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Retrofitting not seen as urgent

OCEANSIDE — Discussion at the Planning Commission meeting on Sept. 8 leaned toward the opinion that earthquake retrofitting is a good idea, but not an urgent local need.

In 1995, California called for mandatory retrofitting of unreinforced masonry buildings that fell short of holding up to a sizeable earthquake.

At that time, Oceanside identified 78 buildings that did not meet earthquake endurance standards.

Rick Brown, city chief building official, said retrofitting requirements help prevent catastrophic loss.

“Without seismic activity or high wind forces they’re very durable, but shaken they tend to perform very poorly,” Brown said.

Since 1995, approximately 33 Oceanside buildings have met mitigation requirements by following through with retrofitting or being reclassified.

One example is Mission San Luis Rey, which raised funds and secured grants to cover the costs of retrofitting.

About 45 building owners have not complied despite the 20-year extension the city has allowed.

In comparison nine buildings were identified as being in need of retrofitting in Carlsbad and all building owners complied, 20 buildings were flagged in Encinitas and none have complied and 57 were identified in Escondido and approximately five have complied.

Safety-wise there is a 99 percent chance of a 6.7 quake or larger hitting Southern California within 30 years.

Many say the local region is at very low risk of experiencing a large quake.

The largest quake to hit Oceanside in the last 50 years registered at 3.7.

At the Planning Commission meeting speakers shared the financial hardships of retrofitting buildings. Jean de Galzain, who spoke on behalf of the Rosicrucian Fellowship, said costs could be in the millions.

“We provide services at no charge,” de Galzain said. “Retrofitting three buildings costs an enormous amount of money that we don’t have.”

Attorney Michael Klein — who represents Mary Cathey, the owner of two buildings on Coast Highway — told the Planning Commission a petition has been signed by most of the building owners to request the city further defer the requirement.

“Building owners are mindful of the state of California’s concerns statewide, but the region is not susceptible to earthquakes,” Klein said. “There is a slim probability of an earthquake of that magnitude hitting our region.”

After the meeting, Klein said there needs to be a balance between safety concerns and business needs. Building owners have the challenges of retrofitting costs and business operators have the burden of temporary closure during retrofitting construction.

“Retrofitting should be a goal of all building owners, but we should not be alarmists,” Klein said.

Klein said most building owners who have completed retrofitting have done so while buildings were unoccupied and construction took years.

“There are other solutions out there — financial aid or low-cost loans for businesses that are financially strapped,” Klein said.

MainStreet Oceanside Executive Director Rick Wright said he attended the meeting in order to update business owners on the discussion.

Following the meeting, Wright said most business owners are in favor of posting signs to inform the public of building retrofit needs.

Cathey already has signs posted at her buildings.

Klein said cautionary signs lessen the liability for the city in meeting the state’s retrofitting requirements.

The Planning Commission heard the item and gave no direction.

City Council is slated to make a decision to extend the timeline for retrofitting compliance, or implementing enforcement actions, in early November.