A recently completed survey has disclosed that 84 buildings constructed before 1933 in Culver City could collapse during a major earthquake, Fire Chief Mike Olson said last week.
The unreinforced brick and concrete buildings were built before the state adopted tougher standards. Olson said the structures were discovered through city inspections and checks of building maps.
The city last week hired a consultant to help it write an ordinance and regulations for bringing the buildings up to standard.
"The ordinance will try to save lives," Olson said. "If we have the major earthquake that is predicted for Southern California a lot of these buildings will not be standing. And if you are inside your chance of being killed or injured is enormous."
Olson said many buildings on the Culver City list are clustered downtown, but he would not release their locations because he said it might unnecessarily alarm owners and occupants. Once the city's ordinance is written, he said, letters will be mailed to the building owners.
They will be given the chance to prove that their buildings do not need to be reinforced, Olson said. If they cannot, the structures will either have to be improved or torn down.
The ordinance will classify each of the 84 buildings, Olson said. Those considered essential to public welfare, such as hospitals and power plants, will have to be fortified first. A time schedule for other buildings will be developed, with the most heavily occupied to be strengthened first.
A similar plan was adopted by the city of Los Angeles in 1981 for the city's nearly 8,000 unreinforced masonry buildings. Los Angeles earthquake safety officials recently estimated that it will be another 5 1/2 years before those buildings have all been improved or demolished.
Culver City officials have not estimated the cost of making improvements, but an engineer who specializes in such work said that reinforcement projects being completed in Los Angeles average $10 a square foot.
Andrew Chan of David Taubman & Associates in West Los Angeles said the engineering firm charges anywhere from $3.50 to $25 a square foot to stabilize older buildings.
Initial improvements often include anchoring walls to the floor and ceiling of a building. "That is critical," Chan said. "Otherwise in an earthquake the wall sort of peels off the building and the whole building can collapse."
Walls often must be fortified as well, with installation of braces or with concrete injections between layers of brick.
The old Culver City Hotel, the most prominent historic building in Culver City, will eventually have to be reinforced, according to a spokesman for the company that owns the building. Gary Weiner, property manager for Prestige Properties Management Inc., said the company expects that it will have to reinforce the landmark six-story brick building at the corner of Culver and Washington boulevards.
The Culver was built in 1924, before building standards were stiffened.
Weiner estimated that the company will have to spend at least $250,000 to fortify the building. He said Prestige Properties recently spent $225,000 to reinforce a four-story building in Los Angeles.
The high cost of maintaining old brick buildings and bringing them up to earthquake safety standards has led Prestige to sell 12 buildings in the Los Angeles area, Weiner said. The company now owns eight buildings, compared to the 20 that it owned a little more than two years ago, he said.
"We are trying to sell most of the brick buildings," Weiner said. "We sell them so that someone else can do the (reinforcement) work. We don't have to do it."
But Weiner said the requirements can bring down the value of a property because buyers realize that they will have high improvement costs.
The city has already had to study the safety of one of its own buildings. After the large 1971 Sylmar earthquake, City Hall in Culver City was inspected. A short time later repairs were made to strengthen the building, according to Assistant City Manager Walt Harris.
Harris said the building probably would need even more work to meet "all the seismic safety requirements." The city has been planning for years, however, to build a new city hall.
The City Council Monday hired Richard S. Miyahira of Ventura as a consultant to help prepare a seismic safety ordinance. His fee is not to exceed $9,000. Miyahira said his first task will be to confirm that the buildings in the city survey need work and then to decide which should be repaired first.
Miyahira said it is unclear how long the city will give owners to complete improvements.