Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Los Angeles Considers Most Sweeping Earthquake Readiness Plan in City History

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Los Angeles Considers Most Sweeping Earthquake Readiness Plan in City History

Article excerpt

How prepared is Los Angeles for a major earthquake?

On Monday, the city's new mayor, Eric Garcetti, handed southern Californians a wake-up call in the form of a year-long study his office commissioned to answer that question.

The findings are sobering, suggesting thousands of people would die in the most vulnerable wooden and concrete structures unless they are strengthened to withstand a major seismic event.

The mayor is calling for mandatory retrofitting of buildings built before 1980, in what some observers have called the most sweeping earthquake safety plan in the history of the city.

"These responsibilities have been shirked for far too long. That stops now," Garcetti said Monday.

The study's findings were punctuated Monday by being delivered in the shadow of one of the biggest fires the nation's second-largest city has experienced. Nearly an entire downtown city block was consumed by a blaze that began early Monday morning and shut down the heart of the city for most of the day.

"We all saw the fire this morning. Imagine 1,600 at the same time," said US Geological Survey seismologist Lucy Jones, who serves as Mayor Garcetti's science adviser and directed the study. Fires from broken gas lines are a major danger in quake zones.

Certainly, earthquakes are not a new threat to Los Angeles, and city preparedness is a subject that comes up after every major disaster. But the new mayor appears determined to set his seal on the city's future and, despite costs estimated in the billions, to take a proactive approach to a longstanding issue.

"Earthquake policy has more often than not been developed in the immediate aftermath of a major earthquake. And even then, momentum quickly died out, leaving grave vulnerabilities behind. Today, Los Angeles is addressing our greatest earthquake vulnerabilities proactively and strategically," Garcetti wrote in a blog post Monday. "We cannot afford to be complacent."

In addition to such proposals as solar powered wi-fi hotspots that would be available during a power failure and a plan to create an alternative water supply for firefighters, his office has laid out a robust plan targeting the most vulnerable concrete and wooden structures. Owners of the estimated 15,000 wooden structures would have five years to complete the retrofitting. Owners of the estimated 1,500 concrete buildings would have a 25-year horizon.

The mayor's proposal would need to be approved by City Council. Costs to retrofit the buildings would be borne by owners, who likely would pass along costs to their tenants. And questions remain about how the regulations would be enforced.

Cost is the major stumbling block to readying the city for a major event: Estimates to retrofit a single concrete office building run up to $1 million dollars, while a so-called "soft structure," such as the two- and three-story wooden apartment buildings that sit atop wooden posts, can run between $60,000 and $130,000 each, according to the Los Angeles Times. …

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