By Beige Luciano-Adams
Although Santa Monica spans only 8.3 square miles, this is a city that tends to go big: world-class sunsets over the Pacific, astronomical housing prices, strict environmental standards and, coming soon, a massive citywide seismic retrofit program.
City leaders are considering a law that would require some 2,000 “potentially vulnerable” buildings to undergo earthquake safety testing and upgrades, the majority of them “soft story” structures — i.e. those ubiquitously SoCal apartment buildings that hang over carports, like the kind that infamously collapsed during the Northridge quake.
Better safe than sorry, surely, but the question of who’ll foot the bill is soon to take center stage. As it stands now, the city would pay to get the program rolling but the primary financial burden falls to building owners. How much of those costs landlords will be able to pass through to rent control tenants remains unclear.
Los Angeles and San Francisco have approved measures that allow as much as half of seismic retrofit costs to trickle down to tenants via incremental rent increases, including buildings subject to rent control.
Santa Monica city spokesperson Constance Farrell said the Rent Control Board will consider what other cities have done and later decide what (if any) cost burden protected tenants will bear.
“Our rent control office is analyzing the list of properties to understand impacts on rent-controlled units, including how many of the 2,000 are rent-controlled,” explains Farrell. That analysis, she said, will go before the rent control board at a future public meeting.
Lead times to complete retrofits will vary from two years for brick buildings to 10 for concrete. The city estimates costs for a non-complex, six-story wood building would range from $30,000 to $60,000 ($5,000 to $10,000 per unit) — but L.A. and San Francisco have put typical soft-story retrofit costs significantly higher, at $60,000 to $130,000 per building, a range the city says property owners can expect to see in Santa Monica. Some local financing assistance will be available, according to a staff report.
In the meantime, the city is looking to update protections for tenants impacted by required seismic safety upgrades — including asbestos abatement and temporary relocation assistance, both at the property owner’s expense.
In short: A lot of buildings, a lot of unknowns.
Find a spreadsheet listing potentially impacted addresses at smgov.net.
The Making of a Trump Man at Samohi
“The least-popular kid at Santa Monica High School.”
That’s how “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah described White House senior advisor Stephen Miller, who creeped out conservatives and liberals alike with this ominous defense of President Trump’s court-blocked refugee ban: “Our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Miller attended ultra-progressive Samohi in the early 2000s and earned a reputation as “the student body’s best-known and least-liked conservative activist,” fighting a lonely battle against political correctness, student access to birth control, the campus LGBT club and Spanish-language announcements.
“This guy is 17 years old, and it’s like listening to someone who’s 70 years old — in the 1930s,” school board member Oscar de la Torre told the Times.
‘California Values’ and Betsy DeVos
State Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) didn’t mince words following the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education, the first White House cabinet nomination in history to require a tie-breaking vote from the Veep:
“As a billionaire with no personal or professional background in public education and an advocate for private school vouchers, she is startlingly unqualified to lead our nation’s public schools,” reads a statement by Allen, formerly president of the Santa Monica – Malibu Unified School District Board of Education.
SMMUSD Supt. Ben Drati was more circumspect, acknowledging public concern over the appointment while offering the hope “that she will quickly embrace and gain a better understanding of our extremely important education system.”
Drati said we’re lucky to live in California, “where education continues to be a top priority.” Allen suggested finding common ground with the federal government where possible, but left on a fighting note: “Where we must preserve our California values, we will.”
Unions Look for Another Win
One of the few remaining bastions of economic stability for working families and for some the only viable entrée into the middle class, labor unions have been in steady decline over recent decades and are under outright assault in some states. Considering the political climate, small gains count bigtime for unions.
In a Feb. 6 letter, the Santa Monica Democratic Club gently reminded Providence St. John’s Health Center that hospital frontline employees voting this week on whether to join the SEIU-United Healthcare Workers enjoy federal protections against “intimidation, threats and other coercive pressures.”
The letter came days after an announcement by UNITE HERE Local 11 that three workers fired by the Shore Hotel after leading a drive to unionize prevailed in their complaint to the National Labor Relations Board. The hotel has agreed to pay more than $98,000 in back and front pay and will “prominently display” the settlement.