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Courthouse’s Quake Fixes Cited as Hazard

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Five-year-old temporary fixes for earthquake damage at the Van Nuys Superior Courthouse are more than just an annoyance, city officials said, they’re a fire hazard.

During a routine check, fire inspectors cited the building for four fire code violations on the seventh floor, the area most obviously damaged in the 1994 Northridge quake.

Chief Al Hernandez, who supervises the high-rise unit of the city Bureau of Fire Prevention, said missing ceiling tiles and the raw wood and plastic sheeting that for years has buttressed the marble tiles on the walls have been deemed unsafe. Any materials used in a high-rise building, even temporarily during construction or reconstruction, must be fire-retardant, Hernandez said.

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The wood supports also make one public hallway too narrow for safe evacuation during a fire.

Hernandez said the inspector has issued the county a notice to correct the problems and has asked county officials for a timetable for repairs.

He said the problems are not grave enough to force the building’s evacuation. “It doesn’t sound like these are things that would require the seventh floor to be shut down,” Hernandez said.

“I was shocked to learn that it was a fire hazard, along with being an eyesore,” said Superior Court Judge Michael Farrell, who has made earthquake repairs a top issue since he took over as Van Nuys supervising judge this year.

Farrell said the violations encompass many of the ones that jurors, lawyers and court staffers have been complaining about since the earthquake.

“We’ve been worried about the seventh floor for over five years,” Farrell said. “It’s a pain in the neck.”

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It is unclear why the county was not cited for the problems earlier.

Hernandez said the inspector responsible for that courthouse has recently changed. The previous inspector may have brought the issues to the county’s attention but agreed not to require immediate repairs, he said.

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