A total of $800 million is needed to reinforce 250 hospitals and state-owned buildings considered potentially hazardous in a major earthquake, the chief administrator of the California Seismic Safety Commission told a legislative panel meeting Friday in Los Angeles.
State Sen. Art Torres (D-South Pasadena), chairman of the Senate Toxics and Public Safety Committee, said he will develop legislation for a November, 1986, bond initiative to raise money to strengthen both state and private hospitals, university and college structures and many other state-owned buildings.
Torres made the statement after the committee heard testimony that an earthquake of the magnitude (8.0) that devastated parts of Mexico City would probably cause even more widespread damage in Southern California.
"The faults run through the city here," explained L. Thomas Tobin, executive director of the Seismic Safety Commission. "In Mexico City, that fault was 200 kilometers away."
Seismic researchers have estimated that there is a 50% chance of an 8.0 quake striking the lower San Andreas fault sometime during the next 30 years. Tobin warned that such a quake could produce casualties in the tens of thousands and at the same time devastate 33% of hospital bed space in the Los Angeles area. A similar quake striking San Francisco could destroy 50% of the hospital capacity there, he said.
A 1980 survey identified 250 of 1,350 state-owned buildings as potentially unsafe in an earthquake. Most of the buildings were constructed under outdated building codes. The Seismic Safety Commission estimated that it would cost $800 million to properly reinforce the structures, Tobin said.
"The state of the art is such that we should know how to build buildings that don't collapse," Tobin said. "Generally, we know what should be done. The question is who should do it and how should they pay for it? That's what makes it the political question it is."
Surveys have suggested that a greater earthquake hazard is posed by the 50,000 to 60,000 unreinforced brick buildings throughout the state, Tobin said.
Legislation was passed in 1981 allowing cities and counties to offer bonds to encourage property owners to strengthen their unreinforced brick buildings. However, the program was greeted with little enthusiasm by lenders and has so far proven largely ineffective, commission officials say.