DisastersLompoc, CA prepares for the big quake

Published 11 May 2011

Following the 11 March earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, Lompoc, California is evaluating its own earthquake preparation should a similar 9.0 magnitude strike; while Lompoc may be safe from a tsunami, the town is woefully unprepared for a major earthquake; Bruce Taylor, Lompoc’s former building safety inspector, bluntly stated that many buildings would not stand up to a major earthquake; to ensure that its buildings are seismically safe, the city of Lompoc is offering incentives and funding to help property owners evaluate their buildings and conduct seismic retrofits

Following the 11 March earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, Lompoc, California is evaluating its own earthquake preparation should a similar 9.0 magnitude strike.

Located on the coast of California sixty miles west of Santa Barbara and just outside of Vandenberg Air Force Base, Lompoc is largely protected from tsunami waves as it is located ninety feet above sea level.

 

The highest tsunami wave on record in the area’s history was thirty feet, leaving emergency responders at ease.

While Lompoc may be safe from a tsunami, the town is woefully unprepared for a major earthquake.

Bruce Taylor, Lompoc’s former building safety inspector, bluntly stated that many buildings would not stand up to a major earthquake.

“If we had the same earthquake that they just had in Japan, it would be questionable whether a goodly number of structures around town could withstand that,” Taylor said. “Newer construction obviously has been meeting code requirements. That should not be a major problem. It’s the older buildings primarily.”

Taylor explained, “We still have some unreinforced masonry buildings that have not been retrofitted and we have some buildings that are not up to present structural standards.”

But historic buildings are not the only structures that are at risk during an earthquake.

“Even though a lot of structures are not unreinforced masonry, a lot of them were built many years ago … with methods found to be deficient in regards to seismic activity of moderate to severe levels,” Taylor said.

Taylor warns that most property owners are not aware of the seismic condition of their homes and apartment complexes are especially at risk as they may have been subject to code enforcement problems over the years.

“There may or may not be some serious structural deficiencies. Ignorance is not bliss for property owners,” he said.

To ensure that its buildings are seismically safe, the city of Lompoc is offering incentives and funding to help property owners evaluate their buildings and conduct seismic retrofits.

In Old Town, where the buildings are primarily historic unreinforced mason structures, the city has a loan program in place to encourage building owners to retrofit and upgrade their buildings.

So far six buildings have been identified that need full retrofits and two have been found to need partial retrofits.

Under the program Cannon Engineering will inspect the buildings, develop a plan to make the buildings safe, and provide costs estimates.

“Once we have that information, we are going to be able to come up with a (program) budget and I will work with property owners to come up with a budget and a plan for each building,” said Linda Wertman, the head of the city’s redevelopment program.

The city has allocated $800,000 for the program and Wertman estimates that the city will fund as much as 50 percent of the total project cost for each building.

The city has also launched a $600,000 fund called the Commercial Rehabilitation Incentive Program, which offers 3-percent loans for 10 years with interest-only payments for the first five years.

Other programs include $450,000 for the city’s Commercial Facade Improvement Program, which offers zero- percent interest loans for five years.

“The bottom line is public safety. If you have a building that the public enters, you have a responsibility to public safety,” Taylor said.

“People are (saying), in a lot of instances, ‘Well, the odds of it happening here are slim. We’ve lasted this long without having a problem.’ It’s gambling.”

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