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City Poised to Enforce Seismic Retrofit Law

Bob Kronovetrealty
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By Jorge Casuso

March 22, 2022 -- The City of Santa Monica is poised to crack down on the owners of masonry buildings who failed to meet deadlines set under one of the nation's most aggressive seismic retrofit laws.

According to a March 8 report to the City Council, only 12 of the 30 reinforced masonry or "tilt up" buildings successfully completed their retrofit by the August 2020 deadline.

Of the 100 unreinforced masonry, or "URM" buildings, 66 successfully completed the required retrofit work by the August 2019 deadline, according to the report from the Community Development Department.

"A majority of the non-compliant URM and Tilt-Up records have been forwarded to Code Enforcement where compliance cases have been opened," wrote David Martin, the Department's director.

Six URM and 12 tilt-up properties were not forwarded to code enforcement because their owners "are seeking compliance either through an active building permit or demolition application," Martin wrote.

In some of the cases, the properties "are City-owned and under consideration for pursuing a path to completing retrofit."

When the report was prepared, nearly half of the 1,956 properties on the City's retrofitting list -- or 973 properties -- had been removed and are deemed to be in compliance with the program, Martin said.

Properties are removed from the list "as a result of findings from a structural analysis, evidence of a previously completed retrofit, demolition of an identified building, or completion of the retrofit and obtaining final inspection approval," according to the report.

The next deadline -- in 2025 -- is for soft story buildings, which account for the vast majority of Santa Monica's structures and face the risk of collapsing because the first floor overhangs a garage.

Sometimes called “dingbats,” such buildings were popular in Southern California as economical housing in the post WWII building boom.

"Due to the volume of buildings in the Soft-Story category, it is expected that staffing resources for plan review, inspections, and enforcement will need to be significantly augmented to be able to handle the increased volume to ensure compliance remains a priority," Martin wrote.

Non-Ductile Concrete (NDC) buildings -- which were built using code standards enacted before 1996 -- have until October 2027 to complete their retrofits, while Steel Moment Frame (SMF )-- which were built before 1977 -- have until October 2037.

Approved by the City Council in March 2017, Santa Monica's seismic retrofit law mandates structural work to protect buildings that would likely be unable to survive a major earthquake without serious and potentially fatal damage.

The ordinance was approved after the City's 1999 retrofit ordinance failed "primarily due to lack of program management and enforcement," Martin wrote.

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