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Building owners feeling aftershock of L.A. quake retrofit

Last year's seismic retrofit ordinance is putting 15,000 older Los Angeles buildings under serious pressure. Owners and operators of Los Angeles structures built before 1978 are left quaking about meeting minimum standards, opting for a retrofit or considering teardowns. Owners of buildings found to be non-conforming will be required to strengthen or demolish their structures within a specified time frame.


Given that it's quite probable that a large California earthquake could occur within the next 25 years—the current grace period for non-ductile, concrete-moment frames—owning buildings with known seismic deficiencies could lead to increased exposure to liability, not to mention massive irreparable damage.

Given its long history of seismic events and aftermath, the official City of Los Angeles Ordinance 183893 was undertaken as a proactive attempt to inform and protect public, shore up potentially hazardous buildings and help prevent additional tragic failures related to the next earthquake—an inevitability at this point. Some 65 people already died during the collapse of vulnerable buildings in 1971 and 1994 quakes.

The new ordinance predominantly affects two types of structures, which were subject to high-collapse rates during previous seismic risks:

• Wood-frame, soft or weak-story buildings
• Non-ductile concrete buildings

These types of at-risk buildings will require analysis by licensed and trained engineers to weigh conforming options for the future. Experts are currently conducting full structural evaluations, retrofit design and strategic consulting throughout L.A. and beyond.

While retrofits will no doubt cost owners, a recent L.A. Times article reported that the Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to move forward on a payment compromise: Owners will be able to pass half the retrofit costs to tenants through rent increases over a ten-year period, with a maximum increase of $38 per month.

However, the real issue is larger than soft-story retrofits and higher rents in the L.A. urban center. Regardless of the local jurisdiction's requirements, the need to secure and strengthen these potentially hazardous buildings exists throughout the L.A. Basin and most of Southern California. Indeed all building owners and operators could benefit from reconsidering the structural integrity of their properties for the safety of tenants and the greater community, not to mention future investment interests.

Having a dependable structural engineering design and consulting firm can help building owners:
· Determine whether your building is subject to the Ordinance and steps required to achieve compliance.
· Evaluate the physical condition of the building's structural systems and design repairs of defects or deficiencies.
· Conduct seismic risk assessments and benefit-cost analyses of levels of rehabilitation of building performance and ordinance compliance.
· Develop a retrofit strategy by prioritizing or phasing repair and/or seismic retrofit measures.
· Design seismic upgrades using modern design methods and subsequently manage its construction.

Have additional questions regarding the L.A. retrofit ordinance or another issue related to structural integrity? Marx|Okubo is a founding member firm with the U.S. Resiliency Council and employs Certified Rating Professionals (CRP) and Certified Rating Reviewers (CRR). Let us see how we can help your project.