NEW GROUND OF RETROFITTING

By now everybody — at least everybody who is in the business of real estate, construction, architecture or engineering — is familiar with the so called “Soft Story Retrofitting”. The already two years old Ordinance by the City of Los Angeles to retrofit over 13,000 flimsy, tuck under wooden apartment buildings and condominiums is well under way with about 350 completed retrofits and about 2,000 building permits secured.

It is much less known that the 2015 ordinance #183 893 by mayor Garcetti also included one other type of dangerous buildings. It is the so called “brittle”, or “non-ductile”, concrete buildings, as well, of which there are about 1,500 identified structures on the list in the city of Los Angeles alone. Other municipalities like the city of Santa Monica and the city of West Hollywood have similar ordinances in place, as well. These cities even went a step further. They included underperforming steel buildings to be retrofitted, also. These types of buildings are extremely vulnerable in a future earthquake — given that they were designed with insufficient structural elements, mostly weak concrete columns and insufficient welding at the joints of steel frames.

I’m not saying that structural engineers 50-60 years ago were not smart enough to design good buildings. But earlier building codes did not focus enough on earthquake design, as they do today. I still have a copy of my 1973 Building Code and it is really amusing to see what little seismic requirements were in place about 50 years ago for structural engineers, compared to today’s code. Engineers always follow the most recent building code and try not to “over design” buildings, causing an “over kill” in construction cost.

Recently, city officials began sending out “order to comply” notices for these types of concrete buildings. For property owners who receive the orders, the financial toll could be considerable. Retrofitting could cost millions of dollars. The order requires 3 years to submit plans to retrofit or prove the building that is not a “non-ductile” concrete building, 7 more years to obtain a permit and 15 more years to finish retrofitting. That is 25 years total and lot of seismic activity can happen in 25 years. We can pray and hope that no catastrophic earthquake will happen in the next quarter of century.

But, will praying be enough?

Maybe we should go to church for Sunday services more frequently, although many of the older churches built in Los Angeles are this type of brittle concrete structures, so..

Our office has already received requests from property owners who were sent this type of “order to comply” notice from the city. It looks like we’re going to be busy for the foreseeable future with all kinds of retrofitting work, in addition to our increased work load, the improved economy under this new administration, great new ADU law by Governor Brown and because of the general shortage of housing in California. We’re in a hiring mode, so if you do know a capable engineer looking for a nice, friendly, good office to work in, please let him know about us!

Happy and prosperous 2018 to everybody!

DEEP POCKETS NO MORE? LET THE PUNISHMENT FIT THE CRIME

I guess everybody who has children knows what “deep pockets” means. I don’t want to go into details but having five children means I really have to have “deep pockets” for the millions of things kids need. It looks like the pocket is never deep enough..

In construction, and in legal jargon, “deep pockets” has a different meaning, but it is also connected to your finances. It means that if you’re drawn into a law suit and have insurance, watch out..!!! California law allows the court to assign guilt, therefore money, not based on your real or alleged mistakes and the damages it caused but also to cover your co-defenders share of the burden – if your co-defenders have no financial means or Error and Omissions insurance to cover their share. Totally unrealistic and unjust, but this is the law. At least up until now.

Governor Brown signed California Senate Bill 496, (SB 496) SB 496 revises and modifies the previous section 2782.8 about the design professional’s contractual duty to defend by limiting a design professional’s potential liability for defense fees and costs to the design professional’s portion of fault. The language of SB 496 reads as follows:

“In no event shall the cost to defend charged to the design professional exceed the design professional’s proportionate percentage of fault.”

SB 496 will only apply to contracts entered into on or after January 1, 2018. But the importance of it cannot be emphasized enough. In countless cases responsible design professionals who carried Error and Omissions insurance were penalized that their insurance had to cover other parties share of fees and costs because the others did not carry any insurance and/or were not in the position to come up with the cost of damages they caused. Of course, insurance companies who were on the hook to pay for other people’s/companies mistakes raised the premiums for the design professionals and in worst cases even cancelled future insurance.

Kudos for Governor Brown!!!

TO BUILD OR NOT TO BUILD – THERE SHOULD BE NO QUESTION

There is no secret that the population of California is on the rise and we need more housing. Experts estimate that about 100,000 new housing starts are needed to be built each year just to keep pace with the current population growth and that number doesn’t include the amount of housing currently needed to catch up with the shortage that presently exists.

There is a new bill going thru the legislature in Sacramento to help the situation. As it exists right now there is a limitation for housing within a 1/2 mile of major bus routes, train, light rail and other transit stations. This is, of course, working against the idea of mass transit transportation. Why have mass transit transportation if there’s no mass of people nearby to transport? The answer is: bureaucrats like regulations, regulations and more regulations..

The bill, SB 827, sponsored by state senator Scott Wiener, would overrule local zoning rules and affect neighborhoods surrounding Metro stations in Los Angeles, as well as BART, Caltrain and San Francisco Muni lines. The foundation of Wieners bill is that “We have a severe housing shortage and part of the problem is that core areas with transit access don’t allow much housing” he said. I can imagine the opposition to this bill by local Planning Departments. They don’t like the state telling them what to do, what to allow in their respective cities and neighborhoods. Currently there is a similar situation developing with SB 1069 the so called ADU law. Right now City’s Planning Departments do everything possible to block the developments of secondary units on Single Family Lots, because they don’t like the State telling them how to manage their little, precious territories.

A 2016 study by the McKinsey Global Institute, a private think tank, estimated that the state had the capacity to build as many as 3 million new homes within a 1/2 mile of transit stops over the next two decades if local governments rezoned neighborhoods surrounding them, accelerated development approvals and increased public investment in such places. The principal supporter of SB 827 is California YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard), a statewide pro-housing organization. They strongly support the one year old state law SB 1069 as well. Good people, kudos for them!

This bill by Senator Scott Wiener would do just that.

BATTLE OF THE SEXES?

In these politically hyper-charged days, can we even call a man a man or a woman a woman anymore? I remember the days when at the culmination of any wedding ceremony the pastor, minister or wedding official declared: “With the power vested in me I declare you husband and wife…. ” Today it can also be husband and husband, wife and wife, and soon, who knows, it may just be person and person. (Interesting fact, recently in North Carolina teachers were told they can’t call students “boys and girls” and instead were asked to refer to the youngsters as “students and scholars”.

But don’t be overly discouraged. Recently I’ve read a very encouraging statistic about home ownership and the percentages of the people buying homes. And there is hope.

Of course as it always has been and continues to be the largest group of people buying homes are married couples. It make sense of course. Married people are the base of a family unit, having children and creating an environment where traditional family values will flourish. This group represents about 54% of the buying population, no surprises. The surprise comes when you’ll learn who is in second place.

Single women!

Single women are the next group representing about 18% of home buyers ahead of unmarried couples and single men.

The statistic did not mention the single woman as a single buyer, a single person, a single human, a single individual or even a single creature, but a single woman! It spells it out; woman!

The hell with political correctness; she is woman, hear her roar!

In the same report the writer acknowledges that millennial women clearly beat millennial men in college enrollment 45% to 38%, millennial women with bachelor’s degree beat millennial men with the same degree 38% to 31%

So, in the battle of the sexes… I think women are the clear winners.

Sorry guys.

SECOND CLASS CITIZENS? OR THERE’S MORE TO THE SOFT STORY

We are well into the so called “soft story retrofitting” season. Contractors, engineers and even City’s plan check are busy handling the hundreds of projects at hand. We are all learning how to make this very important task the smoothest and most economical process for everybody. Contractors are learning how to deal with the unforeseen, existing conditions, engineers are finding the most economical retrofitting methods, carefully choosing between steel moment frame design or cantilevered column application or plywood shear wall design, just to name a few different ways to get to the right and most economical solution. In many cases after the construction has started and existing conditions are revealed a total redesign is needed. On several job sites the existing, but hidden and now newly revealed conditions, were proven to be technically enough, that only additional structural calculations were needed for the City to exempt the building from costly retrofitting. Our office was successful in several of these situations.

And this is only the beginning. The City of Los Angeles has not even sent out all the “order to comply” notices to all the building landlords. Other cities like Santa Monica and West Hollywood have passed similar, and in some cases more extensive, retrofitting ordinances, with many other cities working on their own. Everything is working fine for a safer building environment in our communities. So what’s the problem?

During my countless visits to these buildings I noticed a paradox. The soft story conditions occur usually – but not always – in one end of the building where the parking is located. There are mostly two or maybe three units sitting on top of this area. The rest of the building – could be as big as 10-16-20 units or more – has no “soft story” condition. This ordinance mandates that this “soft story” condition in the back of the building be retrofitted because the building has 4 units or more. OK. I agree that the tenants of these 2 or 3 units over the parking area should be protected. So what is my problem?

My problem is that there are countless smaller buildings where a very similar situation occurs. There are 2 or 3 units over the same parking area creating a hazardous condition for the people living above, but this will not be corrected because the building has only 2 or 3 units all together, therefore not part of this ordinance. Why? Are these people second class citizens?

I strongly believe that this is a very good ordinance protecting a large part of the population living in dangerous buildings. But then why not include everybody regardless of the size of the building? And there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

When the City of Santa Monica introduced its ordinance, it included buildings with 3 units or more. Improvement over the City of Los Angeles 4 unit or more criteria, but not perfect. Until the City of West Hollywood came along with no limitation of limits. Any building with soft story condition regardless of the number of units has to be retrofitted. Kudos for the building officials of the City of West Hollywood.

I strongly urge the building officials in all cities to protect all tenants and basically all people – in case of a condominium project – living in these smaller but equally dangerous buildings and extend this very progressive and proactive ordinance to all similarly dangerous buildings regardless the number of units.

What do you think, am I right?