MARTINEZ -- In the wake of Sunday morning's earthquake and the damage it did in downtown Napa, the Martinez mayor is calling on owners of unreinforced masonry buildings in his city to make their properties earthquake-safe, or to at least get their plans to City Hall -- immediately.
After Sunday's magnitude-6.0 earthquake centered near Napa, Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder said Wednesday the city sent registered letters to commercial building owners who are out of compliance with the city's earthquake standards for unreinforced masonry buildings. These include structures made of brick, stone, concrete block, adobe and clay; most are in the downtown.
Martinez officials identified 60 commercial buildings that need earthquake retrofitting, and their owners had until Aug. 15 to submit plans to the city for making their masonry earthquake safe, Schroder said. There are nine property owners who have ignored the city's directive to get their buildings retrofitted as required by law, he said.
"Our downtown buildings are quaint, but they are also old, and we need to make certain that a significant earthquake won't injure employees and residents in the downtown," said Schroder. "People's lives are at stake, and these building owners need to step up and do the work necessary to prepare for the next big earthquake."
The city passed an ordinance in 2009 requiring buildings be brought up to earthquake safety standards.
Schroder said 37 of those 60 commercial buildings have had retrofitting completed. One other is close to completion, five buildings have been issued permits to start work, plans have been submitted for two, and owners of six more have engaged engineers, with plans being developed but not yet submitted.
All identified buildings must have the work done by Aug. 15, 2015. If property owners don't comply by next year, the city's last recourse is to force tenants out of a building, board it up, red-tag it and eventually give owners the choice of retrofitting or demolishing the building, said Martinez Public Works Director Dave Scola.
"There are some people who have totally not gotten on board or given us any indication that they are planning to or are working on this -- some are causing concern," he said.
Patty Telfer-Hector, who manages business properties for McMahon-Telfer Properties, which has one of the listed noncompliant buildings, said her firm has hired a structural engineer, and the city should get its plans by the end of the month. It has taken a while, she said, and it is expensive, but they plan to meet the deadline.
The city has tried to work with property owners, giving them a break on the building permit fee and trying to connect them with banks for loans. At one point, the city considered a nonprofit economic development corporation to use public and private money for loans, but that fell through; instead, the city created an economic development staff position, Schroder said.
One out-of-compliance building is at 822 Escobar St., owned by Larry Lippow of Lippow Development Co. The building is empty and will not be rented until earthquake retrofit work is done, Lippow said. And while he understands the city's position, retrofitting a building is expensive.
"It's very challenging to incur the cost of retrofitting buildings and get a reasonable return on investment considering the depressed rental market in Martinez," he said. "From a property owner's perspective, it needs to make economic sense."
Schroder said he understands the economics but also that it's a safety issue, and the Napa quake was a stark reminder.
"We have a real responsibility here," he said. "The most important thing, in my mind, for local government is to provide safety and security to residents."
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617.
The following buildings and their owners were cited in a letter this week from the city and told to move quickly with retrofit work:
Source: City of Martinez