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.