The City Council moved forward with a massive seismic retrofit ordinance this week that could impact as many as 2,000 buildings in the eight-square-mile city.
City leaders spent hours hammering away at the ordinance with the City’s top building official, Ron Takiguchi, during Tuesday night’s meeting. The potential flood of construction brings a wide array of concerns spanning from scammers taking advantage of condominium owners to lengthy delays caused by the sheer amount of paperwork.
“When you have a massive number of residences or buildings seeking…permit review at the same time there becomes a backlog,” Councilmember Sue Himmelrich noted, explaining she had dealt with delays after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake when she decided to bolt down her house.
Paperwork presents one of the potential delays. So does the retrofitting itself.
Property owner Scott Schonfeld told the Council he had just finished one of the first seismic retrofits of a steel moment frame structure when he remodeled the food court on the Third Street Promenade. Schonfeld also owns the office building at 1640 5th Street, where the Daily Press offices are located.
“What I can tell you is there are so many things that ultimately go wrong, and so many things that come up that you don’t ultimately expect,” Shonfeld said. “So one of my recommendations is you make the extension process as straightforward as possible.”
City staff has created a staggered structure for completing the retrofits. Unreinforced masonry, or brick, buildings have only two years to complete their retrofits because they are at greatest risk of collapse during a major earthquake. Steel moment frame structures have two decades to finish the work.
“We have historical evidence that, unfortunately, some people drag their feet on seismic retrofits and we can’t afford to have that continue to happen,” Councilmember Kevin McKeown said, adding a major earthquake could strike a fault near Santa Monica at any time.
Himmelrich encouraged City staff to develop and publicize estimates work might cost to help inform condominium owners. She is worried predatory contractors might increase costs when the demand for retrofitting services and structural engineers suddenly skyrockets.
The ordinance could come back before the Council for a second reading as soon at Feb. 28. Once it is passed, the ordinance will go into law in thirty days. Takiguchi plans to begin issuing notices to the owners of approximately 200 brick buildings on May first. The rest of the notices will go out in waves.
By July, owners of “soft story” apartment buildings, where one or more units sit over open parking, will get their notices. That means by this summer, more than 600 buildings will need inspection by structural engineers to determine the extent of necessary retrofits.
Around the same time, the City Council will begin budget discussions to decide whether the City needs to hire additional staff to handle the volume of permit applications. By the end of 2017, an additional 510 buildings will receive notices.
The last 900 buildings, which consist entirely of “soft story” apartment buildings will get their notices to begin inspections in 2018.
The public can visit smgov.net/departments/PCD/Programs/Seismic-Retrofit to look up their address to see if their building is on the list.