Despite the business community's predictions of financial disaster, the Ventura City Council has ordered owners of 145 unreinforced masonry buildings to upgrade their buildings' resistance to earthquakes, at a cost of $5 million to $10 million.
The council in a 4-3 vote Monday hoped to minimize the impact on local businesses by delaying the start date for the repairs by 5 years and by not requiring the last phase to be completed until 1999.
"They are the most unsafe buildings we have in the community," Councilman Don Villeneuve said. "We need to start somewhere."
But a coalition of downtown merchants and property owners, some of whom said they would rather demolish their buildings than reinforce them, predicted economic ruin.
"What you're doing here is effectively wiping out downtown," warned Sherman Kulick, owner of Mill's Jewelers and the building it occupies on Main Street.
Although the plan carries a hefty price tag, it was one of the least stringent options being considered by the council, which just 6 months ago appeared poised to order far more extensive repairs within a much shorter time frame.
At the urging of downtown businesses, however, the council postponed a June 20 decision in order to weigh the value of earthquake upgrading against the resources of local merchants.
Earlier this month, a committee of three council members concerned about the fragile Main Street economy recommended abandoning the more expensive requirements and even posed the possibility of not mandating any structural upgrading.
Although businesses were pleased by the more moderate approach, they still hired an earthquake expert to help them argue their case. Stanley H. Mendes, a structural engineer for public projects in Santa Barbara, urged the council to postpone for a year any decision while more data is gathered about recent earthquakes, including last week's disaster in Armenia.
But council members were eager to make a decision and to put to rest an issue that has been brewing since 1985, when the city commissioned a survey of all buildings of unreinforced masonry, which most engineers consider the material most susceptible to temblors.
Councilman Richard Francis proposed Monday that property owners be required only to remove or anchor parapets that line the roofs of many structures. But his motion failed, 3 to 4.
The ordinance that was later adopted calls for so-called "Level 1" repairs, which include bracing parapets, reinforcing joints, and anchoring walls into a building's roof and foundation.
Supported by Villeneuve, Mayor Jim Monahan and council members John Sullard and Nan Drake, the repairs have been estimated by city consultants to cost between $3.07 and $10.94 a square foot.
Under the plan, the buildings are divided into five classifications; those of higher occupancy would be required to begin construction first. After the 5-year lag, buildings in each classification would have 1 year to complete repairs.
Although a state law passed in 1986 requires only that cities notify owners of unreinforced masonry buildings that repairs may be needed, Ventura officials say they expect the state to mandate upgrading if communities do not take the initiative.
The city of Los Angeles passed a similar ordinance in 1981 targeting 7,900 buildings for major structural upgrading before 1992.