It’s been nearly three decades since a 6.9 earthquake on the San Andreas Fault rocked Northern California, leaving portions of cities destroyed and 67 people dead.
The road to rebuilding has been a long one for Gilroy, where evidence of the destruction is still visible when driving through the downtown corridor.
Even 30 years later, the Gilroy City Council continues to try new ways to reinvigorate the city’s downtown and get the necessary construction completed on unreinforced masonry buildings that had been damaged in the quake.
Since the Loma Prieta earthquake, Oct. 17, 1989, a number of storefronts in Gilroy’s downtown remain vacant, in need of costly repairs. Many of them were designated as unsafe, unreinforced masonry buildings after the quake. The buildings were red-tagged, and tenants were forced to leave until repairs were completed.
During the 2018 election campaign, council candidates said they would be tough on property owners who had not updated their buildings to code or left the facades in dilapidated condition.
Some candidates, including council members Carol Marques, Dion Bracco and Peter Leroe-Muñoz, said they would even consider using eminent domain to get the buildings under city ownership so repairs could be completed.
City inspectors originally designated 42 buildings as unreinforced masonry buildings in need of extra support to be able to sustain the next big quake. Of these, eight remain.
Gilroy’s community engagement manager Rachelle Bedell said these eight buildings are currently going through remodeling and construction.
For some property owners in the downtown, the rebuilding process has been slow and frustrating. The city has wrestled with several ideas as a way to motivate owners to update their buildings, including heavy fines.
As of July the city had collected $69,000 in fines against property owners who did not make the required repairs for earthquake safety.
The city is taking a new approach with the remaining unreinforced masonry buildings, recognizing now that the property owners have approached the problem differently. Bedell said the city hopes to have new agreements with the remaining property owners by the end of December for completing repairs.
“Each property is unique, and the property owners have to choose the best approach for remediation of their buildings,” Bedell told the Dispatch. “Some moved quickly to attain re-occupancy, while others have sold their properties or are incorporating the required improvements in broader redevelopment projects.”