WeHo Kicks Off Its Earthquake Retrofit Program with Alerts to Building Owners

A ‘soft-story’ apartment retrofitted with steel beams (Photo courtesy of Degenkolb Engineers).

The City of West Hollywood has officially kicked off its earthquake retrofit program with the mailing on Monday of notices to owners of  the estimated 688 soft-story buildings that may be vulnerable.

An owner of a soft-story building, defined as a wood frame buildings with soft, weak, or open front walls, who receives a notification from the city will be required to hire an engineer or architect to examine the building and determine if it actually is at risk.  Those buildings, typically built in the 1950s and 1960s, are common in West Hollywood.  The count of 688 at-risk building was made by an engineering firm hired by the city to conduct a “drive by” survey.

The owner will have one year from the date of the mailing to have the examination conducted and shared with the city. If the building has been determined to be at risk, the owner has two years to have an engineer develop a plan to retrofit the building. That plan must be approved by the city’s Planning Division and Building and Safety Division.

Then the owner must start the retrofit work, which must be completed within four years of the mailing of the official notification this month.   That work can be complicated. It will require a building permit from City Hall and a plan to accommodate the building’s tenants during the retrofit.  That plan that must be approved by the city’s Rent Stabilization and Housing Division.

The work must be completed and approved by the city within five years of the date the notification was mailed.

The city’s website explains the process in detail.

The City Council had previously decided not to force tenants of at-risk buildings to share the cost of earthquake retrofitting.  City Hall is, however, looking at options to assist building owners

That include securing funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help pay for retrofits, reducing the fees that the city charges for building permits and changing the formula that owners of rent-stabilized buildings can use to justify an increase in rent beyond the percentage permitted by the city each year.

Owners of two other types of less-risky buildings will have a longer period to retrofit them.  One of those types are non-ductile concrete buildings (an estimated 120), which are buildings with rigid and unbendable concrete walls that are unlikely to flex during an earthquake. The other are 31 pre-Northridge steel moment frame buildings, which have load-bearing steel frames in which the beams are rigidly connected to the columns. Many such buildings were found after the 1994 Northridge earthquake to have suffered fractured columns because the steel was not flexible enough. 

Owners of such buildings have three years from the date the city notifies them of the risk to complete an engineering inspection and 20 years from the initial notice to complete the retrofits.


2 Comments
  1. For those who might still read newspapers – but especially for those who do not – an Opinion piece by renowned scientist, Lucy Jones of CalTech, on page A9 notes that is has been 25 years since any significant earthquake in Southern California and that a generation of residents have grown up without ever having the thrill of riding one out. The title of her article, “Earthquake drought is an opportunity. Seize it.” should be of particular interest to those contemplating retrofit of their buildings to minimize damage from a shaker. And, incidentally, the piece brings up the question about individual and family preparedness for such an event.

    1. Thank you Carl…that was the LA Times. Shocked but not surprised so little interest. When you, your home an/or your car are flatter than a pancake, you will realize a missed opportunity.

      “The time to do something is when you think of it” , wise words from a very wise Mother.

Leave a Comment

No profanity, and please focus on the issue rather than attacking other commenters. All comments are moderated and must be focused on the issue, not other commenters.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.