More than 1,400 buildings in Santa Monica are still seismically vulnerable despite efforts by the city to ensure building owners retrofit their properties.
A report released by the city’s building and safety department one week after two major earthquakes shook the Los Angeles area shows that 77% of vulnerable buildings in Santa Monica have not yet been earthquake-proofed. City Council passed a law in March of 2017 requiring building owners to retrofit buildings that are likely to suffer serious damage in an earthquake.
The city started a seismic retrofit program that sets retrofit deadlines from August 2019 to October 2037 for different types of buildings. As deadlines approach for unreinforced masonry and concrete tilt-up buildings, property owners have been slow to complete the required structural improvements, building and safety manager Ariel Soccara told the Rent Control Board on Thursday.
“We just had two earthquakes last week we’re all concerned about this,” said board chair Caroline Torosis. “We need to incentivize our landlords to be able to do this quickly.”
The deadline for 92 masonry buildings is next month, but only 50 have been declared safe. Such buildings are at risk of collapsing during earthquakes because they are constructed from brick or cinderblock without steel rebar.
Tilt-up buildings, which also lack rebar, will have to be retrofitted by the following August. Of the 34 that were identified as vulnerable in 2017, only four are now considered earthquake-safe.
Soft story buildings are widespread throughout the city, comprising 86% of vulnerable structures. They have until September 2023 to undergo retrofitting under a streamlined application process the city rolled out last year. Just 22% of those deemed vulnerable to earthquakes have passed inspection, leaving another 1,286 at risk of collapsing.
Non-ductile concrete and steel moment buildings must be retrofitted by October 2027 and 2037, respectively. 24% of the 62 concrete buildings and 3% of the steel buildings have been reinforced to withstand earthquakes.
The city notified property owners about the retrofit program from August 2017 to July 2018 and held three community meetings to provide technical information, examples of seismic retrofit work and tips on finding a contractor, Soccara said.
After the retrofit deadlines pass, he said, the city will notify property owners that they are violating the law and give them 30 days to comply before the city’s code enforcement division gets involved.
Soccara said property owners have said they’re having a hard time finding contractors because neighboring cities like Los Angeles have also recently passed retrofit laws, putting contractors capable of retrofits in short supply.
Some property owners have also said complying with the retrofit law is prohibitively expensive, he added. The city has submitted an application to FEMA for grant funding to assist property owners and will hear back from the agency early next year.
Soccara said it’s been difficult for the building and safety division to bring almost 2,000 buildings into compliance.
“To be frank, this program has been placed in our administration without any additional resources to help move it along,” he said.