Unreinforced masonry buildings in Ventura will not be able to withstand a major earthquake even if strengthened to meet building code standards, according to a structural engineer serving as a consultant for downtown Ventura property owners.
Ventura city officials, however, say that reinforcement could protect lives in the event of a major earthquake in the city even if the buildings might not survive.
The controversy over repairing 145 unreinforced masonry structures in downtown Ventura, an issue between downtown property owners and the city for months, heated up again last week at a meeting of the Downtown Ventura Assn.
Ultimately the issue of whether to mandate strengthening of the buildings is to be decided by the Ventura City Council.
State law, passed in 1986, requires unreinforced masonry buildings to be identified as potentially hazardous and mandates that cities notify owners of unreinforced structures that repairs may be needed. There are no state mandatory upgrading orders.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 8, 1990 Home Edition Ventura County Part J Page 3 Column 2 Zones Desk 2 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
Quake damage--An article on Jan. 18 incorrectly quoted Santa Barbara structural engineer Stanley H. Mendes as saying that most unreinforced masonry buildings in Ventura could not withstand a major earthquake even if strengthened to meet building code standards. In a speech, Mendes said "many" buildings would require demolition after a large earthquake of long duration.
Stanley H. Mendes of Santa Barbara, a structural engineer who has acted as a consultant to the Ventura property owners, spoke on a panel at last week's meeting.
He said repairing unreinforced masonry buildings will not be very effective since most will be totally unusable after an earthquake over 6.0 magnitude and will have to be torn down.
"After a large earthquake of long duration, even strengthened unreinforced masonry buildings won't hold up and will have to be demolished," Mendes said.
However, city officials said this week that reinforcement is necessary for safety reasons and to prevent economic disaster in the downtown area after an earthquake.
"I think that reinforcement will reduce the life-loss threat significantly, even though the building may not be worth anything afterwards and it may have to be torn down," said Bob Prodoehl, Ventura's superintendent of building and safety.
Community Development Director Everett Millais said that without repairs to the hazardous buildings, a large earthquake could level most of Main Street.
Millais pointed to Santa Cruz, which was forced to fence off portions of the city's downtown because of unsafe building conditions after the Oct. 17 quake in Northern California, and said Ventura does not want a similar scenario.
The bulk of Ventura's hazardous buildings are concentrated in the downtown on Main Street, Santa Clara Street, Thompson Boulevard and Ventura Avenue, and includes such sites as the San Buenaventura Mission, Holy Cross School, Hamilton Hotel and Rendezvous Bar.
Many downtown property owners have argued that the probability that people in Ventura will die in an earthquake is not significant enough to warrant paying the high costs for stringent repairs recommended by the city.
Virginia Gould, a property owner on Main Street, said she was concerned that the city's plan for structural reinforcement is too costly.
"We don't oppose anything that is necessary and they can support with hard data," Gould said, "but 100 people can't support a $10- to $20-million project."
The city estimates the cost of strengthening all unreinforced buildings at no more than $8 million.
Last year, Gould and other property owners successfully lobbied the City Council to prepare an environmental impact report before imposing any building repairs, reversing a council plan to require the upgrading of the unreinforced buildings. The City Council will review a draft of the environmental study in upcoming months before considering any further action.
Ventura city officials were presented with two alternatives for strengthening the unreinforced masonry in 1987, after a survey begun in 1985 was completed by a South Pasadena structural engineering firm, Kariotis & Associates.
The cheapest plan would provide the minimum upgrading necessary for public safety and include reinforcing joints, bracing parapets and anchoring walls into the buildings' foundations. The cost for such repairs were estimated to average $4.80 a square foot.
A more expensive plan would include those basic repairs as well as testing the strength of existing masonry and repairing existing cracks. Such repairs were estimated to cost an average of $6.58 a square foot.
Many business owners and city officials have said that the probability of having a major earthquake in Ventura is slim, since the predictions for the large Southern California quake center on the San Andreas Fault, which is about 50 miles from the city. However, the distance from San Francisco to the epicenter of the Oct. 17 quake was 57 miles.
Geologists say the Ventura area is also due for a large earthquake within the next 50 to 100 years. Seismic studies have shown that mounting pressure on the region's fault lines could result in an earthquake registering as high as magnitude 7.5.