Los Angeles orders quake retrofit for many older buildings

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LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Thousands of older wood and concrete apartment buildings vulnerable to collapse in a major earthquake would get costly upgrades under sweeping retrofitting rules passed October 9, by the Los Angeles City Council.

The mandate would affect as many as 13,500 so-called soft-first-story buildings, which are typically wood-frame structures with large spaces such as parking lots on the ground floor. As many as 1,500 brittle concrete buildings would also require upgrades.

SEE MORE: Expert debunks myths about what to do during an earthquake

The measure passed on a 12-0 vote.

"There's no question that we're going to have an earthquake. The question is, when?" Councilman Gil Cedillo said. "In here we've laid out the groundwork for the seismic retrofitting that needs to be done."

Before the vote, representatives for residential landlords and commercial building owners signaled their approval of the plan - while expressing concerns about potential costs.

See photos of the United State's deadliest earthquakes:

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Los Angeles orders quake retrofit for many older buildings

Jan. 17, 1994: Los Angeles, California

(AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

Damaged Kaiser Medical Building in the Northridge Reseda area of Los Angeles after 1994 earthquake (Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)
A car at a Mazda dealership crushed in the Los Angeles earthquake of January 17, 1994 (Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)

1886 Charleston Earthquake 

(Photo: hdes.copeland/Flickr)

1886 Charleston Earthquake 

(Photo: hdes.copeland/Flickr)

1886 Charleston Earthquake 

(Photo: hdes.copeland/Flickr)

April 1960: Valdivia, Chile

(Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

picture taken in April 1960 in Valdivia of people looking at an enormous crack on a street due to the earthquake that struck the area on May 22, 1960. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STF/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents of Valdivia, Chile look over wrecked buildings on May 31, 1960 in the wake of earthquakes that caused widespread damage and loss of life in the South American country. (AP Photo)

October 18, 1989: San Francisco, California

(Photo by Rich Pilling/Getty Images)

A group of people stand in the South of Market street, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 1989 in San Francisco, where five people died under a torrent of bricks when the 15-second quake two weeks ago wrenched off the top of a four-storey building in San Francisco. South of Market, the second-deadliest place in the temblor and little known by outsiders. Was one of the areas hardest hit by the earthquake. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

August 24, 2014: Napa, California

(Photo credit Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

March 10, 1933: Long Beach, California

(Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

Damaged building exterior, damage caused by the 1933 earthquake, Long Beach, California, March 12, 1933. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
Part of a long line of homeless earthquake victims as they wait for food rations at a relief tent set up after a series of devastating quakes, Long Beach, California, March 13, 1933. The powerful quakes began March 11 and killed 115 people and did $75,000,000 in damage. Signs on the tent read 'Free Food' and 'Food Administer.' (Photo by FPG/Getty Images)

March 29, 1964: Valdez/Anchorage, Alaska

(AP Photo)

With the city under martial law, soldiers patrol a downtown street in Anchorage, Alaska, March 28, 1964. In background is the wreckage of the five-story Penney store at Fifth Avenue and D Street. (AP Photo)
File - In this March 30, 1964 file photo, Anchorage small business owners were going full tilt clearing salvagable items and equipment from their earthquake-ravaged stores on shattered Fourth Avenue in Alaska, in the aftermath of an earthquake. North America's largest earthquake rattled Alaska 50 years ago, killing 15 people and creating a tsunami that killed 124 more from Alaska to California. The magnitude 9.2 quake hit at 5:30 p.m. on Good Friday, turning soil beneath parts of Anchorage into jelly and collapsing buildings that were not engineered to withstand the force of colliding continental plates. (AP Photo, File)

April 6, 1946: Aleutian Islands

(Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

April 9, 1946: Hilo, Hawaii 

Homeless people are taken to emergency accommodation on US Army trucks, 9th April 1946, after a Pacific-wide tsunami hit Hilo, Hawaii. The tidal wave, on 1st April, was caused by an earthquake near the Aleutian Islands. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

April 18, 1906: San Francisco, California

(AP Photo/U.S. Geological Survey)

1906: Full-length view of pedestrians examining frame houses, which lean to one side on the verge of collapse after the Great Earthquake in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
1906: View of a cobblestone street, which was split down the middle after the Great Earthquake in San Francisco, California. A wooden cart has fallen into the crack. (Photo by American Stock/Getty Images)

City leaders will now have to agree on how the estimated $5,000-per-unit retrofitting would be split between tenants and landlords. The law currently allows owners to increase rents up to $75 per month to pay for a required earthquake retrofit, but both sides say such a hike is too steep. One proposal is to divide the costs 50-50 and cap possible monthly rent increases at $38.

To help pay for the upgrades, apartment groups are looking for certain financial support, such as breaks on property and state income taxes and business license and building permit fees for owners who retrofit.

The proposed quake retrofitting mandate is part of an effort by Mayor Eric Garcetti to make the city resilient to major earthquakes. His plan released in December focuses on rapidly identifying and retrofitting at-risk residential and commercial buildings, fortifying major water systems that would be severed by a huge quake and keeping telecommunications systems operating.

The goal of the mayor's broad plan is to keep the region sufficiently functional to avoid a long-term economic collapse despite what seismologists say is an inevitable jolt on the order of a magnitude-7.8 quake caused by a 200-mile-long rupture of the mighty San Andreas Fault.

Wood apartments will be given seven years to complete construction once an owner is ordered by the Department of Building and Safety to retrofit the building. Owners of brittle concrete buildings will have 25 years to do the work.

SEE MORE: The top 10 deadliest US earthquakes

Estimates for upgrades for soft-first-story structures range from $60,000 to $130,000 per apartment building. Taller concrete buildings can cost millions of dollars to strengthen.

Studies estimate that a massive earthquake in the Los Angeles area could kill up to 18,000 people and cause some $250 billion in damage. Sixteen people were killed in the collapse of a soft-first-story building during the Jan. 17, 1994, Northridge earthquake. The magnitude-6.7 jolt was the last significant seismic disaster in the Los Angeles region.

U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Lucy Jones, the mayor's earthquake science adviser who was a consultant for the council, was on hand for the vote. She pushed for passage of the plan, saying lives would be saved.

"It's not every day we have the opportunity to save lives," Council President Herb Wesson said after the vote. "Today we had that opportunity."

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