By Daniel Larios
Special to the Lookout
February 18, 2014 -- In California, where earthquakes are a fact of life, preventing the damage they cause is a number one priority.
The City of Santa Monica will be launching the first phase of a comprehensive seismic safety program to address vulnerabilities within the city, officials announced Thursday. This initial phase will focus on identifying buildings that may require seismic retrofitting.
“The City of Santa Monica has always made the safety of residents and visitors a primary concern,” City officials said in a statement. “This approach to safety includes the protections afforded by fire safety, occupant safety and seismic safety.”
According to media reports, the cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica in the last decade have approved more than a dozen construction projects on or near two well-known faults without requiring seismic studies to determine if the buildings could be destroyed in an earthquake.
The program will help identify buildings that may not have been retrofitted following the City’s requirement to retrofit hazardous buildings.
At the February 11 council meeting, the City Council voted to allocate $105,000 to the Department of Planning and Community Development for the program as part of the midyear budget adjustment.
"Earthquake safety is of utmost importance to the City of Santa Monica,” said Santa Monica Mayor Pam O'Connor. “We are launching a comprehensive seismic retrofit program to both update our existing building inventory and establish requirements for seismic assessments and mitigations.
“While we await the State revision of its earthquake fault maps, Santa Monica will continue to require stringent compliance with the City’s geotechnical guidelines as well as State and City Building Codes,” O’Connor said. “We are committed to the highest standards in seismic safety."
The first phase of the program consists of hiring a consultant to identify non-ductile concrete buildings and steel moment frame buildings.
This work would support city staff’s on-going efforts to identify other types of buildings requiring retrofit, such as reinforced masonry buildings, concrete wall tilt-up buildings and soft-story structures.
Following this first step, staff would review the current seismic retrofit plan and permit fee waivers that were instituted after the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
This reassessment would focus on whether the fee waivers should be continued as well as examine effective seismic retrofit programs from other communities. The City Council will then take this information into account during the 2014-15 budget process.
In addition, City staff will work with Rent Control staff on the rent control implications of building upgrades for affected buildings
In the fall of 2014, the City Council will then consider updating the municipal code to incorporate the latest technical standards, time frames for retrofit and related administrative requirements.
This will be followed with notification to building owners of un-retrofitted structures and full implementation of the program.
“Seismic retrofits improve building safety, reduce insurance premiums, and help with marketing to potential tenants, City officials said. “The goal of these efforts is to ensure that Santa Monica is well prepared, and that the community remains safe.”
Efforts at the State level include funding allocations by Governor Jerry Brown for the mapping of California faults, including the Santa Monica Fault.
State Assembly Member Richard Bloom and State Senator Ted Lieu were instrumental in pushing for funds to advance the mapping studies.
Upon official approval of the map by the State Geologist, the most recent fault information will provide additional means for mitigation of earthquakes hazards and building safety.