Earthquakes don’t heed the legislative boundaries that define a city’s limits.
That’s why, many property owners not bound by any safety ordinance are taking action and having their buildings retrofitted anyway – not because of the law, but because it’s the right thing to do.
In Glendale and many other cities, there is a natural, community-driven movement toward building safety.
Glendale apartment owner and property manager David Schultz is among several who are getting the work done early, even before his city decides to jump aboard 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. “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.”
One of Schultz’s landlords, Mark Boyd, has owned a 20- unit building on Boynton Street for many years and said the decision to move forward with retrofitting was an obvious one.
“We owe it to the tenants. The tenants’ safety is priority No. 1,” Boyd told the Glendale News Press.
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. Since then, Santa Monica, North Hollywood and Beverly Hills have done the same – with Santa Monica’s ordinance even more comprehensive in scope than L.A.’s
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.
Glendale, to date, has no retrofit requirements in place, but there are an estimated 1,000 apartment buildings there that meet the conditions of L.A.’s retrofit law, which 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 Northridge quake of 1994, these soft-story structures have been proven vulnerable to collapse, crushing everything or everyone underneath them.
“It is vitally important that these buildings be retrofitted properly and with minimal disruption to the people who live there,” said Ali Vahdani, president and founder of Optimum Seismic. As a State of California Licensed Professional Engineer with more than 35 years of experience in building and structural retrofits, he has overseen more than 1,900 projects throughout California.
Retrofits should follow a design-bid-build approach that gives property owners and managers the ability to have an engineering report performed on the building, and then use that report to solicit bids from multiple contractors. The engineering report will include an analysis to determine what materials are used throughout the building, Vahdani said.
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’s important that apartment owners educate themselves about their options regarding structural needs, costs, financing and project management.