Preparing to be prepared

So far only two Jerusalem buildings are taking part in the government’s earthquake-proofing project. But the city promises to make the process easier.

Ramat Beit Hakerem earthquake 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ramat Beit Hakerem earthquake 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
On July 11, 1927, an earthquake measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale rocked Jerusalem. The quake, whose epicenter was near the Damiya (Adam) Bridge over the Jordan River, caused serious damage in the city and left hundreds dead.
Ninety years earlier, in January 1837, a quake of similar intensity hit Safed, nearly destroying the town.
Israel, which sits atop one of the world’s major fault lines – the Jordan Valley rift – has a long history of killer earthquakes, with major quakes occurring approximately every century.
And if there is one sure axiom for predicting future quakes, it is that wherever there have been earthquakes, there will be more earthquakes.
Since most casualties and property loss during a quake are the result of structural damage, the State of Israel instituted mandatory regulations for antiseismic building design beginning in 1965. The original regulations conformed to the French standard. In light of advances in construction engineering and earthquake-resistant design, these regulations were revised in 1980 and again in 1991 to conform to the California standard, one of the most stringent in the world.
Nevertheless, thousands of structures throughout the country built before 1980 are in danger of damage or collapse when the next “big one” strikes.
This is especially true for older cities like Jerusalem.
The cost of the government reinforcing older structures throughout the country would be prohibitive.
So the government came up with what it views as the win-win solution. The government concentrates on reinforcing public buildings while creating incentives for private-sector initiatives to reinforce private residential buildings.
In April 2005, the government decided on a plan to do this, called Tama 38 (the Hebrew acronym for National Master Plan 38).
The aim of Tama 38 is to create incentives for reinforcing residential structures that do not meet the current regulations for earthquake resistance. Buildings built before January 1, 1980, that present an engineer’s report stating this are eligible for the plan.
The main incentive for private initiative to reinforce these structures is granting increased building rights that enable financing of the project.
Residents of a building give a developer the right to build an additional story on the roof, which can be divided into apartments and sold. In exchange, the developer reinforces the building against earthquakes, upgrades infrastructure (water, sewage, electricity, etc.) and common areas, builds (where feasible) an addition to the existing apartments (a security room or mamad), installs an elevator and adds parking. The residents receive the upgrading and additional space at no cost to them; the cost is covered by the money the developer makes from selling the added apartments.
In the six years since the plan was approved, it has not generated the hoped-for response. Only a few dozen buildings have taken part – mainly in the greater Tel Aviv area, where real-estate prices are high. In the periphery, the results have been almost nil; likewise in Jerusalem.
In the capital, there have been 24 requests to build in the framework of Tama 38. Of these, half were discussed by the municipal planning and building committee and eight were approved.
Only two buildings have started construction – one on Ein Gedi Street and the other on Kovshei Katamon Street.
The government realized that the plan was not working as well as envisioned. In January 2011, the government decided to make Tama more economically feasible. The original Tama 38 allowed for the addition of one story to existing buildings. The amended plan permits up to one and a half stories in stronger socioeconomic areas – such as the greater Tel Aviv area – and up to two and a half stories in weaker areas like Jerusalem.
The plan also enables localities to tweak Tama to fit their needs. In Jerusalem, the municipality came up with its version – Tama 10038 – which the municipal planning and building committee approved in mid-2010 and sent to the Interior Ministry’s regional planning and building committee for approval. The regional committee held its first public meeting on Tama 10038 on December 11. Another meeting is scheduled for this month. If the plan is approved by the regional committee, it will be publicized within a few weeks of approval and be operational shortly afterward.
“The city of Jerusalem really needs Tama 10038,” says Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur. “Many buildings, especially in Jerusalem’s historic neighborhoods, do not meet the code. We have a public and moral duty to have our buildings reinforced because there will be a major earthquake.
I am optimistic that in not more than three months, Tama 10038 will be up and running. A lot of people are waiting for it.”
TAMA 10038 divides the city into 18 historic neighborhoods and 15 outside the historic areas. In the historic neighborhoods, up to one and a half stories can be added to buildings (where feasible).
In neighborhoods outside the historic areas, up to two and a half stories can be added – provided that the building has at least 16 units. Building additions can be up to 25 square meters or two rooms, of which one must be a security room. If only one room is added, it must be a security room. The minimum area for a security room is 9 sq.m.
Jerusalem residents are also exempt from paying the municipal improvement fee (hetel hashbaha) for building additions to existing apartments made in the framework of Tama 10038. This fee can be up to 50 percent of the added value of the addition.
And the requirement for a minimum space between the building and the property line can be eased, thus enabling some buildings to make additions (security rooms) almost up to the property line.
The plan also stipulates that for each new apartment added, the developer must provide one parking space – two, if the apartment is more than 90 sq. m.
Israel being the cantankerous country it is, the plan also takes into account that it could be problematic to get 100% of the residents to agree to Tama. To move ahead with the plan, only 66% of the residents must agree. Those who object can present their case to the Justice Ministry’s inspector for condominium apartments.
The inspector, a judge, decides whether objections are justified, and if not, the plan can proceed over their objections.
“Tama 10038 clearly delineates the parameters of the historic city, which includes the ancient and the old historic modern – buildings from the late Turkish period and the British Mandate,” explains Tsur. “Every one of these areas will be given special treatment. This will be a special process with neighborhood involvement.”
“Conditions in our historic neighborhoods do not permit additions of two and a half stories,” she continues.
“These neighborhoods need a more modest version of Tama; otherwise we will lose our historic heritage.”
“Jerusalem is not Ramat Gan,” says Shmuel Mahalla, deputy director of the municipal division of public building and the man spearheading Tama in the city.
“Each neighborhood is different with different needs. The new plan is based on sensitivity to Jerusalem as a historic city. On one hand, it is hard to add building rights in the historic city. But on the other, apartment prices in these areas are higher. So it will still be a good deal for developers.”
Even with the new incentives, a number of sticking points remain. One of the biggest is the parking issue.
“For four years, I screamed that Tama 38 was economically unfeasible if we could only add one story to the building,” says Shmuel Levi, head of the Building and Infrastructure Contractors Organization in Jerusalem and Environs. “Now that we can build up more and Tama is economically doable, the parking problem is holding things up.”
“In most buildings, the builder has utilized the maximum area allowed,” says Danny Shalom of Bayit Mehuzak, a company specializing in reinforcing buildings.
Shalom and his partner David Ishay are the developers and lawyers currently implementing Tama 38 on Ein Gedi Street in Talpiot.
“Today, many buildings in need of Tama can’t proceed because there was not enough area left to add parking,” he says.
“It is not logical to provide two spots for new apartments when in many cases the old ones do not even have one,” Levi adds. “We have asked the municipality to go down to one spot for all additional new apartments.
The city has to take a wider view. Instead of looking at each building individually, maybe it should look at neighborhoods and then the solution could be community parking lots. At the end of the day, it is preferable to save lives and have no parking than to have orderly parking and dead and injured [residents].”
SOME RESIDENTS of the historic areas object to being limited to only one and a half stories, claiming Tama will still not be economically feasible in their neighborhoods.
The head of the Bukharan/Geula Community Administration, Rabbi Yaakov Fertig, made an impassioned plea at the regional committee meeting late last year for upping additions to two and a half stories in his area.
“We have 50,000 people in our neighborhood,” he said. “I am afraid that we in the historic areas will end up having to pay to be protected against earthquakes. Our danger is great. I am not against preservation, but to we have to act. Adding two and a half stories will not damage our buildings. I don’t want the real danger of thousands dead to be ignored because of preservation.”
This plea touched on another unresolved issue – that of buildings for preservation. At a meeting of the municipal urban planning committee on December 7 engineer Amatzia Aharonson pointed out that buildings marked for 100% preservation could not have additions.
“These may be among the first damaged in a quake. They need to be reinforced,” he said. “We need to find economically feasible ways to do so without added building. Maybe the public coffers will have to finance this.”
Another problem is that of project financing.
“Until recently, banks would not give loans for Tama 38 because the developer is not the owner of the property and cannot use it as collateral,” notes Levi. “Only now are some banks beginning [to do so]. So the developer needs to have a lot of cash on hand.”
The bureaucracy of getting started has been daunting for many. But the city is promising to expedite the process once Tama 10038 gets final approval and the rules are clear.
“I want to implement Tama in my building, but since April I have not been able to get information from the municipality as to what my rights are, and the developer tells me that until all the rights are clarified, he doesn’t want to prepare a plan,” says a Rehavia resident. “I think the municipality is stalling because Tama, unlike regular building additions, doesn’t include paying the improvement fee.”
But Benny Kosman, who is heading efforts for additions to his building on Shahal Street in Givat Mordechai, was told by the municipality that he could no longer get a permit for these additions except through Tama.
“We have been trying for more than 10 years to add to our apartments,” Kosman says. “In March, we were told we could deposit a plan. But now, we have to do it in the framework of Tama 38. Our building was built in the mid-1970s. We have nine stories and 32 apartments of 60 sq.m. I have three small children. Many of the residents are young, growing families. We need more space. But the time the city takes to approve additions is long and drawn out.
And we still don’t know if we will be able to do Tama for free or [if] it will cost us.”
Kosman is scheduled to meet with municipal officials within the next week or two to clarify options.
Yossi Regev, head of the residents’ committee of the Ein Gedi building that has started to build under Tama, recalls dealing with what he terms “bureaucratic idiocy.”
“We brought our plan to a certain bureaucrat in the city. She looked it over and told us we needed to make the roof railings higher. We did that and went back. Then she told us we needed to correct something else. This kept going on. Finally, in February 2011, we decided we were going to finish with the city. We sat with this bureaucrat and asked for a complete and final list of all changes. Then, we sat with Shmuel Mahalla and asked him to go over the changes and sign that no more would be required. He did it, and then things really moved forward. Mahalla was super professional and knows the subject and its problems. When he said ‘no,’ it was for a very good reason.”
Nevertheless, there is optimism about the prospects for Tama 10038.
“It has taken a long time, but I feel things are moving. There is now a real awareness and apprehension on the part of the public.
By this time next year, there may be 1,000 requests in the pipeline in Jerusalem,” Levi concludes.