Los Angeles Times

A sense of urgency on retrofits

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

- 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.
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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States