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Anaheim City Council Schedules Vote on Sprinkler Ordinance for Buildings

Times Staff Writer

The Anaheim City Council voted Tuesday to take the first steps in adopting wide-ranging fire ordinances requiring sprinkler systems in 12 older high-rise buildings and in new residential and commercial buildings.

The City Council will vote next week on whether to formally adopt a high-rise sprinkler ordinance. They also set a public hearing for April 4 to consider requiring sprinklers in new residential and commercial buildings. San Clemente is the only other Orange County city with such an ordinance.

Anaheim Fire Department Chief Jeff Bowman called for the stricter requirements after the fire last year at the First Interstate Bank building in Los Angeles that killed one person and caused more than $300 million in damage.

The bank tower, the tallest building in Los Angeles, was in the process of having sprinklers installed. Fire experts say the May 5 blaze would have been contained to one room had sprinklers been in place.

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At the time of the First Interstate fire, Anaheim had the largest number of unprotected high-rise buildings in Orange County, including two 11-story towers at the Disneyland Hotel. Hotel officials announced last May that they planned to install sprinklers within 3 years.

Anaheim’s ordinance, if adopted next week, would require high-rise buildings without sprinklers to be retrofitted. Building owners would also have to file a plan of compliance within the first year of the ordinance.

A state law enacted in 1974 required fire sprinklers in new buildings at least 75 feet tall. Anaheim’s proposed ordinance would be stricter, requiring sprinkler systems as of Jan. 1, 1992, for existing buildings of 55 feet or more. A provision would allow owners facing prohibitive expenses for the retrofitting, such as asbestos removal, to seek a delay or exemption.

I don’t think we ought to wait for a major disaster,” Bowman said after the vote Tuesday. “I think the need is clear.”

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To assist owners of the 12 high-rises that would have to be retrofitted with sprinklers, city officials are considering a loan package of up to $8 million to finance the installation work and required asbestos removal. That program would have to be approved by the City Council.

Under the second ordinance, sprinkler systems would be required for:

- Newly constructed commercial buildings. Current city law requires them only in buildings greater than 6,000 square feet.

- Apartment and condominium complexes of three or more units.

- New single-family homes.

Three sprawling residential ranches under construction in the east Anaheim Hills might not be covered under the ordinance. Developers of the more than 5,000 homes there already have negotiated agreements with the city exempting their projects from any new sprinkler requirements.

But City Atty. Jack L. White said Tuesday that although he had not recently read those agreements, by law the city usually can impose ordinances related to public health and safety.

Franklyn R. Elfend, a representative of the three ranch developers, said that his clients are not opposed to the idea of sprinkler systems, but that the city had already accepted other fire prevention services instead of sprinklers in the development agreements.

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“It was something the city could have had at the time (of negotiating the agreements) but excluded,” Elfend said. He estimated the cost of installing sprinklers in the ranch developments at $18 million.


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