Newsletter 2014-05-02


If you’ve been reading my newsletters for a while, you know my pet peeve – soft story buildings. For Los Angeles, all the neighboring cities and for all of the state of California it would be so much safer by retrofitting these buildings. The issue is, as always, cost and incentives.

Last month, I participated in a think-tank meeting for seismic related issues in the Los Angeles area. Among other things — like geology, seismic preparedness, seismic faults, etc. — the soft story issue came up as one of the most pressing items for structural engineers recently. One of the panelists was Lucy Jones from USGS, who was recently hired or “loaned” to the city of Los Angeles to help the city put together a list of under reinforced concrete high-rise and “soft story” buildings. You could see her on TV rather frequently answering questions about the recent La Brea earthquake. She is known as the Earthquake Lady.

There were suggestions for mandatory upgrades by new city, county or even state ordinances, state bonds to finance construction — because actually this is more of a state, than city problem — tax incentives for landlords, etc. All of these have been discussed before, but one suggestion stood out and it wasn’t mine. Dog gone it!

For departments of public health, health inspectors go to restaurants and grade them for cleanness and other health related issues. The restaurants get an A, B or C and those placards have to be posted at the entry of the restaurants with big blue letters. Restaurant owners were so much against it at the beginning, fearing a loss of customers. Today it is a normal thing to check out a restaurant’s grade. I know that I wouldn’t eat in a restaurant with a C rating. The bottom line is that restaurants really got much cleaner since this system came into law.

Why not to do a similar action for apartment buildings? Apartment owners and landlords are already paying a yearly fee for inspectors to check out the apartments for health and other issues. It would be simple: make landlords post a sign issued by the local Building and Safety inspectors on the front elevation of the building indicating that this building is a dangerous place to live in. This would be a tremendous incentive for landlords to upgrade their buildings in fear of losing tenants.

No mandatory upgrade, no political issues, no deadlines, it would be voluntary only.

Problem solved, and in a few years the majority of soft story buildings would be fixed.

The biggest questions is, of course, why didn’t I think of that?!

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

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