14% of Soft-Story Structures Compliant With 2015 L.A. Seismic Retrofit Law

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A Los Angeles City Council committee that was briefed today on seismic upgrades required by law in roughly 15,000 buildings was told that 14 percent of soft-story wooden structures are now compliant but none of the affected concrete buildings have been retrofitted.

When Mayor Eric Garcetti signed the 2015 ordinance into law, it gave Los Angeles the nation's strongest earthquake safety rules. The measure applies to older buildings considered vulnerable in major earthquakes, including wood- framed “soft-story” buildings with weak lower floors, such as multi-story apartments with tuck-under parking spaces, and vulnerable concrete buildings.

Under the ordinance, seismic retrofits of wooden structures must occur within seven years, and retrofits of concrete buildings within 25 years, with certain benchmarks to be met along the way.

The ordinance targets buildings constructed prior to the enactment of seismic building standards, which include pre-1978 soft-story wooden buildings and concrete buildings with permits dating back to before Jan. 13, 1977.

According to a report, the city identified 13,821 of the wood frame, soft-story buildings meeting the criteria for the ordinance, along with 1,376 concrete buildings, but 7 percent of each have since been found to be exempt from the ordinance due to previous retrofitting. Of the remaining buildings, there are three phases of compliance with the ordinance, and 14 percent of the wood buildings have had all three phases completed, but none of the concrete buildings have, the report says.

The Los Angeles City Council last year voted to explore a financial assistance program to aid property owners on seismic retrofits.

Retrofitting can cost upwards of $130,000 for wood-frame buildings and millions of dollars for larger concrete buildings. The city does have programs that focus on cost recovery for owners, but there are no programs that provide up-front financial assistance, according to a motion approved in March 2018.

Once the work is completed, an owner can recover 50 percent of the cost through the city's Seismic Retrofit Program. But if the work cannot be completed within the time frame, the building could be demolished and impact the city's effort to maintain as much of its affordable housing as possible at a time of rising homelessness and spikes in the cost of renting or owning a home, the motion said.

The council directed various city departments to evaluate the feasibility of a loan program geared toward assisting property owners in financing seismic retrofit requirements, and to provide recommendations for structuring the initial program framework, but the report has not yet been presented.

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