blog home Dangerous Property Conditions Could Santa Barbara Soon See Worse Earthquakes?  

By Renee Nordstrand on January 7, 2020

aerial view of beach, shoreline, and ocean

In February 2017, a research team including professionals from U.C. Riverside announced that the Ventura-Pitas Point fault is likely more powerful than anyone had previously suspected. The fault, which lies under the City of Ventura and runs offshore, coming up beneath the cities of Santa Barbara and Goleta, appears to be shallower than researchers once thought, which could lead to more violent shaking in the event of an earthquake.

“Originally, researchers assumed the fault was planar and steeply dipping, like a sheet of plywood positioned against a house, to a depth of about 13 miles. But a more recent study, published in 2014, suggested the fault had a ‘ramp-flat geometry,’ with a flat section between two tilting sections, similar to a portion of a staircase.” Researcher used a simulation to measure how powerful the shaking motion would be with this new model of the fault, and the results show danger.

Are More Earthquakes Coming?

The Ventura-Pitas Point fault, which had its last “big one” over 800 years ago, is believed to be capable of generating an 8.0 magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale. Each whole number increase translates to about 10 times the measured amplitude and 31 the amount of energy as the number before it. In other words, an 8.0 on the Richter scale would involve 10 times as much shaking and 31 times as much power as a 7.0. Because the Ventura fault line goes under the Santa Barbara Channel, the resulting tsunami would likely affect Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Santa Monica.

The largest and most famous fault in California, the San Andreas fault, runs along the meeting-place of the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate, though many smaller fault lines exist. Though popular wisdom holds that one earthquake will “release” the pent-up tectonic energy and make other quakes less likely, this is only half true. Some quakes destabilize nearby faults, depending on the direction of the fault and the direction of the shock waves. We are already seeing some seismic activity in Santa Barbara – will this trigger “the big one?”

In April 2018, a 5.3 earthquake on the south side of Santa Cruz Island shook Santa Barbara County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, but there were no reports of damage. It was felt as far away as Orange County. Even more alarming, only about four months ago in July 2019, there was a 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Ridgecrest – coming from the Garlock fault, which, according to scientists, hasn’t moved at all in modern historical record.

“This is surprising, because we’ve never seen the Garlock fault do anything. Here, all of a sudden, it changed its behavior,” said Zachary Ross, assistant professor of geophysics at Caltech. “We don’t know what it means.”

Does California Have Building Codes to Withstand “the Big One”?

All we know for certain is that California is a hotspot for earthquakes, and the government has tried to act accordingly. All jurisdictions allow “earthquake retrofitting,” and some require it in buildings constructed before 1981, before strict structural design standards were adopted by the state. Building codes require that buildings be able to withstand both vertical and horizontal forces – vertical for gravity and load-bearing, and horizontal for the lateral shaking of wind and quakes. Specific regulations were put in place for schools (after the 1933 Long Beach quake) and hospitals (after the 1971 San Fernando quake).

The Northridge quake in 1994 exposed yet another structural weakness in many older buildings, commonly called a “soft story.” These are typically found in businesses with wall openings on the ground floor, such as storefront windows, or parking lots under the first floor. Los Angeles later instituted a mandatory retrofit program for the “most vulnerable buildings,” but there are still at least 4,500 in L.A. County alone that still need work.

Though Santa Barbara doesn’t have as many skyscrapers, there are almost certainly buildings that would not survive another quake. So who is responsible for the inhabitants’ safety?

What Happens If a Building Is Not Up to Code and Collapses in a Quake?

The property owner is responsible for complying with existing building codes and retrofitting anything that the state has deemed unsafe, but individual municipalities can decide who pays for the repairs. In San Francisco, landlords are permitted to pass the cost to tenants over 20 years. Los Angeles has passed legislation that requires the landlord to pay half. What if a landlord neglects repairs altogether, and his tenants are injured in an earthquake?

Negligence is a legal standard, often trotted out for personal injury lawsuits. It is a reasonable and prudent standard, which asks people to be careful in whatever they do to avoid causing foreseeable harm to others. If there is a spill in a supermarket aisle, clean it up. Don’t speed or drive distracted. Keep your dog leashed and under control. Since we live in California, make sure your building is earthquake-safe. Otherwise, you may be liable to anyone who was injured.

NordstrandBlack PC has experience helping victims of natural disasters work with their insurance companies to find compensation. A good attorney can make a huge difference after a traumatic event, even one that seems to be out of everyone’s control.

Our office is located at 33 W Mission Street. For over 29 years, we have provided strong legal advocacy for people in Oxnard, Camarillo, Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Goleta, Isla Vista, Santa Maria, Vandenberg, Santa Ynez, Solvang, and all of California. Call (805) 962-2022 to set up a free consultation.


ScienceDaily: Ventura fault could cause stronger shaking, new research finds

Star Advertiser: California fault capable of 8.0-magnitude earthquake shows unprecedented recent movement, study finds

Building in California: Earthquake Retrofitting