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Resilience by Design plan moves one step forward  //  Preliminary discussions of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Resilience by Design plan show that while residents are interested in preparation, there are concerns about who will pay.

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Resilience by Design plan moves one step forward

The Los Angeles City Council began initial discussions of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Resilience by Design plan during its meeting Wednesday morning.

Resilience by Design is the effort of Garcetti and Jones, which focuses on three major sectors that will help the City in case of major seismic activity:

  1. Fortifying buildings
  2. Fortifying the water system
  3. Fortifying communications

“Tied together, these actions will strengthen resilience in our City for decades to come,” Garcetti wrote in a blog post announcing the plan.

While the water system and communications upgrades are going to fall to the City and its agencies, property owners will be responsible for retrofitting their soft-story and non-steel reinforced concrete buildings.

“A strong earthquake in Los Angeles would cause some buildings to collapse but would leave many more standing but unusable, which would close businesses, deny residents access to goods and services and devastate our economy,” the report said.

According to the report, there are currently more than 29,000 wood-frame apartment buildings with five or more units in Los Angeles and nearly 16,000 of these are soft-story buildings. Garcetti’s plan will require these buildings, where one or more floors have wide unobstructed space where a stabilizing wall would normally be required, will need to be retrofitted over the next five years.

The plan will also require the retrofitting of over 1,400 non-steel reinforced concrete buildings within 30 years. These structures are brittle and, without the rebar reinforcements that are put into concrete structures today, have a limited capacity to absorb seismic activity and an increased likelihood of collapse.

“The biggest risk to our lives is posed by our older buildings, because the harsh reality is no building code in the world is retroactive, and however much we improve the building code it doesn’t make older buildings disappear,” Garcetti said told CBS Los Angeles.

During an interview with the Planning Report, Jones said because of the amount of people living near the San Andres fault, they estimate that during an earthquake approximately 300,000 buildings would be damaged enough to lose at least 10 percent of their value and 1,500 would collapse.

“Our current building code does not try to protect the building,” Jones told the Planning Report last month. “It solely tries to protect lives. We say philosophically, ‘If you choose to build a building that leads to big financial loss after an earthquake, that’s your financial choice to make. You just can’t kill people in the process.’ We have said that the role of government is solely about protecting lives. If your building is a complete loss but didn’t kill anybody, we say it was a real success.”

So what happened at the meeting?

Talks between the council, Science Advisor for Seismic Safety, Seismologist Lucy Jones and Los Angeles residents showed that the biggest obstacle to implementing the plan will be funding.

Because the retrofitting mandates will impact the most people in Los Angeles, the majority of the discussions was spent determining if retrofitting mandates are necessary, why they are necessary and who should be responsible for the cost.

A representative from the Apartment Owners Association of California encouraged the council to determine how the mandate will be financed before passing the proposal. There is currently debate about who should be financially responsible for the retrofits, whether it is the property owner, tenant or government.

Both Angelenos and Councilmembers agree that something needs to be done to prepare the city for a large-scale seismic event.

“We’re focused on how to make sure the city is still here and exists after the earthquake,” Jones said. “Trying to create resilience for our city means a society that is still functioning. To accomplish that we need to survive the earthquake… we need to be able to respond and then we need to be able to recover.”

The goal will be to not only save as many lives as possible during a big earthquake but set Los Angeles up to sustain itself in the wake of the damages.

“Very few buildings are built for functionality,” Jones said. “[We need to] focus on personal responsibility. Building codes roll is to make sure you don’t kill someone with your building but you have a choice about how much money you want to invest in it. The [quicker] we can get our big employers back to work is key.”

At this point, no decisions regarding the Resilience by Design plan have been made. The City Council will continue to discuss the plan and figure out the most feasible way to implement it.

Why is this important?

Jones and multi-disciplinary team of over 200 experts, convened by the Multi-Hazards demonstration project of the United States Geological Survey, worked together to map out what impacts a large earthquake would have on Southern California and what it would take to sustain life as we know it.

The Shakeout Scenario considers the impacts of a probable magnitude 7.8 earthquake on the southern San Andreas Fault. According to the plan, the scenario earthquake estimates approximately 1,800 deaths and $213 billion of economic losses across Southern California, consisting of: $47.7 billion due to shaking damage; $65 billion due to fire damage; $96.2 billion due to business interruption costs; and $4.3 billion due to traffic delays.

That is a hypothetical approximation. However, according to the Public Policy Institute of California (2006), Los Angeles lost 49,000 homes and apartment buildings in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, two-thirds of which were in soft-first-story buildings. The ShakeOut Scenario predicts the collapse of 1,500 buildings, mostly concrete and soft-first-story buildings, causing almost 700 fatalities and thousands of injuries.

So what does this mean for you?

Fortunately, the remedy to the structural problem is straightforward and can be performed without considerable disruption to a building’s residents. Since the most obvious threat from earthquakes is physical damage to vulnerable buildings, building owners need reinforce the first-story of their buildings to ensure stability. Modern building codes were created to maximize life safety, but to maintain life our city needs to be able to save buildings as well, which means a modernization of both old building codes and old buildings themselves.

If you live in an apartment building, especially one with a soft-story first floor, find out if your building has been retrofitted. If not, talk with your landlord about what can be done to make your home safer. A licensed seismic retrofitting company like Weinstein Construction can be hired to strengthen the soft-first-story. Renters need to rally other tenants and encourage (through phone calls AND written letters) the property owners to seismically retrofit soft-first-story buildings before it becomes too late. If the Resilience by Design plan is approved, owners will technically have five years before the retrofit is mandatory. However, sooner is safer and less expensive for everyone.

If you own your home, you should make sure that it is seismically sound. This will involve calling a licensed seismic retrofitting company, like Weinstein Construction, who will send out an expert inspector to evaluate your property. They can help you come up with an affordable plan to ensure the safety of your home.