• Archives

Berkeley Expands Financing Options for Soft Story Building Owners

According to the Daily Californian (“Expansion of Berkeley financing program to ease costs of seismic retrofitting,” posted on 8/18/15), soft story building owners can now access PACE, Property Accessed Clean Energy, funds to help ease the cost burden of undergoing a retrofit of their buildings. PACE financing allows property owners to borrow the money necessary to make renovations and improvements, and redistributes the cost by incorporating it into semi-annual property tax bills over time, according to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko. PACE was initially developed as a pilot program in Berkeley in 2008 to provide financing for sustainability improvements, such as renewable energy additions and water and energy conservation measures. At the April 7th, Berkeley City Council meeting financing from the program was extended to seismic retrofits.

If your building still needs to be retrofitted and you have any questions about the process, we would love to help you out. You can find my contact information at http://www.enginious-structures.com/contact.html.

Use a Highlighter on this page

Berkeley Apartment Building Owners Halfway There

According to the Contra Costa Times (“Berkeley: More than half the soft story buildings retrofitted, city says,” posted on 10/6/15), more than half of the apartment buildings identified as needing to be seismically retrofitted have completed the process since the soft story ordinance passed in 2005.  According to the article 145 soft story apartment buildings have completed their seismic retrofits. The remaining 124 soft story apartment buildings have until the end of 2016 to complete their retrofits.

Congratulations to the building owners who proactively secured their properties against possible collapse during the next big one! For all the other building owners, we are here to help. Feel free to email me. See http://www.enginious-structures.com/contact.html for my contact information.

Use a Highlighter on this page

EQ IQ (Continued)

Additional steps you can take to secure you home.  These steps are paraphrasing and adding to another New Yorker article by Kathryn Shultz “How to Stay Safe When the Big One Comes” as it relates to SF Bay Area.  See the previous post that talks about earthquake facts and crawl space strengthening and foundation bolting of the homes.


Strap down your water heater. A water heater is basically a bomb in your basement: big heavy object, open flame, gas line. If it topples over during an earthquake, it can break that line and start a fire. Or it can smash the water line and cause a flood. Or it can do both. You can hire a contractor to secure your heater, or do so yourself with a water-heater-strap kit, available at any home-improvement store for around twenty dollars. (And while you’re down in your basement, make sure you know how to turn off your gas and water main. You’ll want to shut off both after the quake—not a good moment to be figuring out how to do so for the first time.).  You can also install an EQ gas line shut off valve that will off your gas line automatically in the event of a moderate or large earthquake. The cost of this valve is on the order of $250 and should be installed by a licensed plumber.


Redecorate your home with an eye to gravity. Computers, TV’s, vases, houseplants, your favorite crystal and other chachkas on your shelves will become a projectile weapons during the earthquake. Your job is to prevent that, and you can do so in a couple of hours and at essentially no cost. Attach bookshelves and tall furniture to the wall. Use metal brackets with wood screws and  wing nuts to attach it to the wall finish or studs.  Move heavy objects from higher shelves to lower ones. Don’t hang pictures, mirrors, shelves, or anything else sharp-edged or heavy above a bed. Install latches on your cabinets. Don’t store heavy bottles above waist level.  Attach you favorite glass and other knickknacks to the shelves with museum putty.


Make a plan with your family. No matter when it strikes—though especially if it does so during school and business hours—the earthquake will leave countless people separated from their loved ones. At the same time, it will cut or severely compromise telecommunications systems, making it difficult or impossible to track one another down via phone calls, e-mails, or texts. Ask a friend or relative outside the region to agree to serve as a contact person for your family; if it does become possible to send messages in some form, you’re more likely to get through to someone when their end of the communications systems is functional and the lines aren’t overloaded. Choose a meeting place for your family, remembering that many bridges will be down and many roads impassable. Find out if your city has designated earthquake-gathering areas, where food, water, and first aid will be available. If you have children, learn the earthquake plan at their schools, day-care centers, camps, and after-school activities. If you live across a bridge from where you work or where your children attend school, arrange in advance for a friend to pick them up or meet them at home if the earthquake occurs during school hours and you cannot get there yourself.  Part of the problem is obliviousness, or disbelief. “Most people think someone is handling this,” Chris Goldfinger, the seismologist featured in the original New Yorker article, said. “And that’s not true. No one is handling it.”


Get to know your neighbors. In most disasters, neighbors become the de-facto first responders, since they are already on the scene when calamity strikes. That will be especially true in the large earthquake, where widespread damage to the infrastructure will make travel difficult for heavy vehicles like fire trucks and ambulances.  Find out which of your neighbors has an elderly relative on a ventilator, which one has a generator, which one has a past as a paramedic. Knowing facts like these about each other can save lives: theirs, or yours. City of Oakland offers free CORE (Community of Oakland Respond to Emergencies) training. If you can gather 15-20 neighbors and volunteer your living room, they will even send somebody to train you at your home.   If this is not a possibility, register at http://www2.oaklandnet.com/Government/o/OFD/s/CORE/ and get trained.  This training is invaluable and as somebody who already went through, I highly recommend it.  Many other cities in the Bay Area offer similar programs usually administered via Fire Departments.


Keep an earthquake kit in a safe, accessible spot in your home. If you do all of the above as well as retrofit your home, you will most likely survive the earthquake. Which is exactly why you should plan for it: you’re still going to be around afterward, when life gets physically, emotionally, and logistically hairy. You can make things easier—on yourself, your family, your neighbors, and emergency responders—by assembling a decent earthquake kit and storing it in a safe, accessible place. The kit should include supplies to last you at least 3 to 7 days on your own.  Some things to include:

  • Copies of important documents (birth certificates, passports, driver’s licenses, wills)
  • Cash (A.T.M.s won’t work after the quake)
  • Prescription drugs (these expire, so, as with food, you’ll have to periodically replace them)
  • Flashlights
  • Extra batteries
  • Spare eyeglasses
  • A whistle (attach one to your key chain, too, in case you wind up trapped somewhere)
  • Basic first-aid supplies
  • Warm clothing
  • Sturdy shoes
  • Rain gear
  • Sleeping bags
  • A tent
  • If you have a gas BBQ, get a spare gas tank and keep it filled
  • Never leave your car below half a tank empty
  • Food and water. Three-day supply of each on hand (figure a gallon of water per person per day, for drinking as well as washing) is a must, but in the large earthquake event that won’t be nearly enough. The more realistic target is a week supply, but that’s a daunting amount for those with limited means or limited storage space. My own theory about earthquake preparedness is that the perfect is the enemy of the good: don’t choose to stock nothing because you can’t stock everything. Got money and space to spare? Great: fill a shelf with water and nonperishable foods. Throw in duct tape and a tool kit. Throw in a hand-cranked radio, a water purifier, iodine. Don’t have much money or space? Make a small kit with whatever you can fit and afford. Everything you have, you’ll use; everything you can do for yourself frees up emergency resources for those in even greater need. The food in your fridge can last for a few days in the summer heat, but you can get some additional supplies at your local REI.  Also EQ kits are sold online.  Google it.

Demand better seismic safety.  Many of the worst problems facing the region will require major public-works projects to fix them, and others will require private companieso commit to solutions, but the general public can play an important role in bringing about that kind of change. In California, most of the hospitals, public schools and junior colleges are retrofitted and are in relatively good shape. However, most of the private schools, day care centers and some universities are not.  A lot of the older office buildings where the parents of the kids who will likely survive the earthquake in schools aren’t retrofitted.  If you work in one of those buildings, ask your employer or landlord if it is retrofitted and demand action or consider looking for another place to work.  If you live in the apartment building, ask your landlord if the building is on the list of so called Soft Story buildings.  Those are the buildings that have large garage or storefront openings or tuck under parking garages that were built before 1980’s building codes and are of wood construction.  According to the studies these building are the most likely to collapse in the earthquake creating hundreds of victims and thousands of displaced citizens.  If you live in one of those buildings, find out if there is a plan to retrofit it.  San Francisco and Berkeley have mandatory ordinances to fix these building up.  There are deadlines to submit retrofit designs for permit and to complete the construction.  The city of Oakland is in the process of adopting a similar ordinance.  If you live in these cities ask you landlord if they intend to comply.  If not, consider moving.  There are tens of thousands of this type of buildings around other California communities.  Talk to your local representatives and press them to act.

Use a Highlighter on this page


If haven’t read this month’s New Yorker article about the Cascade fault that spans from Vancouver down to Northern California (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/the-really-big-one), you definitely should.  It’s a fascinating read and has a lot of useful information, especially in the light of a little jolt that we had this morning.  Here are some take aways from the article and a little bit from myself.   While this may not be so useful to the one’s safety plan, but it should help raise our community’s EQ IQ:

  1. If the earthquake of the 1989 Loma Prieta magnitude would have hit where this morning quake struck, the shaking would have felt approximately 12 times stronger. Because it was 70 miles away, the predominant natural frequencies of the earthquake vibrations affected to the greater extent taller and more flexible structures, like taller buildings, freeways and bridges. The houses and other more rigid structures were largely unaffected.
  2. As you may have noticed, the jolt was quite hard and shook people’s houses a bit as its proximity and dynamic characteristics affect houses (short, stout structures) a lot more than shakers on other nearby faults including the San Adreas. Depending on where the earthquake epicenter is and how long of the fault’s stretch ruptures, the effects  and damage may be quite different than what people remember from 1989.
  3. The Richter scale that earthquakes strength is measured with is a base-10 logarithmic scale. From the wikepedia article on the subject: “As measured with a seismometer, an earthquake that registers 5.0 on the Richter scale has a shaking amplitude 10 times that of an earthquake that registered 4.0, and thus corresponds to a release of energy 31.6 times that released by the lesser earthquake.”
  4. There is a pretty good correlation between the time that the shaking goes on and the earthquake’s magnitude. The 1989 earthquake in Loma Prieta, California lasted about fifteen seconds and had a magnitude of 6.9. From the NY article: “A thirty-second earthquake generally has a magnitude in the mid-sevens. A minute-long quake is in the high sevens, a two-minute quake has entered the eights, and a three-minute quake is in the high eights. By four minutes, an earthquake has hit magnitude 9.0.”
  5. Don’t panic, the Hayward fault can produce a maximum credible strength eq of “only” 7.5, while San Andreas of 8.2, which a fraction of the 9.0 to 9.5 that Chile, Japan and NW coast has experienced. Be thankful that you don’t live on the coastal area of Washington or Oregon and get ready.
  6. Bolt your house; seismically retrofit your crawl space, secure the walls that have large openings and you will most likely be OK. Refer to the website for Association of Bay Area Governments for a free DIY set of plans that was developed together with the Structural Engineers Association of NorCal for residential crawl space strengthening. http://resilience.abag.ca.gov/residents/planset/. Obviously, if you can afford more or if you are considering a remodel, talk to a Structural Engineer.
  7. If you live in the old apartment building with 5 units or more and 3 stories or more, the city of San Francisco and Berkeley have passed mandatory ordinances to identify buildings that have Soft or Weak ground floors, mostly due garage door openings or tuck under parking and with units above. The identified properties are required to be retrofitted within the next few years. Refer to our earlier posts on that topic.  The city of Oakland is in the process of adopting an ordinance to have the owner to investigate apartment buildings that meet that criteria.  For soft story buildings, the owners will be required to seismically retrofit them.  Some of these retrofit costs will be allowed to be passed on to the renters.
  8. I hope that we all get spared the devastating effects of a large closeby earthquake. But we all, for one reason or another, chose to live in SF Bay Area. The least that we can do is to get ready and have an action plan.  In the meantime, enjoy our beautiful summer and Indian Fall weather, I heard that El Nino is coming (fingers crossed).

Yours truly,

Sasha Itsekson, Structural Engineer

Not an Earthquake Scientist or a Weather man

Use a Highlighter on this page

Enginious Structures are now certified via AllianceNRG

AllianceNRG Professional Registered logo_gray

After a rigorous review, AllianceNRG who partnered with the city of San Francisco to administer a 100% public financing options for the soft story apartment building owners, has certified Enginious Structures as one of the few engineering firms that are allowed  to participate in this program.  As part of the process, AllianceNRG verified licensing, workers comp, business and professional liability insurance requirements as well as the experience and references from past clients whose soft story buildings we helped retrofit. See below from our earlier post with information about this program.

The city of San Francisco has partnered with AllianceNRG to provide property owners 100% financing for all properties that requires upgrades on multifamily soft story buildings for construction costs as well as structural engineering and design costs. The financing covers only the seismic improvements with no need to refinance the mortgage on the property. Up to 30 years long term financing with competitive interest rates. If the property is sold the assessment may transfer to the new owner. If you have a mandatory retrofit required for your multifamily soft story structure and need financing for the upgrades this program is designed for you. There is no more reason to delay to start your retrofit project since all costs, including the engineering can now be financed and costs passed on or shared with your tenants.   To learn more about the program and apply for financing on your soft story upgrades visit AllianceNRG at https://www.alliancenrg.com/retail/san-francisco-seismic-soft-story or https://www.alliancenrg.com/retail/berkeley-seismic-soft-story for a similar program with the city of Berkeley.

Use a Highlighter on this page

San Francisco’s Mandatory Soft Story Retrofit Financing Q&A Panel is January 26th

The San Francisco Apartment Association and AllianceNRG will be holding a panel for property owners who have questions about financing options. The meeting will be held at 6pm January 26th, at the Ft. Mason, Fleet Room, Building D.


AllianceNRG has partnered with the city of San Francisco to provide financing for soft story retrofits. The meeting will feature guest speakers, followed by a question and answer period. All questions should be emailed to Maria Shea at maria@sfaa.org before the meeting begins.

Use a Highlighter on this page

Whole lot of shaking going on

The San Francisco Bay Area had a 2.4 earthquake today, 11 earthquakes this past week and 633 earthquakes over the past year. We may not always be aware shifting plates beneath our feet, but they are on the move. Don’t be caught unprepared when the big one hits. Protect your family and your investment with seismic strengthening.

You can view all the most recent earthquakes in the San Francisco Bay Area with Earthquake Track: http://earthquaketrack.com/v/sf/recent

Use a Highlighter on this page

San Francisco now offering 100% financing for all soft story buildings that require seismic retrofits

The city of San Francisco has partnered with AllianceNRG to provide property owners 100% financing for all property that requires upgrades on multifamily soft story buildings for structural engineering and design costs. The financing covers only the improvements with no need to refinance the mortgage on the property. Up to 30 years long term financing with competitive interest rates. If the property is sold the assessment may transfer to the new owner. If you have a mandatory retrofit required for your multifamily soft story structure and need financing for the upgrades this program is designed for you. There is no more reason to delay to start your retrofit project since all costs, including the engineering can now be financed and costs passed on or shared with your tenants.   To learn more about the program and apply for financing on your soft story upgrades visit AllianceNRG at https://www.alliancenrg.com/retail/programs-softstory

Use a Highlighter on this page

Los Angeles unveils new mandatory seismic retrofit plan for soft-story buildings

Los Angeles has a new seismic safety plan that gives owners of soft-story wood framed buildings 5 years to retrofit their property. Many of the estimated 16,000 soft-story buildings in Los Angeles are apartments.

“These new programs will improve the earthquake performance of some of Los Angeles’s more vulnerable buildings that could collapse during a major earthquake. Los Angeles during the last year has undertaken the tremendous task of understanding the earthquake collapse risks associated with Soft-Story Wood Framed Buildings and Non-Ductile Concrete Buildings.”  said Michael Cochran, President of the Structural Engineers Association of Southern California (SEAOSC) who partnered with the Los Angeles City Department of Building and Safety to draft the new seismic resiliency recommendations.

The Los Angeles Resilience by Design Program has the potential to save thousands of lives and billions of dollars when the next big quake hits the San Andreas Fault, which has long been a concern for scientists and the city.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns about soft-story retrofitting or your building, feel free to give me a call at (510) 272-9999 or e-mail me at info@test.enginious-structures.com.

Use a Highlighter on this page

San Francisco Soft Story Retrofit Program, Update

San Francisco has seen an overwhelming 92% of buildings come into full compliance with the screening portion of the Soft Story Retrofit Ordinance.  Property owners were given a year to complete the initial screening forms which would determine if a building would be subject to the Mandatory Soft Story Retrofit Program.  Starting next week, the Department of Building Inspection will identify and commence placarding of approximately 600 buildings that are out of compliance with the Ordinance. For additional information please visit the ESIP website at www.sfgov.org/softstory or the Department of Building Inspection at www.sfdbi.org/softstory.

Use a Highlighter on this page