The recent 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Mexico City is a tragedy – and a wake-up call for all Angelenos. With nearly 300 people killed, over 50 buildings destroyed and hundreds of historic structures damaged, many are left wondering when the next “big one” will hit California.
In fact, it already has.
1971 in San Fernando, 1989 in Loma Prieta, and 1994 in Northridge. These statewide quakes remind us of the San Andreas fault’s strength, and just how vulnerable we are to its power. Ultimately, we must do more to ensure our homes, our places of work and our communities are built to withstand the forces of Mother Nature.
As a civil and structural engineer for over three decades, the stark reality is there are thousands of buildings in Los Angeles alone that still need to be retrofitted to withstand a sizable earthquake. In fact, the city recently identified nearly 14,000 soft-story buildings that will need some type of seismic strengthening over the next few years.
While the Los Angeles City Council has recently created robust programs to educate the public, help building owners seismically strengthen their buildings, and improve city resiliency, these improvements don’t come cheap. For example, retrofitting costs have been said to exceed $100,000 for some multifamily buildings in the city.
Further challenging matters, Los Angeles has enacted mandatory earthquake retrofit laws that only heighten the need to identify cost-effective solutions to help consumers make the seismic improvements necessary to protect their property – and their pocketbook.
There is one policy tool that is working to make that happen. Launched in California, PACE (Property Accessed Clean Energy) financing is an innovative program that enables property owners to obtain 100 percent financing for improvements, including seismic retrofits, that make their buildings safer and more energy efficient, repaid over time on their property tax bill.
Recent expansion of state funding and grants for seismic retrofitting only goes so far. With over 1 million homes in California vulnerable to earthquakes, how many Los Angeles residents will be left without a piece of the pie? PACE serves as an alternative to the thousands of property owners looking for a viable financial option to protect their property as quickly as possible.
And as costs continue to increase for seismic improvements, PACE serves a critical need, and alleviates some financial pressures, for building owners having to retrofit their home now. Recent legislation has also ensured there are greater consumers protections for PACE in California, a move that looks to strengthen the overall program.
With the uncertainty of when the next earthquake will occur, Los Angeles residents have an opportunity to act now to make their homes more resilient. PACE financing is one option that could ultimately keep their property – and thousands of Angelenos – safe.