City Nears Roll Out of New Toughened Seismic Retrofit Regulations

Published : Tuesday, September 18, 2018 | 4:57 AM

Image courtesy Titan Contracting Services

Nearly 500 Pasadena property owners will be receiving letters from the City over the coming weeks informing them that their building may need to be seismic retrofit to meet new, toughened earthquake safety standards.

The City has been working since May to develop an ordinance to address the hundreds of so-called “soft story” structures within the City that have been identified as having an increased risk of damage when a major earthquake rattles Pasadena, Planning and Community Development Department Director David Reyes said.

“The letter advising owners of the possibility of a potentially vulnerable building will be mailed out for all properties identified on the list,” he said.

Soft-story structures are wood-framed, primarily residential buildings with more than one floor, with sparse structural support on the first floor, City Manager Steve Mermell said in his weekly newsletter. These buildings often have extensive ground-story windows, garage doors or carports with few or no solid walls.

“In the 1989 Laprieta and 1994 Northridge earthquakes, soft-story buildings accounted for significant human loss and property damage,” Mermell said.

Officials including Mayor Terry Tornek have urged the process be fast-tracked.

The ordinance is slated to appear before the City Council in January or February, then be implemented in the spring, if approved.

Some of the problems may have already been addressed, Reyes explained.

“Because the list was developed in 2007, it is expected that the list of properties will decrease as we move forward with the ordinance. Some of the listed properties may not need the seismic retrofit due to demolition or redevelopment of the site after 2007,” he said.

While the cost of retrofitting varies depending on the scope of the project, it can be significant, said Phillipe Hart, who sits on the City’s Soft-Story Advisory Group.

“It varies on what the nature of the problem is. So it could cost as little as a few thousand dollars, all the way up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on how large the building is and what the nature of the problem is,” he said.

But the City is committed to working with property owners, said Hart, who has a background in finance.

“The City seems to be very concerned about making sure that this is both responsible from a standpoint of building and safety, and responsible from the standpoint of the imposition on building owners and the fact that they might be concerned about it,” he said.

Pasadena is not alone, officials said. Many other Southern California cities are also trying to mitigate the threat posed by soft-story buildings.

“The City of Los Angeles, for one, as well as other cities that are now going through that process, such as Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and others, are making sure that there are different ways that apartment building owners can finance these upgrades, including unsecured financing, collateralized financing, paced financing, mortgage refinancing,” Hart said. “All of those things need to be available so that property owners can choose whatever seems best suited to their needs and their specific financial conditions.”

City officials have contracted with Degenkolb Engineers to help develop the ordinance, according to Mermell. The firm has done similar work for cities including Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

Mermell said a meeting of the Soft-Story Advisory Group will be scheduled later this month or next month to discuss the issues involved and collect public input.

The City plans to meet with the Structural Engineers Association of Southern California in October or November to hash out the technical aspects of the proposed ordinance, followed by a meeting to solicit community input on an early draft.

The Public Safety Committee is expected to receive the ordinance for a vote in December or January, followed by the City Council.