Your article from the Associated Press of Oct. 14 concerning earthquake risk in this area misses some critical facts about local building. The vulnerability of these buildings, soft-story wood buildings and unreinforced and concrete high rise buildings present different conditions and issues.
However, it is difficult to address these problems because the power to do so resides in the mayor’s office nowadays, not the building department; the solution is political. The problems may not have been due to lack of reinforcement in concrete buildings, as the article suggests, but modifications over time by various owners.
In some of these buildings, lateral walls have been removed by owners, often without permits, to provide more rentable office space; without understanding that these masonry walls were designed and incorporated originally to offer resistance to earthquake lateral loads.
Some owners may have enlarged window openings to make the building appear more modern. In some cases cracks in walls are patched over and concealed behind paint to mask the problem from the inspector or occupant. In addition, a major problem is with buildings built in the 1070s and ‘80s that used welding rod that turned out to be inferior, thus threatening the structural integrity of these buildings. Furthermore, many steel buildings now contain steel members manufactured in China over which there is no quality control. It is easy to see why many retrofit programs have stalled.
Bill Firschein, AIA