Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti just unveiled an unprecedented plan to retrofit LA to deal with what some scientists say could be the next “Big One” – a massive earthquake that could open California’s San Andreas Fault. According to scientists, there’s a 46 percent chance of 7.5 or larger quake in the Southern California area in the next 30 years.
The magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake – which killed 72 people and caused $25 billion in damage in 1994 – was just a foreshadow – seismologists say that Californians must prepare for worse than Northridge. “We cannot keep on planning for Northridge,” USGS seismologist Lucy Jones told ABC News. “The science tells that it’s not the worst we’re going to face.”
Garcetti’s recommendations call for mandatory retrofitting of some Los Angeles’ riskiest buildings, including buildings constructed before 1980. Mostly, these retrofits address “concrete buildings and wooden structures built atop weak first floors, such as those on top of carports and garages and supported by slender columns.” The mayor is calling for wooden buildings to be retrofitted within five years and concrete buildings within the next 30.
The cost for the retrofits is high – the mayor does not deny that. A retrofit to a wooden apartment building could cost between $60,000 and $130,000 according to the Los Angeles Times. The mayor has suggested that the costs can tempered by “business tax breaks for those who retrofit buildings; a five-year exemption from the city’s business tax for firms that move into newly-retrofitted buildings; and helping owners of wooden buildings get access to private lenders. The mayor also suggested discussion on whether there needs to be any additional measures to protect low-income tenants.”
“The time for retrofit is now,” the mayor said, adding that the retrofits target buildings “that are known killers.” The mayor is also proposing plans to make sure that firefighters “won’t be left helpless” by water main breaks – including a backup water delivery system much like the one San Francisco created after the 1906 earthquake.
The San Andreas fault is, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the “master” fault in an intricate network of faults. It is also now due for it’s “every 150 years quake.” The last quake on the fault was in 1857.
And while technology has improved greatly since 1994 and the Northridge quake – a smartphone now has more computing power than the USGS had in the seismolab in 1994 – there is still no way to accurately predict when an earthquake will happen.
“Complacency risks lives,” Garcetti said. “One thing we can’t afford to do is wait.”