Los Angeles May Make List of Quake-Sensitive Buildings

September 12, 2013

Building officials are looking into creating a list of residential buildings throughout Los Angeles that are especially vulnerable to collapsing during a major earthquake.

The City Council’s planning committee told officials Tuesday to report back in about two months on how such a list of so-called soft-story buildings could be compiled, the Los Angeles Times reported. The officials would propose ways to identify how many wood-framed soft-story buildings of two stories or more the city has that were constructed before 1978.

Soft-story buildings are wood-framed structures that are often built over carports and held up only by narrow columns, leaving their upper floors vulnerable to falling onto the lower ones.

About 200 such buildings were destroyed or badly damaged during the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

Among them was a three-story San Fernando Valley apartment complex where 16 people died when the building pancaked, crushing people in the floors below.

Efforts to catalog such buildings and require that they be strengthened were launched after the quake but abandoned in the face of opposition from property owners.

City officials decided to revisit the issue after San Francisco adopted an ordinance earlier this year requiring about 3,000 of its wooden apartment buildings to be strengthened.

“There’s never a time not to think about earthquakes,” City Councilman Tom LaBonge, who brought the measure up, told the planning committee. “We do know, just as sure as the sun rose this morning and will set tonight, there will be another earthquake in Los Angeles.”

He said sections of the city that are densely packed with apartment buildings could be especially at risk.

When it comes to paying to reinforce those buildings, LaBonge said a statewide bond issue that would provide low-interest loans for property owners is one possibility.

“I’ve got to convince the governor and the leadership in Sacramento,” he said. “The earthquake knows no boundaries, and it’s a statewide problem.”

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