LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — There is an untold story that jurors like Linda Young are unaware of as they enter the courthouse to perform their civic duties.
It is a story about those very walls that, by the state’s own assessment, could come crashing down in a strong earthquake.
The state calls it a Category 5 building, which means it is likely to partially collapse, and it’s risk to life is substantial.
“This means this is a building that even in a relatively likely earthquake does not have the structural integrity to stay up,” explains the U.S. Geological Survey’s Lucy Jones.
Jones is one of the state’s leading experts on earthquakes and a senior science adviser to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
“With these buildings, they are made of materials that are heavy enough that partial collapse kills people. It’s not complete rubble, completely on the ground, but it’s just about as bad as you can get,” she says. “All those pictures you see from Nepal, oh, that couldn’t happen to us, right? People trapped in downed buildings, that’s what we’re talking about here.”
CBS2/KCAL9 obtained state documents that conclude “nine corner columns … do not have adequate strength …” and “failure of these columns is deemed a potential life safety hazard.”
Jones confirmed a Category 5 building suggests a “probable loss of life” in a substantial earthquake. And the criminal courts building isn’t the only courthouse in California at risk of collapse — not by a long shot.
A few blocks away, the Stanley Mosk courthouse is on the list, along with courthouses in Van Nuys, Burbank, Glendale, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, East L.A., Torrance, Inglewood, Santa Monica and Santa Clarita. And that’s just the beginning.
Of the 45 courthouses in L.A. County, 35 are likely to partially collapse and put lives at substantial risk.
There are additionally five court houses in Orange County, seven in Riverside County, three in San Bernardino County and one in Ventura County. In California, 124 court houses, many sitting on top of or near earthquake faults, are likely to partially collapse in an earthquake.
“Partial collapse means literally walls falling on people, trapping them, killing them,” Jones said.
Garcetti says he had no idea the problem was this severe until CBS2/KCAL9 brought it to his attention.
“These buildings are dangerous. They should be fixed now,” Garcetti said.
Judge William Highberger is a member of advisory committees on court facilities for the State Judicial Council. He says the $65 million a year the state provides to maintain courthouses can barely cover broken elevators and leaky roofs.
“We live in a world of limits a degree of financial limits,” he said. “So if they wont give us enough money to fix elevators I don’t think they’re going to give us money to fix seismic problems. And that’s the Legislature and the governor’s choice.”
Structural engineer David Cocke, of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, says there are cost effective options. For example, strengthening the columns in the criminal courts building could go a long way toward preventing a collapse.
“Could you do those important things without having it cost 100’s of millions of dollars?” Paige asked. “Sure. Certainly,” Cocke said.
“They don’t need to bring them up to current code, they need to, again, improve the performance and therefore reduce the risk.”
Jones puts it this way: “There’s plenty between that Cadillac seismic resilience and killing people. Let’s find that place in between,” she urged.
As for retired Temple City bookkeeper and soon-to-be grandmother Linda Young, she says jurors like her deserve a safe place to fulfill their civic duties.
“They require us to serve and it should be a protected environment,” Young said.
“For them to risk their own lives when they are just producing the most basic responsibility of being a citizen? That’s wrong,” Garcetti echoed.
“[I would] tell the state put a plan together tomorrow. You can’t fix it overnight, but if you are just sitting on your hands you’re rolling the dice,” he said.
For a complete list of the 124 courthouses across the state that are likely to partially collapse in an earthquake, click here.