Advertisement

Company’s Seismic Safety Work Probed : Construction: City says anchors installed in some unreinforced buildings do not meet code. Firm’s owner defends his work.

Share via
TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Los Angeles company that performed earthquake safety work on several hundred brick buildings is being investigated by the city Department of Building and Safety for using unapproved materials that could endanger lives during a temblor, officials said.

Parcco Construction Co. of Los Angeles, one of the major companies performing seismic safety work required by city law, faces possible legal action by the city attorney, officials said. An independent inspector who approved the work is also under investigation.

Karl Deppe, chief of the building department’s earthquake safety division, said last week that Parcco has been under investigation for several months for installing “unapproved anchors.”

Advertisement

“We’re very, very concerned,” Deppe said. If the devices, called shear anchors, are faulty, “the floor and roof system might slip too much and cause the walls to collapse” during an earthquake, he said.

Deputy City Atty. Ruth Kwan said that once the investigation is complete, “I will be reviewing the case for any possible . . . criminal and/or civil violations of unfair business practices.”

A 1981 city ordinance mandates the strengthening of 8,222 unreinforced masonry structures, all built before 1933. While different types of anchors are used in the strengthening process, shear anchors are designed to keep the floors and roof from moving side to side during a quake.

Deppe said he did not know how many buildings under investigation are residential structures, which tend to be found in poor neighborhoods.

Jose A. Aguilar, president of Parcco Construction, said last week that his company had worked on “close to 500” unreinforced masonry buildings, mostly commercial.

He said he designed the anchors himself and believes they are safe.

“I think it’s a better anchor (than the city’s),” Aguilar said, adding that he is trying to win city approval for it.

Advertisement

Alternative seismic strengthening methods must be tested and approved by local building departments before being used, said Fred Turner, a structural engineer for the state Seismic Safety Commission.

“It’s a quality control issue,” Turner said. “The (Los Angeles) city building department seems to be acting appropriately.” Prior approval, he said, “is a commonly used approach to assure seismic safety.”

Aguilar said he has specialized in earthquake hazard construction work since 1981. Although the city has certified about 100 contractors to do seismic retrofitting, Deppe said Aguilar was one of 15 or 20 doing much of the work.

Shear anchors are installed by setting long, threaded steel rods into holes drilled into brick walls and packed with special, non-shrinking cement. They are placed at the intersections of walls, floors and roofs. Deppe said the anchors transfer earthquake forces from the roof and floor systems to the walls, down through the unreinforced masonry and out to the ground.

The materials must be of a certain type, according to city building regulations, and any deviations have to be tested and approved for strength and quality.

Instead of using an approved rod, Aguilar made his own. In a design resembling a fork with the middle tines missing, he welded two narrow pieces of concrete-reinforcing steel bars so that they extended out from the sides of a short threaded rod.

Advertisement

Aguilar had not sought city approval, he said, because: “We didn’t think it would be called a different type. It’s concrete and steel.”

Once installed, anchors are invisible except for the rods showing at the surface. City inspectors last week went to buildings where Parcco was hired to do earthquake strengthening and pulled anchors out of the walls to examine them.

Deppe said about 150 buildings are being inspected, but more will be checked if necessary.

“So far we’ve checked 60 buildings,” Deppe said. “We’ve found 23 or 24 that are not OK, and 37 that were OK (have approved anchors). Some of the work was done properly.”

The city was notified of the situation after a Parcco client, who did not want his name used, noticed different anchors being installed in his building.

Aguilar said he believes the complaint was triggered by a dispute between Parcco and the client over money. The client said he had refused to make a final payment because of the anchor problem.

According to sources, some former Parcco employees have contributed information to the investigation.

Advertisement

Although city inspectors monitor much of the seismic retrofitting work, Deppe said shear anchor installations are certified by independent, free-lance inspectors known as registered deputy inspectors. These inspectors are licensed by the city. Deppe said that Richard Vale, the inspector who certified the unapproved Parcco anchors, is “under investigation.”

Vale said he applied required torque tests to the anchors after they had been installed and “the ones I tested did pass.”

Meanwhile, owners of the buildings involved have been notified by the city of the investigation. Some have been told they must have the work redone.

One such person is Reyes Alcazar, owner of a one-story brick building at 4810 S. Main St. As he watched city inspectors check anchors in his building last week, he said he did not think that his building is in danger. “I just want the job fixed,” Alcazar said.

Aguilar said he has been negotiating with the city to have tests done that he believes will validate his anchor design. In the meantime, he said he would replace anchors on buildings where the city has ordered work redone.

“I will either replace the anchors or do a test to show these anchors are OK,” Aguilar said. “I will pay. . . . I am cooperating with the city 100%.”

Advertisement

According to Deppe, two other companies, which he declined to name, also have been under scrutiny. He said one was found to have done satisfactory work and “we’re still checking the other one.”

Deppe said he sees no reason to check the anchor work done by all other earthquake retrofit contractors. “We have no reason to be suspicious of the others,” he said.

Advertisement