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During his State of the City speech last week, Mayor Eric Garcetti set lofty goals for the city of Los Angeles, including the elimination of the city’s gross receipts tax and an earthquake rating system for buildings in the city.
From the Wallis Annenberg Building at the California Science Center, he said the city has partnered with Dr. Lucy Jones, of the U.S. Geological Survey, to create the rating system, which would be the first of its kind in the U.S.
“But we won’t stop with that game-changer,” Garcetti said. “My charge to Dr. Jones is to help us create plans to mandate that our older buildings are retrofitted, and to protect our water and communications infrastructure. Some critics say the cost of those upgrades may be high. But as we saw with Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, the cost of being unprepared is much higher.”
Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge, 4th District, said he supports a lot of the mayor’s efforts, and that Garcetti made a “tremendous” commitment to Los Angeles. However, he has reservations about the rating system proposal.
LaBonge is an outspoken proponent of preparedness, but said the system could unintentionally devalue some of Los Angeles’ structures. And a good earthquake rating will not guarantee survival, especially if the epicenter of the earthquake is near a structure, he said.
“You’re on the epicenter no matter if you’re in an ‘A’ building,” LaBonge added.
He said he is still doing his research on the proposal, and hopes to find a way to make the system work economically. LaBonge said the city council is working to determine the right requirements for Los Angeles and Southern California.
“Cause the earthquake doesn’t stop at the city limit,” he said.
In July 2013, LaBonge authored a motion that directed city administrative officer Miguel Santana to report on the feasibility of a bond program to retrofit wood-frame, soft-story residential buildings and non-ductile concrete buildings.
According to the motion, soft-story buildings built before 1978 can pose safety issues during an earthquake because their ground floors typically have perimeter walls that lack adequate strength, which can cause a building to “pancake.” Older concrete buildings can pose a hazard because they do not have enough steel reinforcement to hold columns in place, according to the motion.
According to Santana’s representative, the report is still being compiled, and there is no timeline for its completion. The office is still in the beginning stages of evaluating the city’s options, the representative said.
Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, 13th District, said he has not seen details of the earthquake rating system proposal, and that he would want to know more about the criteria involved in the grades and the people putting the program together.
“I think that it has to be approached very carefully, and it has to have great credibility,” he said.
O’Farrell said nothing is more important than living and working in structures that are as seismically safe as possible. He said Los Angeles has the strongest seismic requirements for new construction in the country.
In terms of the gross receipts tax, O’Farrell said the first of three consecutive years of gross receipts tax reductions would likely begin in 2016. He said Garcetti’s proposal will probably be met “positively” by his council colleagues.
“I think it will be well received,” O’Farrell said.
He said he hopes that the city can reduce its deficit significantly before taking a “major” action. In an ideal world, the city would get the deficit to zero and then proceed with reducing the tax, which has been “way too high for a long time anyway.”
Garcetti said the city is home to the “highest and most complicated” business tax of any Los Angeles County city.
“It’s a tax that taxes you even when you lose money — this chases new businesses away and pushes existing businesses to leave,” he said. “We must phase out the business tax entirely. Next week, I will introduce legislation as part of this year’s budget that will be our first down-payment toward this goal. Our plan will cut the top business tax rate over three years — the top rate that nearly half of businesses pay.”
Additionally, Garcetti discussed the creation of a combined 911 dispatch center for police and fire calls; a rail line to LAX; the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power not raising rates this year; the Great Streets Program; and the expedited construction of the San Diego (405) Freeway.
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