Owner of old, concrete building not too worried, despite earthquake report

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76766 full

First Unitarian Church on 8th Street in the Westlake district, is a large, three-story, concrete structure built in 1927. It's exactly the sort of building that's drawing suspicion after UC-Berkeley researchers declared that older concrete buildings around L.A. may lack proper structural reinforcements to withstand a large earthquake.

Last week, researchers from the University of California-Berkeley handed over a list of potentially vulnerable buildings to city officials. The L.A. Times obtained and published the addresses of about 1,500 buildings over the weekend.

Sure enough, First Unitarian made the list.

"I've been hearing about the issue for some time, and I figured we might make the list," said First Unitarian's Minister Rick Hoyt.

Over 1,000 people pass in and out of First Unitarian every week, not only for church services, but for math tutoring for kids, food distribution, and exercise classes.

Hoyt thinks the building is pretty safe--it withstood the 1994 Northridge quake in tact, though the organ lost some pipes--and though he doesn't know how much a retrofit might cost, he's pretty sure the church can't afford it.

"The prospect of reinforcing our building is a daunting one to us," Hoyt said. "There will need to be some kind of shared public-private solution to this."

Mayor Eric Garcetti said he and the City Council are trying to figure out what that solution might look like. 

"There's been great suggestions," Garcetti said. "Whether it's looking at what San Francisco did with banks and a long term loan, there's people talking about state bonds, there's ways of capturing things back in property tax credits or state tax credits."

Meanwhile, it's not really clear which buildings are truly unsafe. In a preliminary report, researchers wrote, 'such determination would require a detailed site investigation and structural analysis by an engineer.'

Earlier this month, Garcetti announced a partnership between the city and the U.S. Geological Survey to strengthen the city's earthquake resilience. Garcetti said among the top priorities are figuring out which buildings actually need retrofitting--something he hopes will be done by the end of the year. The team is also looking at other earthquake issues, like bolstering the communications network and securing the city's water supply.

"We can't afford to not do anything, we're not just going to say this is too expensive," Garcetti said.

Rick Hoyt said he looks forward to a discussion with city leaders about what can be done. But he hopes the concrete building issue won't overshadow other problems L.A. faces.

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