Pasadena's "Soft Story" Earthquake Retrofit Ordinance About to Rock Hundreds of Buildings, Thousands of Residents

Published : Thursday, October 17, 2019 | 4:38 AM

Some 472 local “soft-story” residential buildings housing approximately 4,500 Pasadenans are about to be shaken, not by an earthquake but by construction crews.

This type of structure, exemplified by apartment and office buildings with ground floor tuck-in parking underneath the main structure, is characterized by weak load resistance and vulnerability to collapsing during earthquakes.

Soft story failure is believed to have been responsible for nearly half of all homes that became uninhabitable after the 1989 Lorna Prieta and 1994 Northridge earthquakes, accounting for significant human loss and property damage.

A City ordinance passed in February requires identified buildings in Pasadena to be earthquake retrofitted for safety.

The cost to owners will vary depending on the building’s age, the number of stories, the number of units and its existing structural strength. Cities, such as Los Angeles, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, San Francisco and Berkeley, have generally estimated retrofit costs as being anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 per unit and $40,000 to $160,000 per building.

According to City of Pasadena Public Information Officer Lisa Derderian, the City anticipates sending out “notices to comply” will be sent to Priority 1 properties “next month or so.”

Derderian said the Priority 1 buildings are the most vulnerable. They include buildings with “three or more stories, or containing 25 or more dwelling units total, or qualified historic buildings of any size or number of units.”

The notice will require affected property owners to submit a screening application, unless they believe their structures do not require retrofitting. The screening is an assessment by an engineer hired by the owner.

The assessment would determine compliance with the seismic standards established in the ordinance. Additional deadlines include three years to submit plans and obtain permits, and seven years to get the job done.


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