A sense of urgency on retrofits

Fix­ing L.A. build­ings vul­ner­a­ble to col­lapse is vi­tal be­fore next big quake, Garcetti says.

Los Angeles Times - - CITY & STATE - By Rong-Gong Lin II ron.lin@la­times.com Twit­ter: @ron­lin

Los An­ge­les Mayor Eric Garcetti said the sig­nif­i­cant de­struc­tion and death toll from Tues­day’s earth­quake in Mex­ico should prompt own­ers and lo­cal gov­ern­ments across Cal­i­for­nia to get more build­ings retro­fit­ted to with­stand quakes as soon as pos­si­ble.

A vi­ral video cap­tur­ing the col­lapse of a five-story con­crete build­ing — re­mark­able for the de­tail it shows of how such struc­tures be­have in an ac­tual quake — has be­come a star­tling and vis­ceral il­lus­tra­tion for how seem­ingly solid build­ings can be­come brit­tle and crum­ble when shaken side to side.

“Any build­ing owner who thinks they should sit back and re­lax for the next 20 years should view that video. And let’s fig­ure out a way to get to work now,” Garcetti said.

“What’s more ex­pen­sive,” he asked, “the loss of your en­tire prop­erty — let alone the loss of lives — or the in­vest­ment in mak­ing sure that no earth­quake of that size will de­stroy your build­ing or kill any­one?”

Struc­tural en­gi­neers in Cal­i­for­nia say it’s clear that brit­tle con­crete build­ings were a ma­jor rea­son for many of the deaths caused by Tues­day’s mag­ni­tude 7.1 quake in cen­tral Mex­ico. Only a few lo­cal gov­ern­ments around the world have re­quired that brit­tle con­crete build­ings be retro­fit­ted, and Los An­ge­les was one of the first to do so in 2015.

Garcetti pro­posed the retro­fit law, re­quir­ing that con­crete build­ings and wooden apart­ment build­ings with flimsy ground floors be retro­fit­ted by a cer­tain dead­line.

Re­quir­ing con­crete build­ings to be retro­fit­ted was at one time con­tro­ver­sial in Los An­ge­les, given the ex­pense, which can ex­ceed $1 mil­lion for a large struc­ture. L.A.’s seis­mic safety law per­mit­ted a lengthy dead­line — 25 years to retro­fit a con­crete build­ing once the city is­sues an or­der re­quir­ing the build­ing be seis­mi­cally eval­u­ated for risk of col­lapse.

(The dead­line for wooden apart­ment build­ings is shorter — seven years after an or­der is given.)

But Garcetti said the de­struc­tion this week in Mex­ico City un­der­scores how im­por­tant it is to get those build­ings retro­fit­ted well be­fore the 25-year dead­line.

“The im­ages from Mex­ico re­in­force the route that we took and the im­por­tance — de­spite the ex­pense — of in­clud­ing con­crete build­ings in our leg­is­la­tion,” the mayor said. “Look­ing at those hor­rific im­ages and see­ing the tragic con­se­quences re­mind me of our No. 1 re­spon­si­bil­ity to save lives, and not just try to cal­cu­late a dol­lar amount of, ‘too much,’ to save a life.

“That said, it also makes me un­easy think­ing of 25 years — we picked the com­pro­mise of ... putting a man­date that’s very strong, and we were very flex­i­ble about the time­line,” Garcetti said.

For now, Garcetti is not propos­ing a change in law to shorten the dead­line to retro­fit con­crete build­ings. But, he said, it would help own­ers to make it eas­ier to ob­tain loans to do retrofits, whether they be pub­licly or pri­vately fi­nanced, so they wouldn’t have to pay for the costs all up­front.

The mayor called on other cities through­out Cal­i­for­nia to start look­ing to L.A.’s retro­fit plan as a model.

“Our next step is to do what­ever we can on our watch to go even fur­ther,” Garcetti said. “If the big­gest city in the state can do this, then you can do it, too, in your own back­yard.”

Garcetti con­grat­u­lated other cities, such as Santa Mon­ica, for go­ing one step step be­yond L.A. in re­quir­ing retrofitti­ng of a cer­tain class of steel-frame build­ing found to be vul­ner­a­ble to frac­tur­ing in an earth­quake. He said of­fi­cials at L.A.’s De­part­ment of Build­ing and Safety are as­sess­ing the Santa Mon­ica law.

Gary Coron­ado Los Angeles Times

NEIGH­BORS place a tarp over part of the street near Maria Elena Jimenez Ariz­mendi’s home, which was de­stroyed in Tues­day’s earth­quake in Jo­jutla, Mex­ico.

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