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Merchants Brace for Whittier Quake Code


WHITTIER — Lane Langford was lucky. His Uptown Whittier bookstore escaped major damage in the Oct. 1, 1987, earthquake that ravaged scores of other businesses.

But it soon may be his time to pay.

Langford also owns an unreinforced masonry building on Greenleaf Avenue that would not comply with the city's proposed earthquake safety ordinance--a fate possibly worse than the powerful 1987 temblor itself, he said.

If the City Council approves the ordinance as expected, probably next month, Langford and the owners of up to 20 unreinforced public buildings must strengthen their structures.

The process could cost thousands of dollars in architects' fees, construction bills and lost business--expenses that must be absorbed by the owners unless the city offers alternative funding.

"Naturally I'm afraid," Langford said. "I agree that the buildings should be brought up to code, but I do not want it to be too painful (financially)."

The issue is scheduled to be discussed at the Jan. 9 City Council meeting. City officials are looking into the possibility of making low-interest loans available to the building owners, said Richard Hubinger, Whittier's director of building and safety.

The city's Building and Safety Department created the proposed ordinance, modeled after the Los Angeles County seismic safety ordinance, after several years of discussion and planning. After the 1987 quake, plans for the ordinance were placed on hold several times while city officials dealt with other issues.

Like other earthquake safety ordinances in Los Angeles County, the proposed Whittier ordinance would regulate commercial structures and residential dwellings with more than four units. Single-family homes would not be affected.

Hubinger said the city will send the state a list of all the buildings affected by the proposed ordinance. Local governments are required by state law to inventory all pre-1933 structures and report the totals next year.

Before the Oct. 1, 1987, earthquake, there were about 60 public unreinforced-masonry buildings in the city, Hubinger said during a recent interview. Between 15 and 20 buildings remain, he said.

Hubinger refused to release the list of buildings, saying the inventory would be made public when the list is submitted to the state. But he did say that a dormitory at Whittier College and the Whittier City School District administrative offices are included.

According to a draft of the proposed ordinance, building owners must hire an engineer or architect to analyze the building structure and propose alterations, which then must be approved by the city. In some cases, the buildings may have to be demolished.

City officials still are determining how much time to give owners to either upgrade or demolish their buildings. Hubinger originally suggested seven to nine years, depending on the building. But some council members wanted an earlier deadline.

Some building owners in the commercial district have told the city that requiring changes too quickly could force some merchants to close their businesses during repairs. Merchants also have expressed concern that rents might be raised to offset the costs of building repairs.

Hubinger said the city will be sensitive to the needs of owners and merchants, but "some things have to be done" to ensure public safety.

Whittier's proposed ordinance says buildings must be vacated or demolished if owners fail to meet the deadlines.

A Times survey of city and county officials in Los Angeles County last month showed that 21 of the area's 85 cities have earthquake safety ordinances, and half a dozen have upgraded their building codes. Whittier is one of 11 cities that have laws under consideration.

The ordinances impose various deadlines for changes, ranging from 270 days in Huntington Park to three years in Los Angeles.


A 1986 state law requires local governments to inventory all pre-1933 structures and to propose a seismic safety ordinance by Jan. 1, 1990. Before the Oct. 1, 1987, earthquake, there were about 60 public unreinforced-masonry buildings in Whittier. Between 15 and 20 buildings remain today.

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