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Owners of Older Concrete Buildings in LA Must Start Planning Seismic Retrofits

LA seismic retrofit buildings compliance
Credit: Henning Witzel

In Los Angeles, the owners of older non-ductile concrete buildings have known about a law requiring seismic retrofits for two years. Now, the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety is sending them compliance notifications, Engineering News-Record reported. Owners must get the compliance ball rolling with engineers within three years.

The retrofit ordinance, called “Mandatory Earthquake Hazard Reduction in Existing Non-Ductile Concrete Buildings,” passed on October 13, 2015. It excludes detached single-family dwellings and detached duplexes, but applies to buildings that have either of these characteristics: reinforced concrete construction; a construction permit that was applied for prior to January 13, 1977, the site SeismicOrdinances.com explains.

Owners get three years to submit one of the following: proof that structure meets ordinance requirements; plans for retrofit; plans for demolition, according to SeismicOrdinances.com. Then owners have 10 years after receiving the order to either obtain a permit for rehabilitation or one for demolition. Finally, 25 years from the order date, owners must have the retrofit, construction, or demolition completed.

Resilience is at the core of the ordinance. Buildings collapsed and residents have died in the city’s earthquakes in the past, as the LA Times points out.

Controversial Focus

However, the approach isn’t without controversy. Structural and civil engineers in California who spoke to Engineering News-Record said that the city’s funds for resiliency should be spent on more severe threats. They also questioned the building age aspect of the ordinance. “A resilience plan should be about severely deficient new and existing occupancies,” Bay Area structural engineer consultant David Bonowitz told the publication.

The number of concrete buildings falling under the seismic ordinance that will need retrofitting is estimated to be 1,200, Engineering News-Record reported. When unsound wooden structures that fall under the ordinance are factored in, the number jumps to around 15,000, according to Construction Dive.

Investment Required

Required retrofits are expected to be expensive for building owners, ranging from $60,000 to $130,000 at the lower end and significantly more for bigger buildings, the LA Times estimated last year.

“The concrete retrofits are expected to be the most expensive, with engineering and survey costs alone as much as $100,000,” Construction Dive reported. “The city has, however, given building owners authority to raise rents by $75 a month in order to help pay for the necessary work.”

Several years ago the City of Los Angeles became a member of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities network. “The Mayor’s Office has adopted far-reaching strategies to develop the tools we need to rebound from major crises — including storms, earthquakes, and economic recessions — if and when they come,” the city’s website says. “Building resilience is a ground-up effort.”

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