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Welds Apart 

Who’ll pay for L.A.’s shaky skyscrapers?

Wednesday, Mar 24 1999

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Surprisingly for a project promising to display the latest technology in welded-steel connections, no one working on the SAC venture, which has been studying the question in great detail over the past four years, has anything to do with it. No one, that is, except Miller. "I was surprised to see him," says Hanson, who knows Miller from overseeing the SAC venture. "I was also surprised to see the person from Cassidy & Associates."

Why all the interest from Lincoln in these appropriation funds? George Soneff, a Santa Monica attorney currently suing Lincoln on behalf of a Westside building-owners group, is convinced that the retrofit project at Cal State San Bernardino is an obvious attempt by Lincoln to shift responsibility for their faulty welds to the hands of the federal government.

"Our lawsuit is the only way that Lincoln can be made to pay for its share of the problem," Soneff said in an interview.

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Soneff’s suit alleges that during the 30 years Lincoln Electric marketed E70T-4, it claimed certain durability characteristics even though the company "had no reasonable grounds for believing that they were true." He contends that "This type of welded construction didn’t happen by accident, but rather it happened as a product of years of deceptive advertising and deceptive sales techniques by Lincoln."

Soneff has an uphill climb ahead of him as he tries to hold Lincoln accountable for E70T-4. Their counsel is Jones Day Reavis & Pogue, the firm that represented R.J. Reynolds in the Great American Tobacco Wars. And that’s not all. Remember Robin Shepherd, the SAC earthquake-damage expert, who has a final editing pen in recommendations that go to FEMA and to legislators, who pontificated the quote about L.A.’s probable "collapse"? Well, Lincoln has hired Shepherd as an expert witness to the tune of $200 an hour.

When Soneff deposed him in early February, Shepherd said he had no opinion about whether there were premature failures in steel-frame welds as a result of the Northridge quake. Soneff then asked him about his alarming quote from two years ago, to which Shepherd replied, "I might point out it says, ‘suggests that collapse . . . ’ It doesn’t say it will happen."

So what about the welds? If the tactics surrounding this current quivering mishap surprise anyone, they shouldn’t. Los Angeles, described by our City Council as "the most seismically active zone in the country," could also stand a chance as the most seismically inept. With the scores of aging concrete and masonry brick buildings in the Southland that have never been retrofitted, or even inspected, it’s a wonder that steel structures are getting any attention at all.

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