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Poll: Vast Majority of Los Angeles Residents Support Mandatory Earthquake Retrofits


Los Angeles residents strongly support the city’s landmark earthquake modernization law, according to a new poll, despite decades of conventional wisdom that such a rule would be politically unpopular due to its cost.

More than 8 in 10 Los Angeles residents support the retrofit law, which was passed in 2015 and targets certain vulnerable concrete buildings and apartment buildings with weak first floors, according to a Suffolk University/Los Angeles survey. Times held from March 9 to 12. Only 9% opposed the law and 8% were undecided.

“Oh my gosh. Great! Wow…I’m gratified,” seismologist Lucy Jones said of the survey results.

Jones, a former US Geological Survey scientist, spent a year as Mayor Eric Garcetti’s science adviser in 2014 to comprehensively study seismic safety in Los Angeles. Garcetti subsequently proposed the modernization bill, which passed with the unanimous support of the City Council in October 2015, the most comprehensive modernization bill of its kind in the country.

In previous years, even some prominent supporters of the mandatory changes had said it would be “political suicide” for council members to endorse such a costly requirement.

The poll showed bipartisan support for the modernization bill, a rarity at a time when many issues split sharply along party lines. Among Democrats, 88% supported him, as did 77% of Republicans and 78% of independents.

Since the law was passed, Los Angeles has made substantial progress in strengthening its earthquake-vulnerable apartment buildings with weak first floors, which are often referred to as “dingbats” or “soft story” buildings. Such buildings are ubiquitous in large swaths of Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area, with housing units built on carports propped up by flimsy poles, which are vulnerable to collapse in an earthquake.

A common retrofit technique for soft-story buildings is to install steel framing on the ground floor.

Of more than 12,400 buildings within the city limits that have weak first floors, more than 8,600 have been retrofitted. That’s a completion rate of 69%.

The benchmark price for those mods likely came in at more than $1.3 billion, according to an analysis published in October.

Progress has been much slower in the rehabilitation of non-ductile concrete buildings, the other major category covered by the law. In such buildings, the configuration of the steel reinforcing bars within the concrete frame is inadequate and allows the concrete to burst out of its columns when shaken, causing a catastrophic collapse.

The city has more than 1,300 such buildings and they were given 25 years to complete the redevelopment.

Structural engineers say, however, that they are aware of dozens of concrete building retrofit projects that are in some design phase, with several underway.

Angelenos have picked up on the pace of remodeling apartments with weak first floors. According to the survey, 52% of Los Angeles residents said they believed some or a lot of progress had been made in retrofitting older buildings to make them more earthquake resistant, compared to 24% who believed there was very little. or no progress.

Renewed attention to the threat of earthquake-vulnerable buildings in Los Angeles arose after a 2013 Times investigation that focused on non-ductile concrete buildings and the city’s inaction despite decades of awareness of the risk.

A US Geological Survey simulation said a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in southern California could cause 50 non-ductile concrete buildings to collapse in whole or in part, with up to 7,500 people in them.

In California, only three cities have mandatory retrofit rules for non-ductile concrete buildings: Los Angeles, Santa Monica and West Hollywood, leaving other major cities such as Long Beach, San Francisco and San Jose vulnerable.

The requirements to retrofit soft-story buildings are more common. In addition to Los Angeles, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Culver City, Beverly Hills, and Pasadena require modifications. In Northern California, San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, and Fremont do.

That still leaves many communities without a requirement, from coastal cities south of Santa Monica to the San Gabriel Valley, and in wide swaths of the San Francisco Bay Area, including Silicon Valley, which sits on the edge of the San Andreas fault, and Hayward. , which lies directly on the Hayward Fault.

San Jose and Long Beach ordered inventories of soft-story apartments and are discussing ordinances to require modifications.

Some earthquake safety advocates expressed hope that the survey results will encourage other cities to adopt retrofit requirements.

“I am really grateful that Los Angeles has moved forward on this. There are many communities that are closer to the San Andreas (fault) that haven’t done it,” Jones said.

Garcetti said in a statement that he was not surprised by the overwhelming majority in favor of the modernization rule and that he hopes it will spur other cities to act.

“I’m glad we’ve done this difficult job and moved to protect lives, not after a deadly earthquake, but before disaster strikes,” Garcetti said. “It is my deepest hope that all local jurisdictions in Southern California and across the country follow this example: earthquakes do not respect municipal boundaries.”

With the new focus on earthquake-vulnerable buildings, structural engineer David Cocke, immediate past president of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, urged communities to go back and review their stock of vulnerable buildings and consider mandatory modifications. Some communities, such as cities in the Inland Empire, have yet to order the demolition or modernization of older brick buildings, also known as unreinforced masonry buildings, which Los Angeles tackled in 1981.

The new survey of 500 Los Angeles residents came about a month after a series of powerful earthquakes, the strongest of which was a magnitude 7.8, sent jolts through Turkey and Syria, killing more than 52,000 people.

Many of the deaths occurred in the same type of non-ductile concrete structures targeted by Los Angeles’ retrofit law.

As the death toll in Turkey and Syria mounted, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in February took the first step toward a mandatory earthquake retrofit order for non-ductile concrete buildings it owns, as well as those located in unincorporated areas of the county. including East LA, Florence-Firestone, Hacienda Heights, South Whittier, Rowland Heights and Altadena. Approximately 1 in 10 Los Angeles County residents live in unincorporated communities.

The supervisors also ordered the creation of an inventory of residential buildings with weak first floors in the unincorporated area.

That inventory order drew opposition from a lobbyist representing apartment owners. Max Sherman of Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, told supervisors last month that creating an inventory of potentially vulnerable apartments would likely cause a dramatic increase in insurance premiums for building owners.

“While seismic retrofit fills a vital need, it is important to recognize that these projects are extremely expensive,” he said. “We ask the county not to start this process with housing providers who are still reeling from financial hardships” resulting from the pandemic, including months of rent lost from the eviction moratorium and rent freeze.

But former Los Angeles City Councilman Greig Smith, who was an advocate for earthquake safety during his tenure, urged other local governments to act.

“Here’s the problem with the government, having served 33 years in government: It’s reactionary,” Smith said in an interview. He urged other council members: “Think forward, not backward.”

He Suffolk University/Los Angeles Times Poll interviewed 500 adult residents of the City of Los Angeles, using live phone calls to cell phones and landlines. Quota and demographic information, including region, race, and age, were determined from Census and American Community Survey data. The surveys were administered in English and Spanish.

The sampling error margin for the total sample is 4.4 percentage points in either direction. The margins of error increase for smaller subgroups. All surveys may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to, coverage errors and measurement errors.

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