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The City of Alameda Soft-Story Ordinance

Realizing that soft-story buildings could affect the city of Alameda, Alameda building officials conducted a walk-through of the city and determined approximately 300 buildings as possible soft-story buildings. To address this hazard, in March of 2009 Alameda passed its soft-story ordinance, using the city of Berkeley’s soft-story ordinance as a model. The ordinance aims to reduce property damage and loss of human life by identifying the most hazardous soft-story buildings and requiring a seismic evaluation of the property. Although retrofit of the building is not currently required, voluntary retrofit is strongly encouraged. In the future, Alameda will most likely mandate retrofit for soft-story buildings. For specific ordinance requirements, please see our website at www.enginious-structures.com/softalameda.html

In its initial identification of the approximately 300 soft-story buildings on its inventory, the City of Alameda conducted a visual examination of each property. Although it is not public information exactly what criteria was used, the City most likely qualified buildings as soft-story buildings by the size and number of large openings on the ground floor. This means that although your building may be on the Alameda inventory of soft-story buildings, there is a definite possibility that it is not actually a soft-story structure.

To have the most impact on soft-story building hazards, the City of Alameda is planning to send out the first soft-story notifications to the fifty buildings with the most units within the next few months. Smaller buildings will receive notification in subsequent mailings.

The city of Alameda has also established a fund to assist low-income building owners with report and retrofit costs. Building owners should receive notification regarding this fund within the next few months, before actual notification of the soft-story ordinance is received.

How do I know if my building is subject to this ordinance?

For buildings to be subject to the Alameda Soft-Story Ordinance and included on the inventory of soft-story buildings , the building should be of wood framed construction, with at least 5 residential units, and built before December 17, 1985. Also, the building should have a visible soft story “signature” vulnerability at the ground floor, such as tucked-under parking, garages or an open commercial storefront.  Although the inventory of these buildings is not currently available to the public, our firm has been able to obtain a list of all of the multi-story residential buildings with 5 units or more building in Alameda that were built before 1985, and which may be subject to the ordinance.  The list is comprised of approximately 1300 buildings. We learned that approximately 5% of these buildings are apartment buildings, motels, and hotels, while the remainder of these building are condominiums.  If this data can be interpolated to the inventory collected by the city of Alameda, the majority of the affected buildings are condos.

In our next post, we’ll talk about the specific requirements of the Alameda Soft-Story Ordinance, and what steps you can take before you receive your building notification to ensure your building safety.

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