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Law Shakes Owners : 600 Buildings Face Costly Quake-Proofing Work

July 17, 1988|ROXANA KOPETMAN | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Marvin Prichard and his wife learned about the city's earthquake safety ordinance the hard way. It cost them their house.

The couple had to virtually raze their Spanish-style home at Newport Avenue and 2nd Street and rebuild it to meet the city's strict earthquake abatement ordinance--billed as the toughest in the state. The only things left from the original house are the hardwood floors and one bathroom, Prichard said.

The couple's experience, which they said cost them "lots of money and nightmares," is an extreme example of what can happen as owners of about 600 affected buildings begin trying to meet a 1991 deadline for complying with the Long Beach earthquake law.

On March 10, 1933, Long Beach took the brunt of a 6.3 earthquake centered off Newport Beach. The quake killed 115 people and caused about $40 million in damage.

Almost 40 years later, city officials adopted an ordinance requiring that all structures built before 1934 and not constructed of wood be reinforced by 1991 to withstand earthquakes. The ordinance is tougher than those in effect in Los Angeles and other cities, which have ordinances dealing only with unreinforced masonry buildings. Buildings constructed after 1934 are not affected because they had to meet stricter codes.

The most hazardous buildings, numbering about 300, have been destroyed or upgraded. More than 600 other buildings in the city fall into a less-hazardous category but must be upgraded. By 1991, they will either have to meet the earthquake standards prescribed by the 1970 Uniform Building Code or face demolition.

That concerns preservationists, who note that the list includes some historically significant buildings, such as the Breakers hotel, the Villa Riviera Apartments and the Farmers & Merchants Bank in downtown Long Beach. It also poses a dilemma for hundreds of smaller businesses that must choose between pouring thousands of dollars into upgrading their structures or moving out.

Bud's Auto Seat Covers, for example, has been in the same spot on Anaheim Street for 29 years. Four years ago, the owners spent $18,000 to reinforce the brick building, according to one of the partners, Andrea Chandler. But city officials said that the effort was not enough, and now owners have another three years to determine how much it will cost to further upgrade their building or whether they will move to another site, she said.

"They're forcing a lot of people out of business," Chandler said.

Only a few doors away, B & B Motors faces the same problem. "With the cost of the remodeling, you may as well just build a new one," said manager Bob Landers, who could not say what will happen to his family-owned shop.

The two businesses have plenty of company on Anaheim Street, where 129 buildings--the largest number on any street--fail to meet earthquake safety standards.

Yet to Decide

Many owners of small commercial buildings have yet to decide how to tackle the challenge posed by the city's ordinance. On the other hand, owners and tenants of some of the larger buildings have hired engineers to study and then implement plans to bring their buildings up to code.

Structural engineer James A. Hill, for example, was hired to study three high-rise buildings downtown. Hill is reviewing proposals for the Sovereign Apartments and the Lafayette Apartments, and he completed a plan for the Willmore Apartments that calls for the addition of concrete walls to the first four floors.

The owners in the mostly residential, oceanfront Villa Riviera building also hired an engineer and they now await the final figures, according to Florence McKendry, who has an office in the 60-year-old building. In the meantime, owners can't really consider selling their apartments or offices because "people don't like to buy mysteries," McKendry said.

Over at the ornate Lafayette building at Linden Avenue and 1st Street the situation is the same. Residents Joseph and Jean Krause, like their neighbors, wait to find out how much it will cost to renovate their building. They suspect the tab Lafayette's 151 owners will have to share will run between $200,000 and $400,000. That's a lot of money--especially for some of the elderly owners, who bought the condominiums at a fraction of what they would cost today and have already paid them off, said resident Joseph Krause.

"We're people who moved into downtown because we like the area. We like these neat old buildings, but we're being sorely taxed for it," said Krause, a Cal State Long Beach professor who owns what used to be a 3,000-square-foot ballroom.

Among the options available to reinforce a building is the traditional use of steel beams and a newer technique that calls for drilling holes down the center of some walls, reinforcing them with steel and then filling them with a polyester and sand mix.

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