Deadline to retrofit just days away

MARTINEZ, Calif. – Recent visitors of the downtown will have noticed several storefronts advertising final sales and upcoming closures, most in response to a looming deadline – that of the earthquake retrofitting ordinance.

A city ordinance adopted in July 2009 mandated owners of unreinforced masonry (URM) buildings in Martinez to submit retrofit construction drawings to the City by July 15, 2012, with the deadline to retrofit all high-risk URM buildings set for July 2013.

Those deadlines passed with many property owners remaining non-compliant. Rather than commencing with enforcement measures, City Council opted to extend the deadlines, giving property owners an additional two years to comply.

Now with time running out on that extension, there are still some property owners who’ve remained non-compliant, but the city says it’ll stand firm on its Aug. 15, 2015, deadline.

“There are currently 16 properties that have not yet completed their retrofit,” City Public Works Director Dave Scola said in an email to the Tribune. “Many of these properties have started the work and are in various stages of construction. Others have submitted engineered drawings and applied for permits to start their work.”

Scola said buildings undergoing construction by Aug. 15 will be allowed to complete seismic retrofitting, but that some property owners may choose not to comply at all. With the cost to retrofit reaching into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, for some, retrofitting isn’t an option.

“A few may choose to demolish their buildings rather than do the retrofit work. I think two or three of the property owners are trying to sell their buildings,” Scola said, adding the City really won’t know for sure which buildings will be in violation of the ordinance until the deadline has passed.

“Those properties in violation of the ordinance on Aug. 16 will receive a notice of violation from our city attorney and the legal abatement process will be started,” Scola said.

City Manager Rob Braulik told the Tribune in a July interview that he felt the URM ordinance was a positive step for Martinez.

“The Napa quake (August 2014) is a good example why cities, especially cities like Martinez with its brick buildings, need to have that retrofitting work completed,” Braulik said.

“I actually went over to Napa about a month after the quake, as part of an emergency group in the county. You couldn’t walk in the damaged area. The block around the damaged area was fenced off where all the buildings were red-tagged. Huge bricks fell off those buildings, and whole sides of buildings came down, so those unreinforced buildings really present a health and safety issue,” he said.

Braulik echoed the sentiment that had the Napa quake hit during the day, as opposed to its 3:20 a.m. arrival, many more people could have been severely injured or killed.

“God forbid if a child was walking by and a building came down on top of them,” Braulik said, adding that building owners have had years, not months or days, to prepare for retrofitting.

Despite that fact, some business owners currently leasing URM buildings are still searching for alternative spaces in the downtown, while others have decided to close up shop for good. But Braulik reiterated the importance of retrofitting to not only the occupants of buildings, but to the overall wellness of the community.

“Retrofitting is necessary, and many buildings in Martinez have already been retrofitted,” Braulik said. “Many are in the process of being retrofitted as we speak, and that’s creating a stimulus for revitalization in this (the downtown) area of the city, which is great.”

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