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!

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