Housing for 15,000 Families Reportedly Not Quake-Safe

TIMES STAFF WRITER

More than 15,000 families in the city of Los Angeles are living in unreinforced masonry buildings whose owners have failed to comply with the city ordinance ordering renovations for earthquake safety, building officials said Monday.

In a report to the City Council's Community Redevelopment and Housing Committee that corrected statistics released two weeks ago, Karl Deppe, chief of the Department of Building and Safety's earthquake safety division, said that no seismic safety work had begun in 502 buildings and that work was progressing too slowly in another 65 buildings. The buildings make up about a third of the unreinforced masonry apartment buildings and residential hotels in Los Angeles.

"This is much more dangerous than we thought it was because this is more complete," Councilwoman Gloria Molina, chairwoman of the committee said, referring to data presented by building officials to the same committee last month.

With the new numbers, the total of residential buildings that have been fully strengthened is listed as 663, or 19,164 units. Previously, officials had said 647 buildings had been strengthened for earthquakes.

However, Deppe revised upward the number of buildings in which no earthquake work has been done at all, from 440 to 502.

In complying with a committee request for an analysis of the number listed as "under construction," which Molina had called too vague, the building officials now say only 125 of those 330 residential buildings had work proceeding in a timely manner.

Of the rest, 140 buildings were described as behind in meeting the terms of the seismic safety ordinance, and another 65 were listed as severely lagging. The ordinance allows roughly three years for seismic upgrading to be completed after the Building Department sends out its notices.

"I think many of these landlords are playing for time," Molina said. "How do we get these guys? The law's been in place for nine years. They're gambling with people's lives. As many as 15,000 families' lives may be hurt."

"We need more enforcement," Deppe said, noting there was a need for six more inspectors in his department and more attorneys in the city attorney's office to pursue delinquent owners in court.

"Work is under way to make code changes to allow us to proceed against jobs when there is a new owner," Deppe added, noting the ownership of buildings often changes just as the seismic upgrading deadlines near. Under current law, he said, "We have to issue a new order and give them three more years."

Building officials also presented the committee with corrected statistics breaking down the number of unreinforced buildings by council district where seismic safety work had not yet begun. The largest number were in Councilman Gilbert Lindsay's district in Central and South-Central Los Angeles, with 127 buildings, followed by Molina, with 91 buildings in her district, which covers areas west of downtown such as Pico-Union and MacArthur Park.

In addition to its 1,669 residential buildings, the city also has 6,480 commercial buildings made of unreinforced masonry. Of these, 2,192 have been fully strengthened, 1,015 have been demolished, and 161 vacated. Of the 919 under construction, more than half are, like the residential buildings, behind schedule.

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