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August Martinez Mayor's Message

Jul 31, 2015 09:30AM ● Published by Jennifer Neys

by Rob Schroder, Mayor of Martinez

On August 25 of last year, Mother Nature reminded us we live in earthquake country. A 6.1 magnitude earthquake, centered between Napa and Vallejo, caused major damage to homes and buildings. With earthquakes occurring so infrequently, and usually just as small shakers, it is easy to become complacent and slide back into the comfortable place of “not in my lifetime.”

Seismologists maintain the San Andreas Fault has a major event of magnitude 6 or greater every 20 to 30 years. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was a magnitude 7.2 and caused extensive damage throughout the Bay Area, including Martinez. Sixty-two people perished in that event, with many crushed by collapsing structures. Some of those lives could have been spared if old, unreinforced structures had been properly braced.

This is why, after many years of study, public comment, and debate, the City of Martinez adopted a mandatory seismic retrofit ordinance in 2009. The ordinance set out a stepped process for identifying buildings that would be required to retrofit by developing the engineering and construction documents and performing and completing construction.

An initial inventory of unreinforced masonry buildings (URM) was completed in 1989 after the Loma Prieta quake. A total of 60 URM buildings were identified, all of which were located in the downtown area. State law required the inventory to be sent to the Seismic Safety Commission, affected property owners be notified, and the city to adopt a mitigating ordinance. Cities and counties were allowed to adopt an ordinance that required mandatory retrofit, voluntary retrofit, or a combination of the two. Martinez adopted a voluntary retrofit ordinance in 1990.

After 19 years, less than 40% of the URM inventory had been retrofitted, and it was decided that the city make the retrofit requirement mandatory and the remaining buildings comply within six years. The ordinance required property owners to submit engineered retrofit drawings by the 5th year (August 2014), with construction completed and final inspection by August 15, 2015. That date is only two weeks away.

Throughout this entire process, there have been predictions that the required retrofitting would not be done because it wasn’t economically feasible for property owners. The city would then be red-tagging buildings, which would force businesses out and make downtown Martinez a ghost town. Just the opposite is happening.

If you have not been to downtown Martinez in the last few weeks, come down and see for yourself. The work on many buildings has been completed, with work progressing on many others. Buildings that have sat empty for many years are now not only being retrofitted, but completely upgraded and remodeled. Some properties have recently been sold, and the new owners are making substantial investments in them, bringing opportunities for new businesses and residents. Downtown is in transition and there is a sense of a kind of downtown renaissance.

There remain a small number of properties that have made little or no progress in making these improvements. The city will be working with these property owners to find solutions for their particular situations while holding fast to the requirements of the ordinance. Human life is too valuable to not make every single URM building as safe as possible for its occupants and the general public.

Rob Schroder, Mayor

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