Earthquake retrofit work in SLO nearly done

acornejo@thetribunenews.comOctober 6, 2013 

A decade after the San Simeon Earthquake gave San Luis Obispo property owners increased motivation to strengthen unreinforced masonry buildings to make them safer, nearly all of the work is complete.

Of the 126 unreinforced buildings mandated by the city to be seismically upgraded, 112 have either been strengthened or brought into compliance.

Eight buildings are now under construction, including the Naman building at Higuera and Chorro streets (the former home of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce) and the future home of SLO Brew at 736 Higuera St.

Plans are in place for the remaining six buildings to be retrofitted, the majority of which are included in two large planned downtown developments, Chinatown and Garden Street Terraces. 

“We are really happy to see the progress being made,” said Derek Johnson, community development director. “This program has been a great model for both getting buildings safe and restoring and redeveloping properties.”

In 1997, the city of San Luis Obispo adopted a deadline of 2017 for 126 unreinforced buildings to be seismically upgraded.

In response to the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake, in which two women died when fleeing a collapsing masonry building in Paso Robles, the council required that owners complete partial earthquake strengthening by July 2007 or face a 2010 deadline for full strengthening.

It eventually extended the deadlines of several buildings because of planned developments at those locations. 

One building formerly on the list, the Springfield Baptist Church on Broad Street, no longer requires the costly retrofit because it has been sold to someone seeking to convert the building into a private residence. The building does not have to be seismically strengthened because it is no longer a place of assembly, Johnson said.

Retrofitting requires repairs that help the building stay standing in an earthquake long enough to let the people inside escape. The regulations do not guarantee a building will be habitable after a quake, but are instead aimed at saving lives.

In 2011, the San Luis Obispo City Council extended the deadline for the church’s seismic upgrade to 2015 as the small congregation struggled to raise the $500,000 needed to complete the work.

If the church failed to meet the deadline, the building would be red tagged and declared uninhabitable.

Pastor Henry Ford put the building up for sale more than three years ago. It sold in June.

The two-story building, built around 1920, has historically been a church. Over the years, it served as the Church of Christ, the Mormon Church and a Foursquare Gospel Church. By 1947, it was Springfield Baptist.

Ford said that the church, which had a small congregation of fewer than 40 people — most of them elderly or disabled — is financially unable to move into another building.

“We are at a standstill, but such is life,” Ford said. “The building selling is a relief, but it is certainly painful. God knows what to do; it is all in his hands.”

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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