January 17, 2009

Quake experts say Calif. buildings at risk

Thousands of so-called soft-story apartments in California remain vulnerable to earthquakes, experts say.

The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that just 800 of 20,000 such buildings in Los Angeles have been retrofitted since the Northridge earthquake in 1994, when the Northridge Meadows apartment complex collapsed, killing 16 people.

The state Seismic Safety Commission says only one county and about a dozen cities, including Los Angeles, have even begun to address multi-unit buildings that have a weak ground floor.

It's an issue we need to go back and address again, said Los Angeles Councilman Greig Smith. As a councilman's aide, he helped pass a local ordinance encouraging voluntary retrofits soon after the Northridge quake, which was a magnitude 6.7 temblor.

It was a partial fix, and there needs to be a complete fix, Smith said.

After the Northridge quake, the Seismic Safety Commission recommended that addressing existing buildings that were vulnerable in earthquakes should be one of the state's top priorities.

I think history would say the government got cold feet over that, said Fred Turner, a structural engineer with the commission. We're certainly on the slow track.