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Pre-1974 High-Rises : Santa Ana to Consider Mandatory Sprinklers

Times Staff Writer

The Santa Ana City Council on Monday will consider an ordinance that would require the installation of sprinkler systems in high-rise buildings constructed before 1974.

A state law enacted in 1974 required fire sprinklers for new buildings at least 75 feet tall. But older structures, such as the 62-story First Interstate Bank building in downtown Los Angeles that was partially gutted in a deadly blaze last May, remained exempt.

The ordinance would affect 12 buildings in Santa Ana. Four buildings that otherwise would fall under the law’s provisions are exempt from such local regulations: the state and federal buildings and the county Hall of Administration in the Civic Center complex, and Western Medical Center on North Tustin Avenue.

Included among the buildings that would need sprinklers are Santa Ana’s own eight-story City Hall, built in 1972, and the 11-story Segerstrom Center on North Main Street, built in 1970.

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A bill passed by the state Legislature last month would have superseded Santa Ana’s proposed ordinance. But Gov. George Deukmejian vetoed the bill Friday.

Introduced by Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), the bill would have required sprinklers in older, high-rise buildings. Initially, it had the support of many local officials from throughout the state. But amendments introduced after intense lobbying by representatives for landlords and hotel and motel owners lengthened the time period for compliance--up to nine years in some cases--and specifically prohibited local jurisdictions from imposing more stringent standards. Torres ultimately withdrew his support from the bill.

The Santa Ana ordinance, as proposed, would require that buildings of 75 feet or more be fitted with sprinklers within five years. Building owners who do not comply in that time would have to vacate their buildings above the second floor.

After the First Interstate fire, in which one man died and 40 people were injured, several cities began considering local ordinances requiring that pre-1974 buildings be retrofitted with sprinklers. The Los Angeles City Council quickly adopted a law giving building owners three years to complete the job, plus an additional year if asbestos removal significantly delays the process.

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In May, the Anaheim City Council considered an ordinance proposed by the Fire Department that would have required sprinklers in all existing buildings at least 55 feet tall by January, 1992, and in all new industrial, commercial and residential buildings.

The council returned the proposal to the Fire Department and asked that separate ordinances be prepared for different types of buildings. Fire officials will soon present the council with ordinances requiring sprinklers in pre-1974 high-rises and in attached housing projects of four units or more, administrative division chief Tim Riley said.


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