The Santa Monica Building and Safety Commission will meet tonight to consider a staff proposal to require earthquake safety strengthening of about 200 unreinforced masonry buildings in the city.
But many owners of the buildings, most of which were built downtown after 1915 and before 1933, say further strengthening is unnecessary and would cost them about $50 million.
Because of the city's strict early building codes, the City Council concluded in 1981 that all post-1915 buildings are seismically safe, said Leo Sario, president of the Seismic Assn., a group of building owners, business owners, tenants and employees in the targeted buildings.
The city, however, ordered owners of pre-1915 buildings to anchor floors and roofs to their walls, Sario said. This program was completed in 1985.
Seven years after it rejected the notion that Santa Monica's unreinforced masonry buildings needed strengthening, the city is considering it again, said Sario, a retired UCLA mathematics professor and former building owner.
"Nothing has changed seismically or in the strength of the buildings," he said. The new proposal "is not at all a question of public safety. It's a question of how the community can be forced to pay $50 million to the exclusive benefit of the building trade."
But Building and Safety Commissioner Russell Barnard said the commission will evaluate whether the city needs any new seismic standards based on how much safer they would make the city.
This evaluation was prompted by the passage in 1986 of a state law requiring all California cities to establish earthquake safety laws by 1990, he said.
Santa Monica, because of the program it established in 1981, is already in substantial compliance with the law, SB 547, Barnard said, but "we are trying to see if any additional strengthening of our unreinforced masonry buildings is necessary."
Edward Villanueva, chairman of the seismic committee of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, said that while the chamber is primarily concerned about safety of the buildings' occupants, it also wants the city to consider possible effects such as loss of business, relocation of tenants, loss of tax revenues and increasing development if buildings are razed.
Tenant Pam Weistling, who owns a dress boutique in a targeted building at 3011 Ocean Park Blvd., said that even the threat of new standards has cost her money.
Weistling said that when she tried to sell her business in August, her landlord could only offer the buyer a 2-year lease because he may have to close the building for renovations if the city adopts new standards. The buyer withdrew the $18,000 offer.
"People who are looking for a business want more than a 2-year lease," she said, adding that she has not had any offers for her 11-year-old business since.
"I feel my future is being decided" at this commission meeting, she said this week.
The commission tonight will discuss technical findings and make recommendations on what the city can do to increase public safety in the targeted buildings, Barnard said. The findings will be sent back to staff for drafting into a proposed ordinance, which will then be presented to the City Council.
The commission conducted a public hearing on Nov. 14 and will not accept further public comment on the seismic safety proposal at tonight's meeting. The meeting will begin at 7 in the City Hall lobby.