Only 23 San Luis Obispo buildings still need retrofit

Eighty-two percent of the buildings in San Luis Obispo that require seismic retrofit are done being updated — leaving only 23 buildings of the 126 structures identified 13 years ago by the city as needing safety improvements.

Of those structures that remain, seven are partially retrofitted and three are under construction.

The number of buildings needing retrofitting is expected to drop to 19 by year’s end.

Such earthquake retrofitting is designed to save lives by strengthening a building so that it will stay standing long enough during an earthquake for those inside to get out safely.

In February, the City Council gave developers of three large future projects — Garden Street Terraces, Chinatown and the Naman project — until 2015 to complete retrofits on 11 buildings.

“It is moving along much better than we had hoped for,” said Claire Clark, the city’s economic development manager.

Clark said she attributes the progress to a “magical combination of encouragement, city enforcement of deadlines, low fees, a high degree of outreach and the support of the Chamber of Commerce’s Seismic Task Force.”

In 2004, the council adopted accelerated deadlines for the 126 unreinforced masonry buildings in response to the San Simeon Earthquake, in which two women died when such a building collapsed in Paso Robles.

The new deadline played a large role in moving the process along, Clark said.

Only 26 buildings were reinforced or demolished from 1997 to 2003. The majority of the buildings — 77 — had seismic upgrades from 2004 to 2010.

“An earthquake can happen at any time, and I am relieved to know the majority of the buildings identified are going to be safer if there is an earthquake,” Mayor Jan Marx said. “The improvements made an investment in the future.”

Of the buildings that remain, the Springfield Baptist Church at 1127 Broad St. is the most problematic.

The church, which holds one of the highest hazard ratings because of the potential loss of life, was given a year reprieve by the City Council in February to do the seismic upgrades.

The church is for sale because of the small congregation’s inability to raise the more than $330,000 needed for the retrofit. A few potential buyers have expressed interest in the property — either as a church or as a future housing site — but no offers have been made.

“It is really a tough dilemma,” Marx said. “I just keep hoping the congregation will find a good solution ... but so far no benefactor has emerged to save it.”