If the thought of a magnitude 8 earthquake under Los Angeles has you shaking, skip this column. Clearly your nervous system won’t be able to handle the thought of how much Mayor Garcetti’s earthquake retrofit plan is going to cost.
Nobody knows exactly but the early guesstimate is north of a billion dollars. For that kind of money we could build 1/68th of Gov. Brown’s bullet train.
On Monday, Mayor Eric Garcetti rolled out his plan to require owners of pre-1980 buildings to bring them into compliance with proposed new seismic safety standards.
Acting upon the recommendations of famed Cal-Tech seismologist, Dr. Lucy Jones, L.A.’s first quake-czar, owners of wood-framed buildings with ground floor open-air parking structures will have 5-years to make modifications, while owners of larger concrete “non-ductile” buildings will have 25-years to bring their properties into compliance.
Twenty-five years might seem like a long time to obey a law, but in geologic terms it’s less than the blink of an eye.
However, the price tag for all this – the number tossed out is $5,000 per apartment – represents a sharp stick in the eye to renters living in a city that is already mired in an unprecedented housing crisis.
According to Trulia.com the median sales price for homes in L.A. from August 14th through November 14th was $585,000.
The bubble that burst in 2008 has come back from the dead with L.A. area home prices appreciating 62.5% over the past 5 years. The average Trulia list price for homes in Los Angeles is $1,311,524 as of the last week of November.
With home prices soaring, new construction nearly non-existent, and banks still reluctant to carry paper, scores of would-be homeowners have been forced into the rental market.
While not nearly as crazy as San Francisco or New York, the Los Angeles rental market has shattered previous records according to Reis Inc., a real estate data company, with countywide renters paying $1,471 on average.
Mayor Garcetti insists the city will come up with tax incentives to soften the blow while reaching out to Sacramento to float bonds to help pay for the fantastically expensive upgrades needed to earthquake-proof our water, gas and electric grids.
Still think $68 billion for a train is a good idea?
James B. Clarke, president of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, warns landlords can pass on up to $75 a month to tenants under the city’s rent stabilization ordinance.
And that’s a problem.
A huge percentage of L.A.’s renters have median household incomes of $40,000, less than half that of homeowners.
According to a Harvard University study 33-percent of L.A. area renters already spend at least half their income on housing.
Neither landlords nor renters will find this spoonful of medicine easy to swallow no matter how much sugar Sacramento sprinkles on it.
Yet, this is medicine long overdue.
It’s a Southern California cliché, “the Big One is a matter of when, not if”, Yet, we’ve blithely ignored the warnings of seismologists, engineers and former L.A. City Councilman Hal Bernson who spent more than a decade all but begging his colleagues to take earthquake safety seriously.
But this being L.A. our city leaders fiddled while hoping Los Angeles wouldn’t burn.
At long last Mayor Garcetti has issued a bold call to action – perhaps the largest public works project in L.A. history – a comprehensive earthquake survival plan that will enable Los Angeles to survive and recover from a major seismic event.
There’s no way to escape the cost of retrofitting thousands of older buildings, but if we don’t seize this initiative, there may be no way to escape our buildings when they collapse on our heads.
Doug McIntyre’s column appears Sunday and Wednesday. He can be reached at: Doug@KABC.com.