There is no local ordinance requiring seismic retrofits of buildings, but many are having their soft-story apartments stabilized anyway, for safety’s sake.

Earthquakes don’t heed the jurisdictional boundaries that define a city’s limits. So, when the City of Los Angeles this year started rolling out the nation’s most sweeping seismic regulations ever, many property owners in Glendale and other cities took notice.

EarthquakesSure, there’s no legislative requirement right now in Glendale for earthquake retrofits. But apartment owner and property manager David Schultz is among several who are getting the work done early, even before the Glendale City Council decides to jump on board the public safety wagon and adopt an ordinance of its own.

“I felt it was important to have the work done now so our tenants are protected,” said Schultz, who had several properties retrofitted by Optimum Seismic. “Not only that, but the retrofits protect my investment, too. Soft story structures have been proven to be unstable in earthquakes, and I want to guard against that for everyone’s benefit.”

About the Law

The City of Los Angeles last year voted to require earthquake retrofits of wood-framed, soft-story structures: the type of architecture commonly used in Southern California for apartment buildings, with parking situated on the ground floor and dwelling units built above it.

There are an estimated 1,000 apartment buildings in Glendale that meet the conditions that under L.A.’s law would require a retrofit. Optimum Seismic has completed 13 retrofits in Glendale alone.

One of those retrofits was for the property of Mark Boyd, who decided to have his 20-unit building on Boynton Street retrofitted for what he said were “obvious” reasons.

“Our tenants’ safety is our No. 1 priority,” he said.

Glendale, to date, has no retrofit requirements in place, but the Structural Engineers Association of California estimates that there may be as many as 100,000 buildings in Southern California facing mandates similar to those in Los Angeles as other cities and counties consider adopting retrofit laws of their own. L.A.’s law applies to buildings that are at least two stories in height, built under building codes dating back to 1978 or earlier, and contain parking or other open space on the ground floor, with dwelling or office space above.

In severe earthquakes, such as the Loma Prieta and Northridge quakes of 1989 and 1994, these soft-story structures can collapse, crushing everything or everyone underneath them. Both these quakes combined resulted in more than 120 deaths and 60 deaths and $35 billion in damage.

It is vitally important that these buildings be retrofitted properly and with minimal disruption to the people who live there. As a State of California Licensed Professional Engineer with more than 35 years of experience in building and structural retrofits, I have overseen more than 1,600 projects throughout California.

I have seen the positive results of work done well, and the tragic consequences of when no work is done at all.

Start with an Engineering Survey

Retrofits should begin with an engineering survey and analysis to determine what materials are used throughout the building. Everything from the spacing between the windows to the composition and flexibility of the walls is factored into the design of the project. From there, engineers and architects will calculate the most effective plan in terms of both cost and stabilization for the unique circumstances surrounding each individual building. The installation of steel I-beams, when properly positioned and secured, can help to prevent the swaying that has been identified as the cause of soft story building collapse.

It is very rare to find a project that will require tenant relocation. In all of the work Optimum Seismic has done, we have been able to limit disruptions to regular business hours, leaving the property clean, livable and safe during the times when most tenants would be at home.

Avoiding Tenant Relocation

The City of Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department says tenants can remain in their home as long as the construction work does not make the home uninhabitable outside of construction hours and will not expose tenants at any time to toxic or hazardous materials. Construction work usually occurs between 8 a.m. and 5 p. m. Mondays through Fridays.

It is imperative, for everyone’s health, safety and peace of mind, that the property be cleaned up and that work areas be protected after hours, when residents will be returning home from work. We always ensure that trenches get covered, walkways are cleaned and all equipment is safely put away at the end of each day.

That’s what we did for the retrofits done for Boyd and Schultz.

It’s important that apartment owners educate themselves about their options regarding structural needs, costs, financing and project management.

Optimum Seismic is the Preferred Supplier of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles for earthquake retrofit engineering and construction and has teamed up with the organization to host informational seminars throughout the city of L.A. to educate building owners about the law, the typical retrofit process along with information about financing, risks and liability and tenant habitability plans. For a list of upcoming events, call AAGLA at 213-384-4131 or email [email protected]