A Criticism of Los Angeles’ Lack of Upgrades to Earthquake Vulnerable Buildings

The Los Angeles Times has had a great series of articles on the existence of 1,500 pre-1971 concrete buildings that may be without rebar that was required after the 1971 Sylmar earthquake. This number was just an informal survey of records by a Berkeley professor and his students. The previous number that I recall was that of 50,000 buildings that were earthquake unsafe. It wasn’t clear whether 1,500 was just a start, was just the largest buildings, or whatnot. The point is that the city has been shirking a responsibility to make its own rigorous and complete survey.

Some of the buildings were tall condo type buildings with maybe 50 condos. They were on very expensive choice streets. Since the 1970s when the new stronger building rules went into effect, the value of US real estate has gone up a factor of 7. The original owners of the buildings have long ago paid them off and are extremely wealthy from the value increase and from the highly inflated rents also. If anybody in our society can afford to upgrade the buildings, it is them. They also have the moral obligation for letting people live in these dangerous buildings for so long without informing them and without making the upgrades. If the buildings were sold in their history, the buyers should have known when they were built and that they were not up to then current code. If the State or County or City requires them to bring buildings up to code it is not really a hardship considering the high profits that they have made and their moral responsibility for ignoring the risk of their tenants.

The State may not have a law vesting liability for the risk on the owners, or sellers. If it did, consider that in some of them there might be 50 condos or apartments with two tenants each, making a hundred occupants. In case of deaths, the value of a life in liability cases is over a million dollars. The apparent liability of that size building is a hundred million for the deaths, plus the values of the apartments or condos. If the upgrade costs less than that, it is a win-win solution to make the upgrade. Apparently insurance companies are not charging the owners the true risk value of the lives and buildings, or they would easily see the value in upgrading.

Finally, the LA Times revealed that the California program to map and evaluate earthquake faults was only running at about $9 million a year when it was severely cut in 2001 to about $3 million a year. Very few new maps have been made since then. This allows builders a giant loophole to even build across earthquake faults if not mapped. This really sounds a lot more like developers greed than actual budget savings for the state. Considering again the liability of a million dollars for a life, even the full $9 million a year budget is a piddling investment in people’s safety and in the first constitutional duty of government, which is to protect lives.

About Dennis SILVERMAN

I am a retired Professor of Physics and Astronomy at U C Irvine. For a decade I have been active in learning about energy and the environment, and in lecturing and attending classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UC Irvine.
This entry was posted in Earthquakes, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply