For Santa Barbara County, earthquake preparedness is just one part of routine maintenance.

The most common structural maintenance for an “at risk” building is a retrofit. Retrofitting entails modifying the existing structure to bring it up to current codes without structurally rebuilding it. Most retrofits are undertaken when the purpose of a building changes and the building must conform to different codes, rather than in response to a natural crisis such as an earthquake. For example, if a church turned into an office building, an entirely different set of standards could apply.

Robert Ooley, a county architect, said the county conducts annual inspections to make sure that buildings meet county standards, which are updated often.

“We do an annual check of over 500 buildings, checking … on shifting, settling, wear on roof, wear on floor, etc,” he said.

Ooley said all of the buildings passed the most recent inspection.

The cost and nature of retrofitting a building could be difficult to determine, Ooley said. He described a best-case scenario as a 25-year-old wooden house that is not anchored to its concrete foundation. In such a case, a retrofit would necessitate drilling under the house and bolting the walls to the foundation. Such a retrofit would cost between $2,500 and $5,000.

In contrast, a worst-case scenario might involve an unreinforced masonry structure. A typical case would be a brick building without interior metal structural support, like the offices of The Santa Barbara Independent. In such a case, retrofitting would entail rigid metal “skeleton” frames being inserted into the walls, either by drilling or stripping the walls, and replacing the front. A worst-case scenario building could cost between $200,000 and $300,000 to retrofit. Ooley said the Abercrombie & Fitch store on State Street was retrofitted two years ago because it was an unreinforced masonry structure.

The historic Acorn Building in Paso Robles, whose falling debris killed two women in the Dec. 22 San Simeon quake, was also an unreinforced masonry structure. State law does not require that unreinforced masonry buildings be retrofitted.

Ooley said there is difficulty in retrofitting historic buildings, such as the Baxter House on Chapala Street downtown.

“If you were to retrofit that building, you would lose the historic character,” he said.
– Caitlin Adams