Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed off on the city’s most aggressive action on earthquake safety in nearly three decades, instructing building officials this week to comb the city and identify thousands of apartment buildings vulnerable to collapse in a major temblor.
The survey will focus on wood-frame buildings similar to the Northridge Meadows apartment complex that collapsed and killed 16 people in the magnitude 6.7 earthquake in 1994. Building officials estimate there are at least 5,800 buildings of that type in the city, and an additional 11,690 buildings will need to be inspected to determine whether they should be included on the list.
Garcetti’s signing comes a week after he took the issue of earthquake safety to Sacramento, where he lobbied the governor and legislative leaders on the issue of earthquake retrofitting.
“I said, specifically, we’re going to be developing some of our own solutions in Los Angeles, some of our own mandates,” Garcetti said in the interview after welcoming the Electronic Entertainment Expo to the Los Angeles Convention Center. “We want to see if the state can step up and help, and vice versa, if anything we’re doing can be helpful to the state.”
One example would be making sure that tthe Edmund G. Brown California Aqueduct can continue to transport water to Southern California after a big earthquake.
“If we're cut off — because the California Aqueduct is near the epicenter — for six months from fresh water? That's something you need to consider in any water legislation they're looking at,” Garcetti said.
In May, Patrick Otellini, who is in charge of implementing San Francisco's earthquake safety program, told the Los Angeles Times that there has been a close collaboration between Garcetti's office and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee's staff on trading earthquake safety policy ideas. Last year, San Francisco passed a landmark law that requires the city's wooden apartment buildings to be strengthened.
While San Francisco is well underway in identifying its wooden apartment buildings that are vulnerable to shaking, Los Angeles is starting from scratch.
Until now concerns about costs have stalled Los Angeles' efforts to tackle the issue of retrofitting. Seismic experts and policymakers say a citywide survey to figure out which structures might be vulnerable is a necessary first step.
"It's so key," L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge said last month after the City Council backed the motion he introduced about a year ago. "You have to have the data to know how many buildings are like this and where they are. And to give us a kind of road map of what we can do to improve these buildings."
Other elected officials in Los Angeles have sought state backing for tax breaks for owners who retrofit their buildings or funding for cities to implement local earthquake safety programs.
Three people would be hired to work for the building and safety department to create this inventory. The project would take about 18 months, officials said.
In January, Garcetti appointed Lucy Jones, a U.S. Geological Survey seismologist, as his earthquake science advisor and asked her to come up with recommendations on how to get vulnerable wooden and concrete buildings retrofitted. He has also asked her to develop plans to preserve water and telecommunications systems during a Big One.
In October, The Times reported that by the most conservative estimate as many as 50 of the more than 1,000 concrete buildings in the city built before 1976 would collapse in a major earthquake, exposing thousands to injury or death.