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Planned Code for Quake Safety Could Prove Costly

March 31, 1988|JESSE KATZ | Times Staff Writer

Owners of 156 unreinforced masonry buildings in downtown Ventura may be required to spend more than $5 million to protect the structures against earthquake damage under a proposed ordinance being drafted by city officials.

Some building owners may be served as soon as this fall with notices ordering them to begin repairs, depending on the enforcement schedule chosen by City Council members when they debate the ordinance next month.

The costs, based on an estimate of $6.58 per square foot and applying only to commercial structures and apartment buildings, will be discussed at an informational meeting scheduled for 7:30 tonight at City Hall.

"Out of your pocket, it's not cheap," said Bob Prodoehl, the city's top building official. "But the intent of this really is to save lives. In regards to that, it's cheap."

Overreaction Charged

Not all of the building owners, however, are convinced.

"The building I'm in was built in 1927 and it's still undamaged and still standing," said Angelo Elardo, a Ventura dentist who owns his office at 1294 E. Main St. "I wonder if they're not overreacting."

A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which owns the Retarded Children's Thrift Store on Main Street as well as several other downtown properties, said the cost might force the sale of the second-hand shop.

"It's hard on us," said Albert Amici, director of construction for the archdiocese, which would have to spend an estimated $89,000 to repair the store. "I would say we would be prepared to spend the money because it's an important program. But I think we would look for another place before we did that."

To assist with repairs, the city has established a low-interest loan program under which property owners can borrow up to $100,000 at rates between 5% and 7% for commercial upgrading.

Rent Increases Small

And, although city officials say they do not want to impose prohibitive costs, they point out that most of the shops are not owner-occupied and say that repairs probably would result in only small rent increases for the businesses operating there.

"I have yet to see a case where property owners investing in their properties has not been healthy in the long run for a community," said Everett Millais, director of community development. "Besides, if we do have that earthquake, the economic effects on those small businesses is going to be much, much worse than those increased rents."

The prospective ordinance comes in the wake of a 1986 state law that gives cities in earthquake zones until 1990 to prepare a survey of unreinforced masonry buildings and notify owners that the structures may require repairs.

Although the law does not require that property owners be forced to make repairs, cities such as Los Angeles, Long Beach, Santa Monica and Santa Ana, have passed mandatory upgrading ordinances.

In Ventura County, Santa Paula has an estimated 199 unreinforced masonry buildings; Oxnard has about 40 and Fillmore has 10. Simi Valley officials doubt the city has any such buildings, whereas Ojai has a few and Thousand Oaks has none.

Earlier Effort Failed

Although none of the cities has discussed an ordinance, Santa Paula officials tried unsuccessfully about four years ago to begin enforcing earthquake standards.

The cost was deemed prohibitive by many local businesses, and the City Council backed away from the issue, said Stephen Stuart, Santa Paula's building and safety director.

The bulk of Ventura's hazardous buildings are concentrated in the old downtown on Main Street, Santa Clara Street, Thompson Boulevard and Ventura Avenue, and include such landmarks as the Ventura Theatre, San Buenaventura Mission, Rendezvous Bar and Trueblood Thrift Shop.

To deal with the problem, city officials hired consultants to devise two alternatives for strengthening the unreinforced masonry, considered the building material least resistant to temblors.

Level I repairs, which would include reinforcing joints between walls, roofs and floors and the bracing of parapets, are designed to sustain moderate ground shaking and would cost an average of $4.80 a square foot, according to a report by Howard F. Stup & Associates of Camarillo, structural engineers specializing in earthquake issues.

More Expensive Option

Level II repairs, which include the above as well as testing the strength of existing masonry and repairing cracks, are designed to withstand severe ground shaking and would cost an average of $6.58 a square foot, according to the Stup report.

City officials say they are dismissing Level I repairs as only the minimum upgrading necessary to protect public safety. Instead, officials say, they will recommend that the ordinance require Level II repairs in order to keep the properties economically viable after an earthquake.

Some business owners, however, called the more comprehensive repairs an intrusion into their business decisions.

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