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Los Angeles Soft Story Retrofit | Is My Building Affected?

Posted by Bryan Echeverria on Nov 7 2017

Seismic activity in Los Angeles is nothing new, Southern California has been expecting “The Big One” for years. It’s something that Californians have to deal with, but in 2015 the City of Los Angeles passed Ordinance 183893 and Ordinance 184081 to establish mandatory standards for soft story buildings that are considered at risk of structural failure during an earthquake.

 The purpose of these ordinances is to promote public safety, and reduce structural deficiencies caused by earthquakes in the most economical and feasible methods The City of Los Angeles Department of Building Safety, or LADBS, spent over two years compiling a list of soft story buildings that that will need some type of seismic retrofit. The Los Angeles Soft Story Retrofit Program outlines all requirements for a building to comply by 2022.

The map below, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times, illustrates the number of soft story buildings that meet the criteria for required seismic retrofit. It also shows a high concentration of soft story buildings in Hollywood, West Los Angeles, and the San Fernando Valley. These densely populated areas are known for having large apartment buildings with tuck-in parking, a distinct feature of soft story buildings.


Soft Story

You may not be familiar with what a soft story building actually is, but they are easily identifiable. A soft story building is any multi-story building in which one or more floors have windows, wide doors, large unobstructed commercial spaces, or other openings in places where a shear wall would normally be required for stability as a matter of earthquake engineering. A typical soft story building is an apartment building of three or more stories located over a ground level that has large openings, like tuck-in parking garages, or any other large openings.

The first floor is considered weak because it is missing adequate shear walls. The small beams that surrounding the open parking area are not strong enough to support the entire structure during violent shaking. Several hundred soft story apartment buildings collapsed during the 1989 Loma Prieta and 1994 Northridge earthquakes for this same reason. The first floor of these soft story buildings could not withstand the shaking of the Northridge Earthquake and collapsed over the parking garage, while the upper stories remained entirely intact. 


13,500 Buildings

The Los Angeles Department of Building Safety spent two years gathering information on all soft story buildings within Los Angeles and unincorporated areas and identified 13,500 apartments that will need some type of seismic retrofit to comply with new seismic requirements. Apartment buildings are common in Los Angeles, Hollywood, West Los Angeles, and the San Fernando Valley. Thousands of soft story apartment buildings were built in these areas after World War II when the population in Los Angeles grew rapidly. But the design and age of soft story apartment buildings make them vulnerable to earthquakes.

Soft story apartment buildings built anywhere between 1950 and 1980 do not comply with modern seismic code and require seismic retrofit to withstand shaking from earthquakes. This is especially true for buildings that are built near and along fault lines.  The California Geological survey recently identified new faults that impact West Los Angeles and Santa Monica. Any apartment building built before 1980 will likely be part of the 13,500 soft story buildings identified by the Los Angeles Department of Building Safety. This is especially true for any apartment building located in West Los Angeles or the San Fernando Valley because these apartments are older, and may have been built over fault lines.

If you want to know if your building will be required to comply with the soft story retrofit program you can download an inventory list generated by LADBS by clicking below.


Seismic Retrofit

The seismic retrofit process is not difficult, but it is lengthy and loud. The first step is to get new architectural and engineering plans approved by LADBS to comply with new seismic code. Once the plans have been approved by the city construction can begin.

You will need to give your tenants notice because they will be impacted by the construction. Once construction begins, trenches are dug so that new steel beams can be installed. Typically, steel beams are installed to replace wooden beams and strengthen the soft story. Depending on the size and layout of your building, tenants may need to leave their apartments for a few days. 

Bay Cities Construction can help you with your soft story retrofit. We are a California Licensed Contractor and our team of engineers and designers are ready to work for you. We are committed to making the soft story retrofit process as quick and painless as possible. If time is of the essence and you want to complete the soft story retrofit quickly, we can help.

Don’t wait for the Big One to damage your building. You can get the soft story retrofit process started today. Deadlines for the Los Angeles Soft Story Retrofit are quickly approaching, don’t get fined for not being in compliance.

Typical construction companies will refer you to an architect to get drawings, and that can take months. Our team will draft your preliminary set of drawings within 4 weeks. You will not find this expedited service anywhere else. Our team of engineers and designers will make sure your drawings are up to code so construction can begin as quickly as possible. Our team will also represent you with Building & Safety at the city of Los Angeles and city of Santa Monica whenever necessary. Once the drawings are approved, we will provide you with a detailed written quote that covers all labor and materials for your soft story retrofit construction.

If you want to learn more about Soft Story Retrofits you can read the articles below:

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