The Works

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti Floats Idea of Earthquake Czar

The movement on preparedness comes just two days after some remarks that left some wondering how serious he was about the issue.

Eric Garcetti

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In New York City, resiliency means guarding against, and making sure the city can withstand the impact of, flooding and storm surges like those brought on by Hurricane Sandy. In Los Angeles, it means earthquakes.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, newly elected Mayor Eric Garcetti has made some strong statements about earthquake preparedness, shortly after an investigation by the paper found more than 1,000 buildings at risk of collapse during a quake. (And those are just the concrete ones.)

Garcetti said his administration, not even four months old, has been working “at a pretty fast pace” on the issue. “I have a very strong sense of urgency about this,” he said during a visit to South L.A. on Thursday.

The mayor flagged San Francisco as an example of a city that’s been proactive on the issue. Even there, however, it was only this year that the city passed a law requiring retrofits of wooden buildings, 25 years after the Loma Prieta quake brought down freeways, damaged bridges and caused so-called “soft-story collapse” of buildings with large open ground levels.

In an effort to beat San Francisco’s 25-year delay after its earthquake — Los Angeles had its big moment in 1994, during the Northridge quake centered in the San Fernando Valley — Garcetti is considering naming a “chief resilience officer,” modeled after both New York City and San Francisco.

“Now, it won’t be easy,” he said. “But if we attack this as a community issue, rather than an economic one, I truly believe, just as they did in San Francisco and other places, that we can figure out a way to help building owners make their buildings safer.”

His words came two days after offering more cautious statements to the Times, in reaction to some more proactive arguments by City Council members.

“I think it has to be done really carefully,” he said then, “because people can sue us” for property value losses if regulations are too strict. “Even if we spend $10 billion reinforcing these, there’s going to be an earthquake that could take them down.” As of Thursday, it sounds like Garcetti has changed his tune.

The Works is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

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Stephen J. Smith is a reporter based in New York. He has written about transportation, infrastructure and real estate for a variety of publications including New York Yimby, where he is currently an editor, Next City, City Lab and the New York Observer.

Tags: infrastructureresilient citieslos angelesthe workspublic safetydisaster planninghurricane sandyeric garcetti

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