Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Los Angeles city officials consider financial incentives for seismic upgrades to concrete buildings

The seismograph of a 6.9 earthquake that hit the central Philippines, as seen on a computer monitor on February 6, 2012.
The seismograph of a 6.9 earthquake that hit the central Philippines, as seen on a computer monitor on February 6, 2012.

Los Angeles city officials are looking at how their inspectors can evaluate concrete buildings that may not be strong enough to survive an earthquake  – and how the city can help property owners pay for the cost of retrofitting their buildings.

The moves are a response to a Los Angeles Times story that found 1,000 older, concrete buildings in Los Angeles County are at risk of collapsing in a major earthquake. But the challenge doesn't end with identifying the at-risk buildings. The Times estimated it would cost $100,000 per building just to study its structural integrity.

RELATED: Who is legally responsible if a building collapses during a quake?

Mayor Eric Garcetti told KPCC's AirTalk it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars to bring buildings up to modern codes.

“You can never have 100 percent security," Garcetti said. "That’s just the given nature of where we live and living in buildings that can be taken down by the forces of earth."

Councilmen Tom LaBonge and Herb Wesson introduced a motion Tuesday (see below), which asks L.A.'s Department of Building and Safety to report back on a study of concrete buildings that were built prior to 1976.

This isn't the first time city officials have tried to get their arms around the issue. Former Councilman Hal Bernson was known for his focus on earthquake safety. His successor, Councilman Greig Smith, introduced a motion in 2007 that asked for a similar list. As a councilman, Garcetti supported that motion, though it died in committee.

"Now that I’m mayor, I have a more powerful perch to direct the city departments in a more immediate way," Garcetti told KPCC.

In the past, the city has delayed compiling a list of the at-risk buildings because of what it could mean for property owners. In some instances, the cost of retrofitting would exceed the buildings' value. Landlords are also worried that ending up on such a list would devalue their property or create liability issues.

"There's been this back and forth for decades about that issue," said Councilman Mitch Englander, adding the city should "lead through carrots and not a stick."

A "carrot" could be tax incentives or even a statewide bond measure to help property owners with their costs, according to Englander and LaBonge. 

An earthquake drill known as the Great Shakeout will be held on Thursday at 10:17 a.m.