LA Green Grounds Dig-In on S Harvard Blvd.” Photo by Craig Dietrich.

March 5, 2018; Next City

Earlier this month, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti “called on the city to consider mandatory retrofits of steel-framed buildings,” reports Rachel Dovey in Next City. “Experts believe a number of Los Angeles’ steel-framed buildings erected before the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which killed 60 people and damaged upwards of 40,000 buildings, could collapse” should another major earthquake occur.

For his part, Garcetti told the Los Angeles Times that “There are buildings in Los Angeles that have slipped through the cracks. But we can’t let people in an earthquake be killed by those cracks.” Garcetti added, “Sometimes it takes political courage, but we have to make sure we don’t look back after an earthquake and have lives that were lost and say, ‘Well, we did as much as we could.’”

Garcetti’s proposal is prompted in large measure by the release of a new Resilient Los Angeles report. Like similar reports released in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Boston, the Los Angeles report is a product of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities program. The comprehensive document outlines a broad agenda. As the report points out, the population of the city of Los Angeles now exceeds 4 million and the greater Los Angeles region has a gross domestic product that exceeds $1 trillion. More than a third (37.8 percent) of city residents are foreign-born, speaking to the city’s importance as an immigrant gateway. The city has a high poverty rate of 22 percent and a population in which 62 percent of residents rent their housing. By contrast, the national poverty rate is 12.7 percent and the national homeownership rate is 64.2 percent—essentially the reverse of the Los Angeles residency numbers.

To address the city’s housing shortfall, one goal highlighted in the report was the city’s commitment to build 100,000 new residential units by 2021. All told, the report issues 96 recommendations in five areas: economic security, climate adaptation, leadership and engagement, infrastructure modernization, and disaster preparedness and recovery.

Among the measures highlighted in the Los Angeles Times are the following:

  • Develop customized disaster preparedness plans tailored to all of Los Angeles’ neighborhood councils. A specific plan for Venice might focus on sea-level rise; Chatsworth, wildfire danger; and the Hollywood Hills, mudslides.
  • Create disaster preparedness and response centers in Los Angeles in the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods by 2028. So-called Neighborhood Resilience Hubs would be located in buildings such as a city recreation center or a community organization’s offices. After an earthquake, such places might be able to keep the lights on even during a widespread power outage, allowing residents to recharge cellphones; help keep them informed through satellite communications; and offer extra supplies of food and water.
  • Launch projects to cool neighborhoods as Los Angeles faces a future with more days of extreme heat, such as planting more trees and painting streets whiter to reflect heat back into the air. Areas that can become particularly warm, where summer average land-surface temperatures can exceed 115 degrees, include Boyle Heights, El Sereno and much of the San Fernando Valley.
  • Develop and eventually adopt stronger minimum earthquake building standards for new structures. Currently, new buildings must be built only to a level to prevent killing people during an earthquake, but they are allowed to be so damaged that they will need to be torn down.
  • Expand the mayor’s Office of Resilience and have city departments pick their own resilience officers to get these goals accomplished.

As Dovey points out, the report not only proposes disaster preparedness measures, but also takes a hard look at “the long-term effects of climate change and the many localized stressors—like income inequality and structural racism…that disproportionately impact marginalized communities.”

As the report’s authors pointedly note, more than new public works will be required. “Building a more resilient Los Angeles starts with addressing the needs of our most vulnerable populations and neighborhoods,” the authors contend. They continue:

Too often, those who are least equipped to handle the effects of catastrophic events end up suffering the most. And empowering our most vulnerable—children, immigrants, and lower-income residents, among others—is not just about emergency preparedness. It is about directly addressing those underlying daily stresses—such as poverty, financial security, and affordable housing—and ensuring that all Angelenos feel safe and secure in their daily lives. It also means bringing neighbors together to strengthen our collective resources and social bonds and innovating creative solutions along the way.

—Steve Dubb