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    Breaking Posts Memos Showing 1990's LB City Hall Discussions Re Requiring High-Rise Sprinkler Retrofits

    (April 3, 2007, posted 12:15 p.m.) -- has learned that in response to a 1991 inquiry from an L.A. firm, LB's then-Building Superintendent Eugene Zeller sent then-Mayor Ernie Kell a memo on the subject of retrofitting existing high rise buildings with automatic fire protection sprinklers. The memo was cc'd to then-City Manager James C. Hankla.

    Mr. Zeller's March 27, 1991 memo stated in pertinent part:

    As you may recall, the Fire Marshal and I presented a proposal to City Council about two years ago which would require such a sprinkler retrofit. Almost simultaneously, State legislation was being considered which would have required that existing high-rise buildings be equipped with automatic fire sprinkler systems throughout the State. The legislation was passed but vetoed by the Governor at the request of the City of Los Angeles Fire Department who objected to certain provisions which were in conflict with their already existing retrofit requirements. It was understood that amended legislation would be introduced to overcome the Los Angeles objections.

    Because it seemed likely that the State would enact preemptive requirements, City Council acted to hold off on adopting local Long Beach regulations. As expected, new State legislation was introduced, but this time passage was unsuccessful. As a consequence, existing high rise buildings are not required to be retrofitted as a matter of State law. A number of cities have chosen to adopt such requirements, however.

    Over the last couple of years since this was discussed at the City Council level, I am not aware of any staff person nor Councilmember who has raised the concept of Long Beach adoption of sprinkler retrofit regulations. I stand ready to discuss this further with you if desired. has further learned that after a serious August 1999 fire at the landmark Cooper Arms building, City Hall's then-Risk Management Consultant sent a memo to City Hall's Risk Manager, titled "Proposed City High Rise Retrofit Ordinance."

    The October 25, 1999 memo stated in pertinent part:

    Economic justification of automatic sprinkler retrofit of high rises based on anticipated property insurance premium savings is not warranted. Most property insurance "rules of thumb" indicate that eight (8) to ten (10) years of property insurance savings must cumulate to realize the nominal cost of installing automatic sprinklers in a new high rise. For existing buildings that are retrofitted with automatic sprinklers, the payback period approximately doubles (i.e. fifteen (15) to twenty (20) years)...

    The proposed high-rise retrofit ordinance would impose a cost of at least $3 per square foot on Long Beach's existing high rise buildings for the retrofitting of automatic sprinklers. [Offers calculations, citing the cost of retrofitting City Hall as an example.]...

    Given the remaining life expectancies of most retrofit candidates, then, automatic sprinkler retrofit isn't justified by this reason alone.

    Nevertheless, automatic sprinklers are certainly an important, critical safety device in a high rise. In addition, the absence of automatic sprinklers during a fire might increase the probability of the building owners being sued in the fire's aftermath. Such lawsuits would increase the cost of the building owner's liability insurance, or, in the absence of adequate insurance, could cost the building owner a considerable amount in defense and indemnity payments. learned of the 1991 memo and accompanying materials in the course of preparing a follow-up story in the wake of the Galaxy (2999 E. Ocean Blvd.) high rise fire. requested and received the documents under the CA Public Records Act from the City of Long Beach.

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