11 businesses join project to reinforce downtown buildings

Gilroy
– A growing number of people who own potentially dangerous
buildings in downtown Gilroy are signing up for a city-funded
program to assess unreinforced masonry structures, the first step
in upgrading buildings that could crumble and kill during an
earthquake.
Gilroy – A growing number of people who own potentially dangerous buildings in downtown Gilroy are signing up for a city-funded program to assess unreinforced masonry structures, the first step in upgrading buildings that could crumble and kill during an earthquake.

City Council Monday night is expected to approve the use of a $100,000 in leftover federal grant money to undertake engineering studies of unreinforced masonry buildings in the downtown area. Six new property owners have signed up to participate in the program since City Council first took up the matter in mid-January. The new participants bring the total number of unreinforced masonry buildings under review to 11 out of 25.

“The report will tell them what’s wrong with their building and what needs to be corrected,” said John Greenhut, the city’s deputy community development director. “And then of course at that time, they’ll have to make a business decision about what to do.”

Roughly $22,000 of the grant money remains to finance studies for the remaining building owners, according to city projections.

“We’ve been telling people this is an opportunity you should not miss,” said Mayor Al Pinheiro, who has personally called property owners to get them to participate.

“There’s no reason why anybody shouldn’t be on this list,” he said. “Here’s an opportunity to get information on their building. I think the number one thing of importance is the safety issue – these buildings are not safe and they need to be retrofitted or knocked down.”

Nothing can be done to force building owners to conduct the study. An ordinance written in 1989 makes safety assessments of unreinforced masonry buildings “purely voluntary.” The city can force repairs by withholding a building permit when an owner seeks to “intensify” uses, such as when an office gets converted to a restaurant or a similar upgrade.

State law only allows the city to condemn a structure that poses an obvious danger – such as when a roof is caving in or walls are buckling. A new state law that took effect Jan. 1 introduced one penalty – a $250 citation for owners of unreinforced buildings who do not post warning signs.

The city’s efforts to induce cooperation in the last two years include waiving fees in the downtown area for construction or renovation projects. The free engineering study is another incentive.

For the moment, Pinheiro said he plans on calling the remaining property owners to get everyone to participate. If the remaining owners resist, he said City Council would consider a compliance deadline that would allow a more hard-line approach.

Pinheiro added: “Our number one priority is working with landlords so we don’t have to go that route.”

To sign up for the few remaining spots in the program, call John Greenhut at 846-0413.

Who:

City Council

What:

Vote to use $100,000 in grant money to assess potentially dangerous downtown buildings

When:

Monday, March 21, 7pm

Where:

City Hall, 7351 Rosanna St.

Source: City of Gilroy

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