Pasadena City Council Approves Soft Story Retrofit Ordinance

Posted March 14, 2019, under Blog

Pasadena is about to become a much safer place to live.

The city counsel recently passed a new soft story retrofit ordinance law which will mandate the retrofit of older, wood-frame residential buildings that were built between the ‘20s and ‘70s.

While originally given 5 years to complete the soft story retrofits, the Pasadena city council extended the mandate to 7 years in an effort to ease the burden of time and costs to the affected building owners.

“We should do this now,” Council member John Kennedy said during the town meeting. “It’s the moral, legal and right thing to do.” Adding that “the marketplace will dictate the costs of such projects.”

The ordinance will extend to all wood-frame or partially wood-frame multi-unit residential buildings that have four or more units in each structure. These properties must be two or more stories, with an open ground floor for parking or similar open spaces.

In Pasadena, there are roughly 472 wood-framed soft story structures and approximately 4,500 units will be affected.

Pasadena is following in the footsteps of jurisdictions like Los Angeles, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, and San Francisco in requiring the retrofit of vulnerable soft story structures.

“The overarching goal of the proposed ordinance is to increase the safety of the City’s residential building inventory,” the report stated.

“In addition to safety considerations, development of the proposed regulations also considered the cost and timing, of the retrofits, possible tenant displacement during the repairs, loss of parking spaces or other deviations from zoning standards resulting from the retrofit, and financial assistance to property owners.”

While the cost of retrofitting these buildings will vary from structure to structure, in other counties throughout California, retrofit costs run around $5,000 to $15,000 per unit and $40,000 to $160,000 per building.

Retrofitting these vulnerable soft story structures is extremely important in keeping residents safe during an earthquake and reducing the damage and destruction that can be incurred during a sizable temblor.

Damage reports from several recent earthquakes noted that, in many cases, almost half the buildings that collapsed or were severely damaged during the quake were soft-story structures.

The primary reason for soft-story failure is the building’s inability to withstand the side-to-side push that can come from an earthquake. Once the weaker first floor destabilizes, the remaining floors will start to collapse.

Ultimately, the purpose of retrofitting for earthquakes is to strengthen the structure so it can withstand lateral movement and maintain its structural integrity.

If you own a soft-story structure that hasn’t been retrofitted, we’ll inspect your property and come up with a plan to make it earthquake ready.

Julian De La Torre, expert in Los Angeles foundation repair, house leveling & foundation inspection (Los Angeles) and founder of Julian Construction ( in Los Angeles, has inspected over 15,000 structures, working with engineering firms & local departments of building & safety. The company has done more home foundation repair and soft story retrofit (Los Angeles) than any other company in the area over the last five years.

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