San Simeon Earthquake gave retrofitting new urgency

Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo city officials sped up earthquake safety deadlines after the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake caused widespread damage and emphasized the vulnerability of hundreds of older buildings in use every day.

Both cities had established deadlines for retrofitting buildings that didn’t meet earthquake safety standards. After the 6.6-magnitude quake struck on Dec. 22, 2003, however, those deadlines became a priority.

Retrofitting involves an expensive process of attaching the walls to the foundation and roof with steel, in hopes of making the building safer for occupants in a major earthquake.

Before the 2003 quake, most of Paso Robles’ 58 unreinforced masonry buildings had a retrofit deadline of 2018 — or 2008 for high-occupancy structures.

After the temblor, an accelerated deadline required all unreinforced brick buildings to be retrofitted or vacated within 30 months of Feb. 6, 2007.

Building owners in Paso Robles acted quickly. The most recent retrofit was completed five years ago, on Dec. 3, 2008. The project repaired and retrofitted the Carnegie Library, which had been a museum before the quake.

Deputy building official Clyde Ganes said the owners of three buildings have chosen not to retrofit, and the structures are now unoccupied.

Retrofitting can be costly, he said, depending on the age of the building, how its foundation was laid and other factors.

“I do know it can run into hundreds of dollars per square foot just to retrofit,” Ganes said.

Back in 1997, the city of San Luis Obispo had adopted a deadline of 2017 for all unreinforced buildings to be seismically upgraded.

But in response to the 2003 earthquake, the San Luis Obispo City Council required that owners complete partial earthquake strengthening by July 2007 or meet a 2010 deadline for full strengthening. In 2007, the city put some building owners on a fast track to strengthen their structures before the 2010 deadline.

City officials eventually extended the deadlines of several other buildings because of planned developments at those locations.

Some San Luis Obispo property owners have not yet finished their retrofits. Of the 126 unreinforced buildings in the city, 112 have 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 Brewing Co. at 736 Higuera St.

Plans are in place for the remaining six buildings. Three buildings are included in the Garden Street Terraces project downtown, said Joseph Lease, the city’s chief building official. Two others, at 722 and 728 Marsh St., have permits to retrofit.

One other building, the Springfield Baptist Church on Broad Street, no longer requires a retrofit because it was sold to someone seeking to convert the building into a private residence.

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