MAYWOOD — With a view to averting disaster in case of an earthquake, city officials have moved aggressively in recent months to enforce earthquake safety standards for old brick buildings.
Since December, when the city passed an earthquake safety ordinance requiring reinforcement of brick buildings built before 1934, officials have ordered the owners of six two- and three-story buildings to comply--or face demolition. More buildings will follow, city officials said.
Owners of the buildings, five of which are on Slauson Avenue, complain that the cost of reinforcement--between $200,000 and $300,000--is too high, the deadlines too short and the penalty for non-compliance too harsh. The city has already posted demolition notices on two buildings whose owners failed to submit acceptable reinforcement plans on time.
Norman Furman, the owner of a three-story building of stores and apartments on Slauson, said he intends to comply with the new regulations, but "it is a hardship. If you don't do the work, they'll demolish you. They're really cold about it."
Maywood is one of six cities in California to set earthquake standards for old buildings. The other five, which have various rules and timetables, are Los Angeles, Long Beach, Santa Ana, Gardena and Santa Rosa.
Want to Save Lives
For Maywood city officials, the logic of the ordinance is simple.
"We want to get the buildings reinforced," said Linda Dovalis, city building and planning assistant. "We want to save the lives of people in the event that we have a major earthquake."
The earthquake protection standards are part of the general plan drafted by the city 10 years ago, she said.
The new owners of the Fernwood Hotel, a three-story building on Slauson that was vacated and boarded up by the city last year for numerous code violations, are the first to begin earthquake reinforcement and the only ones who aren't complaining.
Hotel owner and contractor Nick Mallas declined to reveal what he had spent on the aging hotel, whose run-down conditions in recent years earned it the tongue-in-cheek nickname of "the Maywood Hilton." But, Mallas said, the cost of buying the building in April was low enough that he could afford to do all the work necessary to comply with city ordinances, including the earthquake building standards.
"I'm really enjoying it, because I'm doing it myself," Mallas said. "I love rehabilitation work. When it's done, I'm going to have what I consider a good investment."
Terms of Ordinance
So far, Mallas said, he has spent about $35,000 to anchor the walls to the floors and ceilings, the first stage of reinforcement required by the ordinance. The second stage, which involves ripping the roof off and attaching the entire building to a shell of concrete four inches thick, will cost about $325,000, Mallas said.
Under the ordinance, owners have 60 days after notification to submit plans for reinforcement work. Wall anchoring work must be completed within 1 1/2 years of initial notification. Owners of "high-risk" buildings, or buildings with more than 50 occupants, have two additional years to complete reinforcement work on a shell of concrete, steel or wood around the buildings.
The owner of a building with less than 10 occupants has up to five years to complete reinforcement work. Non-compliance with any provision of the ordinance is grounds for the city to proceed with demolition of the property.
The earthquake safety regulations came as a surprise to Thelma and George Harris, owners of Mr. Bob's, a restaurant on Fruitland Avenue. They were unaware of the earthquake standards when they bought the building in June for nearly $200,000 and were unpleasantly surprised by the high cost of reinforcement, Thelma Harris said. The drawings alone, she said, would cost $5,000. Harris has asked the city for an extension on deadlines for plans.
Francisco Paredes, owner of a two-story building near the Fernwood, said the ordinance may force him to sell his property. Shocked by an initial estimate of $200,000 for reinforcement of his building, Paredes has commissioned a second engineer for an estimate. Paredes said he bought the building four years ago for $240,000, and invested another $50,000 in repairs on the second floor, which he rents for wedding receptions.
"I prefer to sell the building or give it away," Paredes said.
Engineering experts have an even simpler solution.
Although it makes sense to reinforce historical buildings, they say, the high cost--$10 to $12 per square foot--may not be justified for old apartment or commercial structures.
"In my opinion, they should go. They have outlived their usefulness." said Tino Quiaot of David Breiholz and Co., one of a handful of engineering firms in Southern California that specializes in seismic reinforcement work.
No building is completely earthquake-proof in the event of a cataclysmic earthquake, Quiaot said. And as expensive as it is, he said, the effect of the reinforcement work is to save occupants, not buildings. A reinforced building will not collapse at the first shock of an earthquake, giving people time to find cover, Quiaot said, but subsequent shocks may cause the walls to fall.