On June 13, 2021 Los Angeles County’s Board of Supervisors approved a motion regarding the assessment and safety of high-rise buildings in their jurisdiction. The motion directs the Department of Public Works (DPW) to take six actions; with Actions 3 and 4 having a direct impact on the practice of structural engineering.
Over the past two months SEAOSC has had the opportunity to collaborate with DPW as the department prepares a formal response to the motion. Our members prepared and presented case studies that helped to illustrate the history and rarity of building failures under modern building codes. Our Safer Cities Advisory Group also created and distributed a survey to help DPW understand the current process used by Structural Engineers to assess existing buildings. (You can read more about the survey findings here.)
During our weekly meetings with DPW, SEAOSC was asked that we utilize our contacts and connections across the state as we consider the motion - which we were able to do through the support of SEAOC. Understanding that multiple California jurisdictions are contemplating similar questions to those posed in Los Angeles County, SEAOC convened an ad hoc committee of members from across the state to provide insight and perspective on this topic. On October 13, 2021 SEAOSC, together with SEAOC, provided a formal position statement to DPW. Some key themes of the statement include:
For buildings with reported or known deficiencies, we encourage the County to achieve their objects using existing regulations to the extent possible. Relevant existing regulations include the CEBC (which requires the abatement of unsafe and dangerous buildings), the California Health and Safety Code, and the International Property Maintenance Code.
At present, we find that a new program of mandatory engineering assessments would be premature, and possibly counter-productive:
Without an inventory, and while the causes of the Champlain Towers South collapse are still under investigation, there is no equitable or reliable definition of "similar type (high-rise) buildings."
Without an extreme event like an earthquake, the sudden collapse of an occupied, maintained building in California is rare. We have no data that indicates mandatory “certification” prevents collapse.
The County can develop outreach materials to remind building owners of their responsibility to maintain their buildings, to inform them of the resources available through DPW, and to explain the applicable existing codes, regulations, and legal precedents.
We are expecting that DPW will be reporting to the Board of Supervisors in November, and will share additional information as it becomes available.
I would like to extend my gratitude to SEAOSC members Wayne Chang, Susan Dowty, Daniel Zepeda, Patti Harburg-Petrich, and our entire Safer Cities Advisory Group for their efforts in responding to this call in a timely fashion. It is our community of passionate engineers that positions SEAOSC as a resource to our community leaders. If advocacy, policy, and legislation is something that interests you, I would encourage you to check out the next scheduled Legislative Action Committee meeting.
With that, I wish you all a wonderful November, and look forward to seeing you at our ‘Structured Connections’ membership meeting on November 3rd.
Kelsey Anne Parolini, S.E.
SEAOSC President, 2021-22