SF to undergo earthquake retrofitting

July 7, 2008 7:11:39 PM PDT
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom issued an executive directive regarding the seismic retrofitting of vulnerable buildings in the city.The first thing that might come to your mind is those un-reinforced brick buildings, but there is another type of construction that is much more prevalent. They're called soft story buildings. They're missing the support of a sheer wall, usually the front wall, which helps resist movement.

Instead, there are windows or a garage and apartments and homes are built on top with thousands of those wooden buildings located in San Francisco.

Dan Shapiro is a structural engineer. He says the scope of the problem is huge.

"Wherever I see buildings built in the 40's and 50's and before, I say these are vulnerable buildings an something probably needs to be done."

On Monday, Mayor Gavin Newsom announced plans to push property owners towards retrofitting. He held a news conference in a garage that has been seismically upgraded. We're told it cost the owner of the multi-unit apartment building about $150,000, but the Mayor says the average cost would be much less.

"Most of these soft story retrofits can be done for less than $6,000 and I know that's a lot of money, but the cost of not doing it is exponentially greater."

According to the Mayor, 17,000 soft story buildings were damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Eight years ago, the city began a study to determine the existing number at risk, and set priorities for fixing them.

Politics put the study on hold, according to Debra Walker, a member of the city's Building Inspection Commission

"There may be an unwillingness to take it on because if you don't talk about it, people don't think about it. I actually think it's time for people to think about it and for us to be taking action."

The Mayor blamed pressure from the building industry. He says that's a thing of the past. The study is now back on and he is hoping to persuade home owners to voluntarily retrofit.

The incentive for property owners to retrofit would be to move them to the front of the line at the permit process and to waive permit fees which would average about $1,000.

The city of Fremont requires the seismic upgrades and Berkeley is expected to do the same. San Francisco's mayor prefers to try incentives first and a mandate, if necessary, could come later.

Also, check out San Francisco's website for earthquake preparedness


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