West Hollywood will catalog every building to identify those possibly at risk in major earthquake

Retrofit study in Santa Monica
The Northridge earthquake damaged the Masonic Temple in Santa Monica.
(Los Angeles Times )

West Hollywood has launched a significant seismic safety project that will catalog every building in the city and identify any structures potentially at risk of collapse in a major earthquake.

City officials hired Degenkolb Engineers, a top earthquake engineering firm, to walk down every street and examine each structure, take photographs and gather notes on vulnerabilities and construction history. There are an estimated 6,000 buildings across the city.

Once every building has been cataloged, Degenkolb will categorize and identify potentially at-risk buildings and help city officials develop seismic retrofit laws. The city budgeted about $193,000 for the project.

The inventory will include commercial and residential buildings, old and new, of every construction type. Many buildings in the city are multi-family; renters make up about 78% of the city, officials said.


The survey, which began Dec. 2, is expected to be completed in February.

Having a complete database of all the buildings in the city is the best starting point in developing any retrofit laws, officials said.

“I don’t think the city has ever taken on anything of this size and nature,” said Steve Bailey, West Hollywood’s building and safety manager. “There is quite a bit of momentum in this region now [on seismic retrofitting] and in Northern California as well.”

West Hollywood’s inventory project follows historic strides in earthquake safety in major cities across California.


The city of Los Angeles in October enacted the nation’s most sweeping seismic regulations, requiring an estimated 15,000 buildings to be strengthened to better withstand violent shaking.

The unanimous vote by the Los Angeles City Council capped decades of efforts to retrofit two types of buildings that pose the most serious potential for loss of life in a big quake: brittle concrete buildings that dot L.A.'s major boulevards and the boxy, wood-frame apartment complexes built on top of carports. More than 65 people died when these types of buildings collapsed during earthquakes in 1971 and 1994.

The city has already identified about 13,500 wood apartments that will probably need retrofitting. An estimated 1,500 older concrete structures will also be subject to the retrofit laws.

In San Francisco, officials passed a landmark law in 2013 that required owners to strengthen vulnerable wooden apartments. Owners of more than 270 buildings have since completed retrofits — years ahead of deadlines to complete construction.

Hundreds more have applied for or received building permits for retrofit construction. 

So far, most owners have complied with the mandatory retrofit deadlines, officials said. Owners who have missed deadlines have had provocative signs slapped onto their buildings that say “Earthquake warning!” in large red letters, set over an image of a collapsing building.

West Hollywood officials said they have researched these programs as well as other efforts in smaller California cities. Officials will work on tailoring West Hollywood’s program based on what the database reveals.

“Not all cities have the same inventory or construction type. Doing the inventory is an important piece of making sure our program is custom-designed for this city,” said Cynthia Zabala, project manager for West Hollywood’s Seismic Retrofit Program and Survey. “We wanted to make sure we knew exactly what we had in our inventory so we can design a program that specifically responds to the issues in this city.”


The scope of the retrofit program, and whether it will be mandatory or voluntary, will be determined in the coming months. Financing options will also be evaluated.

“I think it’s really hard for us to answer these questions until one, we get our inventory done, and two, we do some more outreach and conversation with the community,” Zabala said. “There will be conversations both with business owners and the community about what kind of policy is appropriate.”

City officials emphasized the importance of approaching the issue in a comprehensive manner.

“Not only do we want to protect the residents in the buildings that they reside in, but also to protect the folks that work and visit the city in our commercial structures,” Bailey said. “The main goal of the retrofit program is to prevent catastrophic failure and save lives. ... We believe that it’s a necessary step for all Southern California cities.”

Follow @RosannaXia for the latest news in earthquake safety, El Niño, and the drought.


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