City Adopts Earthquake Retrofit Code


Following the recommendation of city building officials, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved four ordinances Tuesday that create voluntary retrofit standards aimed at increased earthquake safety in thousands of buildings in the city.

Without debate, the council voted 14-0 in favor of the four ordinances that recommend strengthening the frames and foundations of about 80,000 of the city’s most earthquake-vulnerable buildings.

Although the standards are not mandatory, city officials said that having the ordinances in place will encourage property owners to undertake the expensive task.

“It’s a shame that they’re voluntary, but it’s a tremendous start for us,” said Francine Oschin), spokeswoman for Councilman Hal Bernson, who heads the council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Earthquake Recovery.


“We’re very confident that as time goes by you’re going to see more and more of these businesses get retrofitted anyway; it’ll be the thing to do,” Oschin said, predicting that the growing realization that retrofitted buildings are safer will overcome the owners’ reluctance to spend money on them.

The ordinances cover four types of buildings: existing wood-frame hillside homes, older wood-frame residential buildings with under-floor enclosures and unbolted sill plates, “nonductile” concrete buildings used for retail sales, offices and garages, and post-1975 concrete wall, low-rise industrial/commercial buildings known as “tilt-ups.”

The standards were proposed by a panel of construction officials and experts who studied buildings damaged in the Northridge earthquake.

The so-called nonductile buildings--which have weak shear walls--are a top priority for city officials, said Karl Deppe) assistant chief of the Department of Building and Safety’s building bureau.


“We had four major collapses of those building,” Deppe said. “Kobe had 600 collapses. We’re very concerned.”

Although the standards will likely become mandatory in the future, city officials said, they were reluctant to pass a mandatory ordinance at the present time because of the costs of such upgrades.

Still, the standards can be used as a reference point when a building is being remodeled, or is being sold or refinanced, Deppe said.

“We’ve been talking to insurers and bankers; they encouraged us to do this. They could motivate owners through reduced lending rates and reduced premiums,” for buildings that meet the standards, Deppe said.

Under the ordinances, the city Administrative Office will attempt to find $2.6 million needed to conduct a survey of the buildings in need of upgrading, Deppe said. Part of the funding could come from a $99-million Community Development Block Grant from the federal government.

“We understand completely the economic impact these kinds of things have,” Oschin said. “You can’t put people out of business. You can’t put people out of their homes.”