MAILANDER’S LA-There are a handful of cities whose misfortune it is to have situated themselves directly on the San Andreas Fault--a perch rife with danger and expecting a literal seismic shift any second now. San Francisco is the most notable, but there are also other illustrious bergs such as Hollister, Parkfield, Simmler, Frazier Park, Palmdale and San Berdoo.
The City of Los Angeles is not among these. The City of Santa Monica certainly is not. Yet Santa Monica has introduced a new seismic ordinance that will dramatically affect rental properties in that city, and Eric Garcetti is looking on, wondering if he should follow suit.
Such an ordinance as Santa Monica's, if applied to LA, would almost certainly raise rents on the most vulnerable among us, especially fixed income seniors on the Westside and in the eastern hipster zones.
We're closer to this than you may know. Last month, Garcetti hired our friendliest and best-known Earthquake Lady, Professor Lucy Jones of Cal Tech, to help the City prepare for ... something. Maybe an earthquake, but maybe another kleptocratic ordinance such as the one Santa Monica now has, following San Francisco's lead and indeed surpassing it.
Santa Monica's just passed law, in the words of the LA Times, that will enable it to "become the first city in California to inspect concrete, steel and wood-frame buildings and require seismic retrofitting for those deemed vulnerable during a major earthquake."
Guess who pays when rental buildings are inspected for further retrofitting and perchance deemed out of compliance?
You may know Lucy Jones as the Earthquake Lady who comes on TV after any earthquake and confirms that we have indeed had an earthquake, which we were just dying to know.
She can report stage and grade, and tells us about preshocks and aftershocks. The forecasting end--in which we always seem to be doomed, just not right now--is all based on the kind of probability equations and number crunching that keeps casinos in business.
And indeed Cal Tech is a kind of Monte Carlo of earthquake research. For decades the place has been collecting money from the government not only to do the important work of monitoring shaking activity globally, but it has also been in the business of securing grants to predict earthquakes--research that has proved elusive after decades of funding and despite the millions tossed its way.
The task of the Garcetti-Jones partnership as the Mayor's office announced it is "to develop earthquake resilience strategies for Los Angeles."
As though we don't have these in place already. The only "strategy" left to us would certainly be a Santa Monica styled ordinance that threatens to condemn selective buildings precisely where the City finds it useful to condemn them.
You get a sense that something else is going on here, as you don't find these ordinances--or even other Earthquake Ladies partnering with other Mayors--in Hollister, Palmdale, or San Berdoo. And we in LA already have a pretty good earthquake code. Our buildings since 1934, 1972 and especially 1994 have all needed to answer to something sturdier than the Universal Building Code, some codified toughness enabling them to withstand whopping jolts.
So why now? Why does Eric Garcetti need to talk so much to the Earthquake Lady, even to "partner" with her, when the Mayors subsequent to Northridge 1994--Riordan, Hahn, and Villaraigosa--didn't seem to need to?
For starters, Garcetti does have a little seismic problem of his own in Hollywood, where plans for a mammoth development he's been pushing for half a decade, the Hollywood Millennium project, has been successfully red-tagged by a lawsuit contending that it's a little too close to a fault line and a little too murky in the DEIR.
But also, Garcetti also knows what such a weapon as Santa Monica's new inspection ordinance could mean in the hands of Building and Safety: it can help clear the path for tonier housing in places where people seem to like to live.
I didn't need to go too far to find a Westside friend who shared my jaundiced view of the kinds of games Mayors play with old renters and old building owners trying to hang onto premium rental real estate. The first hardcore Westsider I asked, in fact, went on the kind of rant that filled me with envy for her ability to dish civic suspicions on a moment's notice.
"This is what the City did, or tried to do, in Venice so long ago ..." she told me, "... when marshals came in and did a sweeping and sudden enforcement of the fire codes. This divested elderly and low income people of their homes and basically threw people out on the street to facilitate LA's plan to turn Venice into what the Marina became. We lived with rubble around the Neilson Towers for decades at the end of Ocean Park, a whole neighborhood bulldozed ... and funny how some of the deeds to the properties could be traced back to shell companies benefitting government officials and their cronies."
That's always a laugh riot, tracing the deeds of the newcomers. But what about passing the costs on to the tenants and letting them pay to stay?
"Pass the costs onto the tenants my ass. And of course SM would love to knock everything down and build more high density rabbit hutches and get rid of the current aging renters comprising a majority of the 75% renter base of the city. Bring in those new serfs who will spend money in our bars and restaurants and won't burden us with the need to educate their non-existant children."
There may also be a few more high density rabbit hutches in LA's future, if the Mayor and his Earthquake Lady get around to bringing a Santa Monica-styled seismic inspection ordinance to LA.
(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of Days Change at Night: LA's Decade of Decline, 2003-2013. Mailander blogs here.)
Vol 12 Issue 15
Pub: Feb 21, 2014