman is urging the city to find and list the potentially thousands of buildings that could collapse in an earthquake.

Tom LaBonge is proposing a city inventory of so-called “soft-story” buildings – those where the top stories could collapse onto the lower floor during a major temblor, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Many are apartment and condo buildings with ground-floor parking. The inventory would list buildings built before 1978 with at least two stories and five units.

About 200 were badly damaged or destroyed during the 1994 Northridge earthquake, including an apartment building that pancaked, killing 16 people.

“The truth of the matter is, we should be very cognizant that there will be another earthquake. Because this is earthquake country,” LaBonge said.

His proposal comes four months after San Francisco passed a law forcing owners to strengthen about 3,000 soft-story apartment buildings. Officials there estimated the cost per building at $60,000 to $130,000.

The Los Angeles City Council rejected a proposal to require retrofitting of vulnerable buildings in 1996 and instead opted for a voluntary program.

The idea of creating a list of soft-story buildings is fine but any attempt to require retrofitting would be a concern, said Jim Clarke, chief executive officer of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles.

Some property owners would be in trouble unless they could pass on the cost to tenants, he said.

“Forty-three percent of our members are senior citizens,” Clarke said. “A big hit like that would be devastating.”

“Some of these mandatory laws can create a hardship,” said Beverly Kenworthy, executive director of the Los Angeles division of the California Apartment Association.

“We don’t think it’s a bad idea – there just needs to be a type of funding mechanism … to help property owners pay for it,” she said.

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