Interview with L.A. Department of Building Safety on City’s Retrofit Laws

Interview with L.A. Department of Building Safety on City’s Retrofit Laws

By |2018-01-18T22:07:35+00:00June 6th, 2017|LA Retrofit Laws, Seismic Retrofit|

(As published in Apartment Age Magazine)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety last month hosted the city’s second annual Los Angeles Seismic Retrofit Resource Fair, providing owners of soft-story buildings with access to information on the city’s new mandatory earthquake retrofit law.

City Hall representatives gathered at the Los Angeles Convention Center to answer questions related to the soft-story retrofit program, and experts in the financial, engineering, and construction fields were also on hand to provide additional support and resources.
Optimum Seismic was proud to participate in the event. As one of the leading providers of seismic engineering, fabrication and construction services in Southern California, we feel it’s important to educate the public about the law, the time frame to get things done, tenant habitability program requirements and the basic principles behind retrofit engineering and construction.

For those who happened to miss last month’s event, we contacted Jeff Napier, Chief Inspector and public information officer at the Los Angeles Department of Building Safety for updates on the city’s earthquake retrofit law.

Program Update

L.A.’s law was passed with the goal of reducing structural deficiencies in pre-1978 wood-frame soft-story buildings and pre-1977 non-ductile concrete structures, which – without proper strengthening – would be vulnerable to structural failure during and/or after an earthquake.

It’s been more than a year since the city started rolling out its earthquake retrofit program. What has the city learned from the process so far?

“LADBS is quite pleased with the response and cooperation that we are getting from the building owners that are affected by the retrofit ordinances,” Napier said. “These ordinances will help in mitigating damage to soft-story and non-ductile buildings, which will result in safer buildings.”

Other Cities Follow L.A.’s Lead

Early success of L.A.’s retrofit programs has prompted other cities to follow suit, recognizing that multi-family wood-frame buildings with tuck-under parking, and non-ductile buildings can perform poorly in an earthquake and collapse, as was the case in the Northridge Earthquake. The LADBS retrofit division has created a set of retrofit guidelines that have set the standards for cities in other parts of the state. The department’s soft story and non-ductile teams consist of a combination of approximately 20 qualified engineers and inspectors and more will be added as necessary.

What are the most important details involved in an earthquake retrofit?

“It is important that the building owners follow the specific engineered retrofit design as per the plans approved by Building and Safety,” Napier said. “This will ultimately make these buildings safer.

Checking the credentials and reputation of the businesses you hire is another significant step in the process. Optimum Seismic has run into several apartment owners who have experienced problems with some contractors, including cost overruns and inconsistent work schedules that cause a disruption to tenants.

“It is also important to make sure that when considering hiring a professional engineer, architect and/or contractor, that all are licensed by the State of California,” Napier added. “We would also suggest seeking referrals.”

The city’s retrofit ordinances affect an estimated 1,500 buildings. It’s a huge undertaking and there may be some instances when a property is misidentified as either wrongly needing a retrofit, or not needing one when it does.

“A property owner in these situations should follow the instructions on the Preliminary Courtesy
Notice that was sent out to them,” Napier said. “We recommend reaching out to the Department’s staff in the Soft-Story and Non-Ductile Retrofit Program by calling the contact numbers provided on the courtesy notices.  If need be, they can be removed from the program.”

For more information on the soft-story retrofit program, call 213-482-SOFT (7638) or email soft-storyretrofit@lacity.org.

About the Author:

Ali Sahabi
Ali Sahabi has been a licensed General Engineering Contractor (GEC) since 1993, and is a principal at Optimum Seismic, Inc. He has completed hundreds of seismic retrofitting and adaptive reuse projects for multifamily residential, commercial, and industrial buildings throughout California.

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