Los Angeles proposes ambitious, and costly, earthquake plan

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Northridge Meadows Apartment after the 1994 Northridge earthquake (City of Los Angeles)

Northridge Meadows Apartment after the 1994 Northridge earthquake (City of Los Angeles)

In the wake of damaging reports about Los Angeles’ unpreparedness for the next Big One, Mayor Eric Garcetti yesterday proposed a new earthquake plan that, if passed, would require owners to retrofit thousands of wood frame and concrete buildings.

Kaiser Permanente Office Building, a non-ductile concrete building that collapsed during Northridge (City of Los Angeles)

Kaiser Permanente Office Building, a non-ductile concrete building that collapsed during Northridge (City of Los Angeles)

The report, led by the mayor’s Science Advisor for Seismic Safety, Dr. Lucy Jones, would specifically target “soft-first-story” buildings and “non-ductile reinforced concrete” buildings built before 1980. It also recommends shoring up the city’s water supply in the case of an earthquake, developing an alternative firefighting water supply and facilitating stronger pipes and aqueducts. The effort would also upgrade the city’s telecommunications and power networks to prevent dangerous disruptions. You can read the full report here.

“Instead of being complacent and then jarred into action by a devastating earthquake, LA is moving forward proactively,” Garcetti said in a statement. The city’s last major earthquake legislation came in the 1980’s, requiring retrofit of vulnerable brick buildings.

Outside of political questions, the biggest issue to implementation, of course, would be cost. According to the LA Times, the cost of retrofitting a modest wooden apartment building ranges from $60,000 to $130,000. According to the New York Times the cost of retrofitting some builders could easily exceed $1 million each.

Map of the intensity of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. (City of Los Angeles)

Map of the intensity of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. (City of Los Angeles)

The mayor has no formal plan to aid property owners with payment, but he offered the prospect of tax breaks  (such as a 5-year business-tax exemption), access to private lenders, the waiving of permit fees, and CEQA exemptions as possible aids. As for improving public infrastructure Garcetti has proposed a statewide “Seismic Resilience Bond Measure” that could be introduced in a future election.

According to insurer Swiss Re, Los Angeles faces greater risks of catastrophic loss from earthquakes than any city in the world except Tokyo, Jakarta, and Manila. Sobering thought. As California State Geologist John Parish told AN, “This ain’t Kansas.” Some business leaders have argued that plan will be too expensive without substantial financial assistance. Others argue that it’s being proposed too late.

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