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Post Office Presses Ferraro to Repair Damaged Building : Woodland Hills: Officials vow to hire a contractor and bill the councilman, who says retrofitting laws have slowed his efforts.


WOODLAND HILLS — The U. S. Postal Service has taken on Los Angeles City Council President John Ferraro, saying that nine months after the quake, he has failed to make needed repairs to a damaged Woodland Hills building it rents from him, leaving postal workers worried about their safety.

Frustrated by the delays in repairs, postal officials are seeking a contractor to repair cracked walls and crumbling columns that support steel beams in the ceiling, which is being temporarily held up by scaffolding. They plan to send Ferraro the bill.

"I don't want him to think that we are declaring war," post office spokeswoman Terry Bouffiou said. But, she added, "we've gotten to a point where we are not willing to wait any longer."

Ferraro said he intends to fix the building, but contends that his efforts to make repairs have simply been slowed by a new city seismic retrofitting law--a law that he authored. He said he was not sure when the repairs would begin.

"It's in the hands of an engineer right now," he said. "I'm doing everything I can."

Comparing himself to many other landlords struggling to begin repairs, Ferraro--who represents parts of North Hollywood and Griffith Park--said he has already spent about $22,000 to repair the building's quake-damaged air conditioners.

"Those postal people are very hard to satisfy," he added.

Postal officials, however, said Ferraro only fixed the air conditioning after sweltering workers complained during the summer heat wave.

Ferraro bought the property at 22121 Clarendon St. in 1963, but he said he doesn't recall the sale price and county property records do not reflect it. He built the original post office that year and helped finance an expansion in 1975. Two years later, he leased the building to the U. S. Postal Service for 20 years, charging $176,000 a year, according to records and interviews.

The 3.62-acre lot and the 30,000-square-foot building are valued at $2.3 million, according to property records.

The one-story building--which houses 200 or so postal workers--suffered $200,000 worth of damage in the quake. It was closed to the public for several days, forcing postal officials to move the operation to a large tent in the parking lot.

Bouffiou said city building inspectors declared the building safe for public use the week after the quake, but only after the Postal Service paid for cosmetic fixes to the front lobby and for installation of the temporary ceiling supports.

Now, from the public counter area, the post office looks modern, clean and well kept--glistening with a fresh coat of red, white and blue paint. But lingering quake damage is visible in the cavernous back section, where workers sort mail.

Large cracks run like veins along the walls. Four tall scaffolds line the interior, supporting huge horizontal ceiling beams that were previously resting their weight on cracked and crumbling concrete columns. One of the employee restrooms is off limits because a scaffold blocks its entrance.

Bouffiou said the Postal Service has been unable to get Ferraro to accept responsibility for repairs and has recently sought bids from contractors to make the fixes. She said the Postal Service plans to hire a contractor by the end of October and pass along the bills to Ferraro. If the council president begins making fixes before then, Bouffiou said the Postal Service will halt its independent repair plans.

"It's obvious that we don't agree (with Ferraro) on this, but we have to move ahead," she said.

Meanwhile, Ferraro said the Postal Service may not understand the complexity of his repair effort, which requires the engineer he hired to devise a way to meet a new seismic retrofitting law that requires additional reinforcement on certain kinds of buildings.

Ferraro has voted along with a majority of the council to adopt nearly a dozen new seismic safety laws in the past nine months and also authored the ordinance that he says now governs repair of the building he owns.

The post office was assembled using a technique known as "tilt-up" construction, an inexpensive process employed on about 2,100 older warehouses and industrial buildings in the Los Angeles area. Under the process, prefabricated walls were placed on the foundation, tilted upright and fastened together.

Because such buildings suffered significant damage in the Northridge quake, the City Council in February adopted Ferraro's proposal to require owners of tilt-up structures built before 1976 to strengthen connections between walls, floors and ceilings to meet modern safety codes.

Larry Brugger, chief of the city's earthquake safety division, said the cost of retrofitting a tilt-up building is about $1 per square foot. In contrast, the cost to retrofit an unreinforced masonry building is about $12 per square foot, he said.

"It's not that expensive compared to other retrofitting ordinances," he said.

Ferraro's retrofitting law gives the owners of tilt-up buildings a maximum of three years to make the repairs.

Ferraro owns two other rental properties in Los Angeles County that generate more than $10,000 annually, according to economic interest statements filed with the city's Ethics Commission. Neither of the other rental properties--a condominium in Hancock Park and an auto body shop in Covina--suffered quake damage, according to officials.

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