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Thousands of lives at risk and L.A.'s quake retrofit law isn't helping

Many Los Angeles residents live and work in old concrete buildings that could crumble in the next earthquake. But lenient seismic rules mean they're not being retrofitted.

October 15, 2013|By Doug Smith, Rosanna Xia and Rong-Gong Lin II

She often hears the whirring of machines through windows thrown wide open on scorching days and wonders what it must be like to be working inside.

"The mystery of that sewing factory fascinates me. It's part of the fabric of downtown," she said.

Osmanski has lived for two years in one of the retrofitted Santee Court lofts at Los Angeles and 7th streets. But other buildings nearby lack that protection.

"That's a weird disconnect to me," she said.

A block south of Osmanski's loft, a Times analysis found seven concrete buildings that have not been retrofitted.

On the top floor of one of them, about 20 people sew, cut and fold in stations organized into four rows. In the back, two more workers trim straying threads and inspect rows of sea-foam-green T-shirts on their way to Forever 21.

Their boss, David Lee, said he just couldn't worry about an earthquake.

"Earthquake? Earthquake?" he asked, repeating for emphasis. "Building destroyed? Destroyed. What can I do? It's natural. If I die, I die."

While Lee hangs on to an industry that is slowly being pushed out of downtown by gentrification, hip merchants are moving into those same buildings.

Designer Madeleine Haddad rents a second-floor fashion showroom in a five-story unretrofitted building on South Los Angeles Street.

Haddad's decision to rent there was dictated by the large space at the right price, far better than she would do on Melrose Avenue. Earthquake safety was not on her mind at all. She shrugged it off as a secondary concern.

"I'm not worried," Haddad said. "The only question I asked is how much is the rent. I know Wilshire Boulevard, maybe those buildings are adapted to earthquakes, but it's much more expensive."

Her building is owned by Ebby Tabariai, who bought it a few years back to save his first-floor apparel business from the loft craze. Tabariai said his rents barely cover his costs, and he has not looked into whether the building should be retrofitted.

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