L.A. Mayor Eric Garretti last week called on the city to consider mandatory retrofits of steel-framed buildings — the first time he’s raised the possibility of such a project. Experts believe a number of Los Angeles’ steel-framed buildings erected before the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which killed 60 people and damaged upwards of 40,000 buildings, could collapse when the Big One hits, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“There are buildings in Los Angeles that have slipped through the cracks. But we can’t let people in an earthquake be killed by those cracks,” Garcetti told the paper. “Sometimes it takes political courage, but we have to make sure we don’t look back after an earthquake and have lives that were lost and say, ‘Well, we did as much as we could.’ ”
The steel-framed building retrofit is one of several proposals outlined in the new “Resilient Los Angeles” report. The document, like similar ones released in Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Boston, was crafted in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities.
According to the Times, other key recommendations include:
- Developing customized disaster readiness plans for each of Los Angeles’ neighborhood councils — Venice would likely focus on sea-level rise, while the Hollywood Hills would probably make mudslides the priority.
- Creating disaster preparedness and response centers in the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods (with a deadline of 2028).
- Launching projects to cool neighborhoods such as planting more trees and painting streets white to reflect, rather than absorb, heat. (Next City has covered both strategies, here and here.)
- Developing and adopting stronger minimum earthquake building standards for new structures.
- Expanding the mayor’s Office of Resilience and allowing city departments to pick their own resilience officers.
Like other efforts pioneered by 100 Resilient Cities, the report takes a broad look at the long-term effects of climate change and the many localized stressors — like income inequality and structural racism — that can turn disasters into events that disproportionately impact marginalized communities.
But, the report’s subject matter being L.A., it also focuses on the very concrete matter of seismic safety. The mayor’s so-called “Seismic Safety Task Force” will consider mandatory retrofits to some steel buildings. The report also calls on the city to develop a mandatory evaluation program prioritizing buildings with private schools (which, unlike public schools, are not regulated specifically for earthquake safety) and day care centers.
“When the big one occurs, with potentially hundreds of years of annualized loss at once, we will face a catastrophic depression of our regional economy,” the report states. “If infrastructure comes back into service without a long delay, the recovery will be quicker and the regional economy may return to its expected level within a few years. In major earthquakes, however, economic activity may not recover for several decades, resulting in economic catastrophe. Increasing seismic resilience will lessen detrimental impacts to health and safety and improve the chances that the regional economy will bounce back.”
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.