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More than 800 buildings in WeHo could collapse in earthquake

With help from a friend, Tigran Daniyelyan (L) carries his television from his apartment complex that was destroyed by the Northridge earthquake on Jan. 17, 1994.
With help from a friend, Tigran Daniyelyan (L) carries his television from his apartment complex that was destroyed by the Northridge earthquake on Jan. 17, 1994.
Tim Clary/AFP/Getty Images

More than 800 buildings in West Hollywood could either collapse or be damaged during an earthquake. That's according to a new inventory conducted by the city, which is working to identify buildings in need of retrofitting, following West Hollywood's passage last year of a retrofit ordinance.

WeHo Mayor Pro Tem John Duran says almost 80% of the city's residents are renters and that most of the vulnerable buildings are apartments.

Why WeHo conducted an inventory of vulnerable buildings

Part of the issue is WeHo has a lot of beautiful historic neighborhoods and apartments that have been around for decades that have withstood other quakes, but we know from Northridge that Santa Monica and Hollywood got hit really hard, so we want to make sure we're prepared for the next one. We are due. We live along the ring of fire. We live in earthquake country. We've seen what happened in the Bay Area. 

Are the people who live in these buildings safe

I think generally they are. What the city did was an initial visual inspection and inventory of every building in town, and now we move to the next stage which is to have engineering reports done on the buildings to make a determination to see if a retrofit is required. We want to preserve our housing stock, and in a major quake that could red tag a lot of buildings, we could lose that affordable housing. One major quake, and a lot of property owners may think they'll demolish the buildings and make a new one that isn't subject to rent control.

Apartment buildings with carports are most at risk

Those are called soft story buildings. I actually live in one. They were constructed in the 1940s and '50s when developers were eager to put up buildings quickly. They have parking underneath. Those are the ones that are possible for collapse, so that's the kind of damage and human destruction we want to prevent.

What took WeHo so long to inventory its buildings

I think that a lot of So Cal, we live in a constant state of denial. We love the beautiful weather. We're wearing shorts in January, but the price we pay is the eventuality of an earthquake. We're seeing a lot of action right now in Santa Monica and L.A., but there are 84 other cities in L.A. County that need to also start to inspect their buildings. I'm hoping other elected officials get on it.

What's next for the buildings on the list

Now we go through the process of having these buildings identified through engineering reports. Property owners have a year to submit them. The next big issue is cost sharing. We want to make sure we don't put the economic disadvantage in front of a property owner who says, 'I don't want to do it. I'm just going to demolish the building and create luxury housing.' We want to prevent that, so we have to figure out cost sharing between property owners and tenants and have city subsidies for those who are disabled or elderly or low income.

Timeline for WeHo retrofits

We're going for soft-story buildings first on a five-year timeline. After that we've got to go to steel structures, primarily office towers and hotels especially along the Sunset Strip.