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March 8, 2013

SF’s Seismic Retrofit Legislation on the Move

The Mandatory Seismic Retrofit Program legislation is due for its first hearing on Monday, March 18th before the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee. Based on conversations I’ve had with various clients, friends, and colleagues, it seems like many people are a bit unclear about the details.

I’ve reviewed the legislation and also have spoken to Patrick Otellini, the Director for Earthquake Safety in the Mayor’s Office, so I thought I would share the information with you as it currently stands.

The proposed legislation, authored by Mayor Lee and six Board of Supervisors, adds a new chapter to the San Francisco Building Code that would require mandatory seismic retrofitting of existing wood-frame buildings which were built before January 1, 1978, have three or more stories—the first of which is a “soft” story—and contain five or more dwelling units.

Soft-story buildings are those that have a first, or ground-floor, level with either garage space or commercial businesses/storefronts. Soft-story buildings were responsible for 7,700 of the 16,000 housing units rendered uninhabitable by the Loma Prieta earthquake. And it’s estimated that soft-story residential buildings will be responsible for 66 percent of the uninhabitable housing following a seismic event on the Hayward fault.

Otellini estimates that there are approximately 2,800 buildings that would require retrofitting under the legislation. These buildings are most notably located in the Mission, Western Addition, Richmond, North Beach and Marina neighborhoods, according to the San Francisco Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety (CAPSS). The CAPSS study’s recommendations is the basis for the legislation.

The legislation has “compliance tiers” that guide how quickly certain properties need to complete seismic upgrade work. For example, Tier 1 properties are those that have senior centers or other care facilities on their ground floors. Tier 2 will include buildings containing 15 or more dwelling units, and after that will come buildings that have some sort of commercial/retail occupancy on their first story, as well as buildings that are in mapped liquefaction or landslide zones. The latter is the most complicated property type, as the engineering involved for dealing with liquefaction/landslide zones is more complex.

How does the city expect building owners to pay for this mandatory work? That’s not entirely clear as of yet. The legislation states that the city intends to consider the creation of an optional special tax financing program, which would be a combination of bonds issued by the city and special taxes paid by the building owner.

Another option in the works, according to Patrick Otellini, is for banks to provide financing to the building owners. Otellini was meeting with a group of lender representatives this week to gauge interest for this scenario. He mentioned the possibility of an owner taking out a loan for, say $100,000 (an average cost for this seismic work).

Assuming the Land Use Committee approves the legislation on Monday, March 18th, the item will then be heard in front of the full Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, March 26th, with Tuesday April 2nd being the final reading before the Board. Mayor Lee then has ten days to sign the legislation if the Board passes it, and it would then take effect 30 days after Mayor Lee signs it.

Of course, the legislation could go through many revisions between now and then, particularly after public opinion is heard.

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