LONG BEACH — The city could save some of its oldest buildings from the wrecker's ball if it revises its earthquake ordinance, a City Council-appointed task force has concluded.
Long Beach currently has 640 buildings designated as earthquake hazards. Under a 1976 ordinance, the buildings are scheduled to be torn down by 1991, unless specific work is done to restore them.
Since the earthquake ordinance was adopted, new technologies--not recognized by the ordinance--have been discovered that "reduce the work and expense" of restoring old buildings, the task force reported.
The task force, which spent seven months studying the issue, concluded last week that the city should hire an engineering firm to identify those new technologies and incorporate them into city law. The study would cost an estimated $150,000.
In addition, task force members have proposed that the city act as a broker to arrange private financing for owners who wish to restore their buildings.
Grandest Structures Unsafe
The buildings listed as earthquake hazards embody some of the city's grandest architecture, including the French Empire-style Villa Riviera apartment building on East Ocean Boulevard, the Mediterranean-style Ocean Building office complex on West Ocean Boulevard, the Willmore Hotel on Cedar Avenue and the Lafayette apartment building on Broadway. All were built in the 1920s.
"If we tore all of our buildings down we'd look just like Tulsa," said Allen Taylor, a commission member. Taylor, a retired electrical engineer, said he does not want downtown Long Beach to be a collection of "glass box" office towers.
Taylor estimates that about 6,000 people live in the 640 buildings that are listed as earthquake hazards. Of those buildings, he says, about 150 could be saved from demolition if the ordinance were updated.
In their report, which will be submitted to the City Council Tuesday, task force members also said they found that coordination of disaster-preparedness efforts was "severely deficient" among city government, businesses and residents. To help remedy that, the task force recommended that the city hire a full-time director of disaster preparedness.
Long Beach residents have been concerned with earthquakes since a 1933 disaster killed 127 persons. The city is on the southern end of the Newport-Inglewood fault.
Councilman Evan Anderson Braude, whose 1st District includes most of the buildings designated as earthquake hazards, said he believes the city's present earthquake ordinance may be "antiquated."
"We should take another look at our law and find out whether it is appropriate for this day in age," said Braude, who attended several task force meetings. Braude praised the task force for working hard to give council members a "quality report."
Mayor Ernie Kell said he has not read the report, but would favor having the earthquake ordinance reviewed by either the city staff or an engineering firm.
Councilman Warren Harwood said he would favor an engineer's study "as long as they don't try to weaken the earthquake ordinance." He said a full-time director of disaster preparedness would be "costly and inefficient," and that those duties could be assumed by officials in the Public Works Department.
Councilman Wallace Edgerton also said he had not read the report and declined comment. Other council members could not be reached.
Under the current earthquake ordinance, the cost of restoring old buildings to meet city codes is approximately $15 to $20 a square foot, which is "prohibitive," Taylor said.
He added that many less-expensive technologies have been discovered since the city adopted its earthquake ordinance. As an example, Taylor cited a "center core" system now being installed in the First Congregational Church.
The red-brick church, built in 1914, is being fortified with steel rods that are dropped through four-inch-diameter holes bored in the church's roof. The rods run to the building's foundation.
Engineers working on the project have estimated that the center core system will cost $500,000. That is less than half the price of more conventional technology that would have necessitated cutting into the church's walls to bolster its frame, the engineers have said.
Other new technologies include installing earthquake barriers consisting of Teflon plates underneath a building. During an earthquake, the building floats on the plates, Taylor said. The method is being considered by owners of the Villa Riviera, he said.
If the city's earthquake ordinance is revised, it should not be done at the expense of public safety, the task force report said.