By Rong-Gong Lin II and Rosanna Xia
6:48 PM PDT, September 10, 2013
Worried about a certain type of wood-framed building particularly vulnerable to collapse during a major earthquake, a Los Angeles City Council committee Tuesday ordered building officials to come up with a plan to identify these structures.
Los Angeles officials have long known about the risk of so-called soft-story buildings, particularly after the Northridge earthquake in 1994, when about 200 of these structures were seriously damaged or destroyed. The Northridge Meadows apartment complex was one of them, and 16 people died, many crushed to death in their beds.
Earthquake experts have long said many people are expected to die from the collapse of these structures in a major earthquake. Soft-story structures often are built over carports and held up with slender columns, leaving the upper floors to crash into ground-floor apartments during shaking.
Efforts to identify these buildings and require them to be strengthened failed 17 years ago after opposition from property owners.
But Los Angeles officials are taking a new look at the issue after San Francisco passed a landmark earthquake safety ordinance earlier this year, which will require about 3,000 wooden apartment buildings to be strengthened there.
Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge, the sponsor of the measure, said building officials are expected to report back within two months on how they would create a list of these vulnerable buildings.
“There’s never a time not to think about earthquakes,” LaBonge told the planning committee. “We do know, just as sure as the sun rose this morning and will set tonight, there will be another earthquake in Los Angeles.”
LaBonge said later that Los Angeles has many neighborhoods tightly packed with apartments, such as along the Wilshire Corridor.
“We gotta know what’s in there. The same thing is true with parts of the San Fernando Valley,” LaBonge said. “It’s good to know.”
Two members of the planning committee who were present, Councilmen Jose Huizar and Mitch Englander, supported LaBonge’s request for more information on this issue.
“It’s incredibly important that we update all these public safety issues,” Englander said. “I applaud you for bringing this forward.”
Responding to concerns about the cost of paying for strengthening, LaBonge suggested a statewide bond to finance low-interest loans for property owners.
The idea still needed to be developed, LaBonge said.
“I’ve got to convince the governor and the leadership in Sacramento,” he said. “The earthquake knows no boundaries, and it’s a statewide problem.”
LaBonge’s motion, introduced in July, asks building officials to present a proposal for how the city would be able to identify wood-frame soft-story residential buildings, with at least two stories and at least five units, built before 1978.
Times staff writer Doug Smith contributed to this report.
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