Sprinkler Ordinance Revived : Fire safety: Councilman Holden's proposal, resurrected in wake of Century City blaze that killed two, would require installation in all existing residential high-rises.


A proposed ordinance that would require fire sprinklers in existing residential high-rise buildings was resurrected by City Councilman Nate Holden on Wednesday in the wake of a Century City condominium fire that killed two and injured seven.

Since 1974, city ordinances have required all new public, city-owned and residential buildings over 75 feet high to be built with sprinklers. Holden's proposal would have the City Council amend that law to include pre-1974 residential buildings.

Holden alleged at a news conference that a residential sprinkler ordinance that he introduced in 1988 has been stalled by the council's Public Safety Committee since March. "I just cannot understand why they have been dragging their feet all this time," Holden said. "I'm going to ask the chairman of the Public Safety Committee to move very quickly to bring this matter to the City Council."

A spokesman for the Public Safety Committee, however, said, "I have no knowledge of foot-dragging here."

"Part of the problem has been that people in these buildings will have to pay the costs of installation, and many can't afford to do that," said John Burmahln, legislative assistant for the committee. "You go ahead and sprinkler the buildings, and people don't have a place to live."

But Holden said the opportunity to save lives outweighs concerns that the costs of retrofitting might increase rents and drive some tenants into the streets.

"The question is this," said Holden. "How would you like to have been in that high-rise building, knowing you didn't have any sprinkler systems, knowing there was a fire?"

The 19-story structure that caught fire Tuesday had earlier been included in a city studyshowing that it would cost condominium owners as much as $26,782 per unit to install sprinklers, or about $525 per month for five years.

In calling for action from the City Council, Holden urged building owners to at least provide minimal sprinkler systems, which he estimated would cost no more than $100 a month per unit to pay off.

"My plan would be to provide a less expensive system of at least one or two sprinkler heads in each apartment--one at the entrance and one just outside the door," he said.

Meanwhile, autopsies on the man and woman who died in Tuesday's fire were being conducted by the Los Angeles County coroner's office on Wednesday.

An office spokesman said the bodies of both were severely burned and positive identification through dental charts was not expected until today at the earliest.

Greg Acevedo, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department, said investigators had not yet determined what caused the pre-dawn fire, which was confined to one unit.

Times staff writer Eric Malnic contributed to this story.

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