Seismogram being recorded by a seismograph at the Weston Observatory in Massachusetts, USA.. Photo by Z22 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Seismogram being recorded by a seismograph at the Weston Observatory in Massachusetts, USA.. Photo by Z22 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Santa Monica is poised to require safety improvements to as many as 2,000 earthquake-vulnerable buildings in what would be the nation’s most extensive seismic retrofitting effort.

Santa Monica’s safety rules would go beyond what Los Angeles has done by requiring not only wood apartments and concrete buildings to be retrofitted, but also steel-frame structures, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday. Steel buildings were once considered by seismic experts to be among the safest. But after the  1994 Northridge earthquake, engineers were stunned to find that so- called “steel moment frame” buildings fractured.

No steel building suffered a catastrophic failure that took lives in the Northridge quake, but some were so badly damaged they had to be demolished.

Under a proposed city law, suspect Santa Monica buildings will be required to undergo a seismic evaluation and, if necessary, be retrofitted.

“We are very committed here in Santa Monica to make sure that we are resilient in the face of possible catastrophe,” Mayor Ted Winterer said in comments cited by The Times. We want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to protect our community.”

The mayor acknowledged that the price tag of retrofits would be a burden in the short term. City officials estimate a cost of $5,000 to $10,000 per unit to retrofit a typical wood apartment building and $50 to $100 per square foot for concrete and steel buildings.

“But taking the long view — that process is much preferable to the loss of life and the destruction of buildings,” Winterer said.

The city’s move comes more than  three years after The Times reported how Santa Monica quietly stopped enforcing its earthquake safety regulations. Santa Monica had actually passed laws in the 1990s requiring retrofits of these buildings.

But the mandatory retrofit effort quietly faded in the early 2000s amid the departure of key staff, The Times reported. By 2013, the city could not find its old list of possibly vulnerable buildings.

—City News Service

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