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Expense at Issue in Long Beach : Rules on High-Rise Sprinklers Studied

December 15, 1988|BETTINA BOXALL | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Residents of the Villa Riviera apartments on Ocean Boulevard are already planning to spend $2.5 million on their historic high-rise, to restore its exterior and to strengthen the building to meet new earthquake standards. The prospect of spending more money to install automatic sprinkler systems in each apartment is thus a rather chilling one.

Residents of other old, high-rise apartment buildings in Long Beach also have reservations about a proposed city law requiring the installation of automatic sprinkler systems in commercial and residential high-rises of eight or more stories.

"I just really don't know how they would afford it," Marjorie Campbell said, referring to the residents--many of them elderly--who live in two high-rise buildings she helps manage.

Such concerns prompted a City Council committee this week to ask the city's building and safety staff to suggest circumstances under which the sprinkler requirements might be partially waived.

Drafted in the aftermath of last year's high-rise fire at the First Interstate Bank in Los Angeles, the Long Beach regulations would affect 37 buildings in the city--20 of them commercial and 17 residential. City officials have estimated it would cost nearly $25 million to fit the buildings with sprinkler systems, which have been required in new Long Beach high-rises since 1977.

The council had postponed action on local sprinkler requirements in anticipation of a statewide law, but the governor's veto of the state legislation earlier this year has turned the council's attention back to creating a local ordinance. Similar measures have been adopted in Los Angeles and San Diego.

Besides ordering sprinkler installation, the Long Beach ordinance would require other fire safety features, including the enclosure of elevator lobbies, public address systems that could be heard throughout the building and smoke detectors.

Testifying Tuesday before the council's Public Safety Committee, high-rise apartment dwellers urged the panel to be flexible with the sprinkler requirements. Any ordinance, they said, should allow the city to evaluate each high-rise individually, taking into account, for instance, whether the building was constructed with fire-resistant materials, such as concrete and steel.

Installing sprinklers in the halls of his building would not prove too onerous a task, said Jack Noe of the 55-year-old Villa Riviera. But he complained that running sprinkler pipes into each apartment would make them look like basements.

City officials are considering creation of a special assessment district, in which building owners would contribute money to a joint pool to finance the sprinkler installations.

Nonetheless, the primary objection to the proposal was cost. Charles Rhodes warned that many residents will not be able to stay in his building, the 30-year-old Royal Palms apartments on Atlantic Avenue, if they are required to pay for a sprinkler system. "They would have to go, who knows where," he said.

The Public Safety Committee plans to discuss the proposal again Jan. 10.

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