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New Emphasis on Reinforcing Buildings : Quake Settles Minds on Safety Ordinances

October 08, 1987|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

Inglewood Councilwoman Ann Wilk no longer doubts the need for an ordinance to reduce earthquake hazards.

Before last week's temblor, she was undecided about a proposed ordinance that would have required the owners of unreinforced brick buildings to make costly structural changes.

"I questioned the expense. It might send some people under," she said.

The evening of Sept. 30 she went to a meeting of business people. "People were trying to figure, 'Is it needed?' " she said.

The answer came at 7:42 the next morning.

Shaken Off the Fence

Inglewood and the rest of the South Bay escaped serious damage in the earthquake, but the temblor shook Wilk off the fence as far as the quake hazard reduction ordinance is concerned.

"There is a God up there who is saying, 'You better do it right,' " she declared.

Although last week's earthquake and aftershocks were centered too far from the South Bay to do much damage, officials say that if the shocks had been closer, hundreds of unreinforced brick buildings might have come tumbling down.

The buildings--built before the 1933 Long Beach earthquake forced a tightening of building codes--are similar to the Whittier structures that were hit hard last week. There are about 400 such buildings in the South Bay, almost all in Inglewood, Torrance, San Pedro and Wilmington.

In Torrance, city officials estimate that 75% of those buildings could be destroyed in a major quake.

To reduce that hazard, Inglewood and Torrance are pushing ahead with a new urgency on quake hazard reduction ordinances that had been proposed months before the earthquake struck.

Joel McCloud, president of the Torrance Downtown Merchants Assn., who had counseled delay in July because of the cost to property owners, said this week: "As far as I am concerned, I would just as soon get this earthquake ordinance passed and get the work done. . . . We are all concerned with individual safety."

The proposed Inglewood and Torrance ordinances, which are similar to the one already in place in San Pedro, Wilmington and other South Bay areas of the City of Los Angeles, require owners of unreinforced brick buildings constructed before 1933 to strengthen them.

Two Separate Dangers

Earthquakes pose two separate dangers to unreinforced brick buildings, according to officials: The shock can knock over brick walls the way a child knocks down a tower of wood blocks, or the floors and roof can pull loose from swaying walls and come crashing down.

Strengthening the buildings typically involves anchoring the floors and roofs to the walls with steel bolts and plates, and buttressing the walls. Officials estimate the cost to be between $3.50 and $10 a square foot.

San Pedro and Wilmington have about 300 brick buildings built before 1933 that are subject to Los Angeles' 1981 ordinance.

Though the ordinance is 6 years old, only recently were all building owners notified of the specific measures required to make their buildings safe, according to Al Asakura, chief of the earthquake division of the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety.

"We started off kind of slow and then we had the Mexico City earthquake in 1986 and (the City) Council said, 'Finish your program by 1992,' " Asakura said.

"Hopefully, the program will be finished by 1992," he added. "We have had to gear up. We have had to increase our staff by four times to comply with the council's mandate."

Citywide, the Los Angeles program is about one-quarter complete.

Three Years to Finish

Under the ordinance, building owners have three years from when they receive a compliance order to complete repairs anchoring floors and the roof to the walls. An additional year can be allowed for other repairs.

Financing, he said, has come through a group of thrift institutions that are lending for the quake hazard measures along with other improvements to the buildings, Asakura said. "People are obtaining the money somehow," he said.

Financing was the major obstacle to passage of Torrance's quake ordinance in July, when it first came before the City Council. It was also the reason that Wilk, whose council district includes the overwhelming majority of the buildings that would be affected by the Inglewood ordinance, had hesitated to support it.

In Torrance, where the city administration expects to bring the quake hazard reduction ordinance back to the council by the end of this month, City Manager LeRoy Jackson said the city is considering a bond-financing arrangement through a special assessment district.

Better Than Loans

Jackson said bonds, which could be paid off in 20 years, offer an advantage to owners over conventional loans, which may be difficult to obtain and typically are for shorter duration.

McCloud of the Torrance Downtown Merchants Assn. said that "without the city backing, it would become virtually impossible to finance the repairs."

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