-Appeared on San Diego County Apartment Association (SDCAA)

SDCAA Expo
Stop by Optimum Seismic’s booth or visit our presentation at the San Diego CAA Expo April 30 at the San Diego Convention Center for more information.

San Diego’s iconic California Tower, jetting out toward the sky beside the mosaic-domed crown of the Museum of Man in Balboa Park, is in the midst of a $5.7 million makeover.

Balboa Park’s California Tower is undergoing a seismic retrofit.

The 1915 Spanish Colonial Revival spire is not undergoing any cosmetic changes — just a retrofit to make it more capable of withstanding the next major earthquake.

It makes sense that a 100-year-old building might need some seismic improvements, but did you know that a similar retrofit effort took place in 1964, many years ago? Back then, work was done to install steel structural supports in order to better help it stand. It was the best engineering known at the time, but so much has changed since then and those steel supports will have to be redone.

The tower was originally built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and closed in 1935. It reopened in 2015 to guided tours following series of post-1964 upgrades.

Clearly, the California Tower is a part of the heart and soul of San Diego. It would be foolish to risk losing it in a major quake.

Many real estate owners tell us the same thing when they decide to retrofit the heart and soul of their life’s work: their pre-1978 soft-story, non-ductile and tilt-up buildings, or their pre-1994 steel moment frame structures.

The Cost Benefits of Retrofits

Researchers at Caltech have determined that for every dollar spent in retrofitting soft-story structures, property owners could expect to save up to seven dollars, and that study didn’t factor in loss to contents, alternate living expenses or deaths and injuries – all of which would have significantly increased the cost-to-benefit ratios.

In a separate study, the university determined that seismic retrofits are cost-effective when projected annualized loss would be reduced by 50 percent or more at a cost that would equal no more than 10 percent of the replacement cost of a building.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency found similar cost benefits in a two-year analysis of seismic retrofit scenarios applied to a variety of building types, including a scenario of a tilt-up warehouse building in California.

Avoid Liability, Loss of Income

There are other strong economic factors to consider when weighing the benefits of a seismic retrofit. These include potential loss of income and liability associated with damage, death and injury associated with an earthquake.

Loss of income can occur when commercial property is damaged to the point where it is no longer habitable. This can create severe financial hardship for property owners who not only lose their monthly rental income, but are simultaneously facing the costs of recovery coupled with ongoing monthly payments associated with their original mortgage.

Risks of Doing Nothing

In a precedent-setting case in Paso Robles, two employees of a clothing store were crushed to death by falling bricks during an earthquake in 2003. The building had been ordered by the city to be seismically retrofitted, but the deadline to do it had not yet passed.

A jury in the case found the building owner negligent based on the fact that he knew the building was potentially dangerous but had not taken action to correct the problem. The judgment was for $2 million.

Taking action now could prevent future problems. If you are uncertain about the potential risks of your building, I suggest you do your due diligence and reach out to two or three licensed professionals for their advice. Do it today. You have nothing to lose.

Let the work being done at California Tower be your guide.