City to Order Steel-Frame Inspections

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Responding to reports of quake damage to steel building frames, the Los Angeles City Council signaled Tuesday that the city will require the inspection of 400 steel-frame buildings in the San Fernando Valley and the Westside.

At the request of Councilman Hal Bernson, the council voted unanimously to draft an ordinance that would require the owners of steel-frame buildings to pay for the costly inspections that must be completed within three months of notification by the city.

Technically, the council still must vote on the urgency ordinance within two weeks, but city officials say the city is almost certain to go ahead with the inspection program as soon as possible.

Depending on the results of the inspections, the council may consider ordering inspections of all 1,000 steel-frame buildings citywide.

Under the proposal, owners would have one year to make any repairs ordered by inspectors.

Bernson's proposal generated concern from the head of a countywide property owners' association.

"We have to recognize that this will be another expensive undertaking for building owners," said Geoff Ely, executive director of the Building Owners and Managers Assn., representing about 1,500 members.

Ely asked that the city provide building owners plenty of flexibility in completing the expensive inspections and repairs.

Ely told the council his group supports the proposal but wants the program to include time extensions for building owners who might face financial difficulties in meeting the proposed deadlines.

Ely said the city should allow deadline extensions if, for instance, a building is occupied or needs asbestos removed.

Bernson, who represents the northwest Valley, said the inspection program would include extensions in hardship cases.

But he said the program's top priority is ensuring that the buildings are safe.

Aside from the concerns expressed by Ely's group, Bernson's recommendation has generated no other serious criticism. The council approved the proposal with only brief discussion.

With the support of three other Valley council members--Laura Chick, Richard Alarcon and Marvin Braude--Bernson proposed the inspection ordinance in response to widespread reports that steel building frames cracked during the Jan. 17 quake.

The frame damage surprised many engineers because steel-frame buildings are designed to bend without breaking in the enormous force of an earthquake. No steel-frame building came close to collapsing in the quake, inspectors have said.

In the weeks after the quake, inspectors reported finding cracks in the steel frames of at least 60 buildings up to 23 stories high in heavily damaged areas of the city.

The inspection program has targeted only buildings in the hardest-hit Valley and Westside areas. The inspections have to be performed by private structural engineers, sometimes using ultrasonic equipment.

In some cases, inspectors must tear into walls and strip steel columns of fireproofing to examine the frames for cracks.

It would cost between $4,000 and $6,000 to inspect buildings no more than six stories high and between $10,000 and $12,000 for taller buildings, city officials have said.

Ely said he does not know whether building owners can get financial help from the federal government to pay for the inspection and repair of damaged steel-frame buildings.

He said his group is looking into finding some financial assistance for owners.

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