Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, March 23.
In an era when seemingly every government policy is supported or opposed along a blue-red divide, there’s one thing that Angelenos overwhelmingly agree on: Vulnerable L.A. buildings need to be reinforced against earthquakes.
A Suffolk University/Los Angeles Times poll found that more than 8 in 10 L.A. residents support the city’s 2015 retrofit law, the toughest earthquake safety law in the U.S. At that time, an estimated 15,000 buildings in the city were deemed to be especially vulnerable to seismic shaking.
The phone survey of 500 Angelenos from March 9-12 found just 9% opposed the law, and 8% were undecided. Approval remained strong across the political spectrum too, with 88% of Democrats, 77% of Republicans and 78% of independents voicing support.
That strong support bucks “decades of conventional wisdom that such a rule would be politically unpopular because of its cost,” my colleague Rong-Gong Lin II wrote this week.
The law targets two types of buildings found throughout L.A. and across California:
- so-called “soft story” buildings — often apartment buildings with carports under the first floor of housing
- non-ductile concrete buildings, which feature inadequate steel supports of brittle concrete frames
The failure of “soft-story” buildings, also known as “dingbats,” was on full display in the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
So how is retrofitting going in L.A.?
“Of more than 12,400 buildings within city limits that have weak first stories, more than 8,600 have been retrofitted,” Lin reports. “The price tag for those retrofits likely came to more than $1.3 billion, an analysis released in October said.”
Progress is slower on the more than 1,300 non-ductile structures identified across L.A. Right now, dozens of upgrades are said to be “in some phase of being designed, with several underway,” Lin reports.
He spoke with quake safety advocates who hope the support found by the survey will stir other cities into action.
“I’m really grateful that Los Angeles has moved on this,” seismologist Lucy Jones told him. “There are a lot of communities that are closer to the San Andreas [fault] that have not.”
Across the Golden State, many cities don’t have laws to require that vulnerable buildings be retrofit.
L.A., Santa Monica and West Hollywood are the only California cities with mandatory retrofitting rules for non-ductile concrete buildings. More cities have laws targeting soft-story buildings, but many communities on or near fault lines still don’t.
There has been some pushback from building owners, who cite the high cost of retrofitting. One lobbyist for apartment owners recently argued that listing vulnerable buildings could lead to rising insurance premiums.
But it may be that the potential costs are easier to swallow than the consequences of not retrofitting before the next major earthquake.
The survey came at a time when earthquake safety was fresh in many people’s minds. Last month’s powerful earthquakes in Turkey and Syria killed more than 52,000 people and destroyed many buildings with the same vulnerabilities seen in California.
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.
Los Angeles Police Department officials say they inadvertently released the names and photos of numerous undercover officers to a watchdog group that posted them to an online database. The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition said they obtained the photos and information through a public records request made by a civilian journalist and turned over by the department. Los Angeles Times
An hourlong special from The Times premieres tonight, examining the toll of gun violence in the wake of the Jan. 21 mass shooting in Monterey Park — and across several decades in Southern California. “After Monterey Park: The Impact of Gun Violence on Our Communities” is airing at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. on “L.A. Times Today” on Spectrum News 1. Los Angeles Times
Check out “The Times” podcast for essential news and more
These days, waking up to current events can be, well, daunting. If you’re seeking a more balanced news diet, “The Times” podcast is for you. Gustavo Arellano, along with a diverse set of reporters from the award-winning L.A. Times newsroom, delivers the most interesting stories from the Los Angeles Times every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
Nearly 60,000 workers across the California State University system’s 23 campuses have joined together to bargain for higher wages and better working conditions. Leaders from a coalition of seven unions say they’re tired of waiting on lawmakers and CSU to address their concerns and have floated the possibility of a strike. The Sacramento Bee
California is set to launch a shared equity home loan program for first-time homebuyers next week, which aims to provide $300 million worth of down payments. But the rollout is being complicated by falling home prices and rising mortgage rates. CalMatters
A recently introduced state bill would require all public high schools to provide free condoms to students and cover the cost of HPV vaccines for those under 18. The legislation from state Sen. Caroline Menjivar (D-Panorama City) seeks “to prevent and reduce unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.” Los Angeles Times
HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Here’s a new entry in this year’s wild weather events: a possible tornado that ripped the roof off a building in Montebello on Wednesday. Experts are working to determine if it was actually a tornado, or a weaker landspout. Los Angeles Times
Satellite photos reveal the scope of devastation in California communities that flooded during recent winter storms. Before-and-after images taken 10 days apart show how Pajaro and Portersville became inundated with muddy water as rivers overflowed. Los Angeles Times
If you’re considering installing rooftop solar panels, you might want to decide fast. State energy regulators’ rules for how much credit solar customers receive on utility bills are set to change, which is expected to reduce those credits. That’s led to a surge in business for solar installers as homeowners scramble to beat the April 14 deadline and avoid the newer rules. The San Diego Union-Tribune
The bounty of snow in SoCal mountains will allow some skiers and snowboarders to keep shredding the slopes into the summer. Officials at Mammoth Mountain announced they will continue operations into July. Big Bear Mountain has extended its season through April. Los Angeles Times
Graffiti artist and activist Spie One has spent decades making his mark (quite a few, actually) on Bay Area hip-hop culture. KQED traces his evolution as community activist, mentor and leader. KQED
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Today’s California landmark is from Liz Moore of San Francisco: the Lone Cypress overlooking Pebble Beach.
I moved to SF from New Jersey a year ago, and finally got to see the Lone Cypress. … The day was crisp and clear and the tree stood like a beacon over the sea. It was my first time seeing it — I’m in my 50s — and it made a lasting impression on me.
What are California’s essential landmarks? Fill out this form to send us your photos of a special spot in California — natural or human-made. Tell us why it’s interesting and what makes it a symbol of life in the Golden State. Please be sure to include only photos taken directly by you. Your submission could be featured in a future edition of the newsletter.
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