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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.

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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.

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San Francisco Private School Seismic Ordinance Approved

Mayor Edwin M. Lee introduced the Private School Earthquake Safety Ordinance, which will require the seismic evaluation of 120 private K-12 schools in San Francisco over the next three years.  After careful review and public outreach engaging school administrators, design professionals and parents, we are pleased to announce that the Ordinance was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors with an 11-0 vote on September 23, 2014.

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Napa wake up call!

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimated in 2007 that there is a 63% probability of at least one magnitude 6.7 or greater quake, capable of causing widespread damage, striking the San Francisco Bay region before 2030. There is a 67% probability of a similarly sized earthquake striking the Southern California region within the same period.  Because earthquake magnitudes are reported on a logarithmic scale, a magnitude 6.7 quake could be as much as seven times larger than Augusts’ Napa event. There is no question of “if,” only “when.” And the odds are not in the favor of an unprepared owner or community.


In the aftermath of any earthquake, Structural Engineers are uniquely qualified to bring the necessary solutions to bear for damaged buildings and their repair needs. More importantly, the Structural Engineering community is the best resource available to building owners in assessing possible future building performance and potential losses ahead of time, so that informed risk-management decisions can be made.  Soft Story Buildings are especially vulnerable to earthquake damage.  Call us about your building for a free over the phone consultation.

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You are running out of time to submit Soft Story Screening!

This is the title of a full page advertisement by the San Francisco Building Department in the SF Apartment magazine.  All property owners who received a mandatory retrofit letter from the city are required to respond with the completed screening form signed by an engineer or architect by September 15, 2014.  After 9/15, all non-compliant owners will receive a Code Enforcement citation and be liable for financial penalties. Once the screening is filed, you will have at least 2 more years to submit seismic retrofit drawings, if required.  A free estimate for seismic retrofit design is included with all of our screening reports. If you need assistance with the screening form, contact our office at 510 272 99 99  as soon as possible to avoid a citation.  The time is running out and we have been already been inundated with requests for screening.

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Private schools in SF require seismic engineering evaluation

The Private Schools Earthquake Safety Working Group, comprised of volunteer parents, school representatives, other interested persons, and City staff presented a report that resulted in having a new legislation introduced requiring all Private Schools to perform a seismic evaluation by 2017.   Buildings within the scope of the ordinance to be evaluated at one of two levels of analysis, depending on the school’s student population size. The retrofit is NOT required at this time.

Private schools are regulated at the local level, with no special requirements over regular buildings while Public schools are regulated at the state level by the Division of State Architect, formed in 1933 in response to the school collapses after Long Beach earthquake. With 1/3 of school aged children in San Francisco attending private schools, the lower seismic safety standards of Private Schools is of special concern to the City and it’s ability to recover after the next big Earthquake.  While this is not exactly Soft Story related, this may affect the owners of Soft story Building as it will stretch resources of seismic retrofit minded engineering firms even further.

For more information see the city of San Francisco website at http://www.sfgsa.org/index.aspx?page=6047.


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Video of Simulated Soft-Story Building Collapse due to Earthquake

In the following video clip, engineers test a soft-story building with a 6.7 magnitude simulated earthquake to determine the effects of a large earthquake on buildings with a soft-story condition. The results are quite dramatic, as the bottom floor of the building collapses, and the building topples sideways. Click on the link below to watch the video of the test; visible shaking starts at 0:33.

Soft-Story Collapse Video. For more information about the simulation, click here.

Here’s a video of another test in Japan of two soft story buildings side by side.  One of them is retrofitted and another is not.  Guess which one remains standing!

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.

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Experts estimate that earthquake strengthening installations WILL FAIL to perform as expected in as many as 90% of retrofitted houses.

In December, 2011, the New York Times published an article estimating that one-third to two-thirds of non-engineered earthquake retrofits in the San Francisco Bay Area are installed incorrectly. (See the article here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/23/us/seismic-retrofits-offer-shaky-assurance-in-california.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)  In 2006, the Contra Costa Times estimated that 69% of retrofits would not function as expected.

The Golden Gate Chapter of the American Society of Home Inspectors did an informal poll of its members, who estimated that only one in ten retrofits will be fully effective.  This is another reason that building owners need to get engineers involved in seismic retrofitting project instead of relying on specialty contractors.

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Details and Cost of Retrofitting SF’s Soft Story Buildings (old post)

San Francisco recently signed into law an ordinance making retrofitting of thousands of seismically unsafe buildings mandatory.  This ordinance applies to wood-frame buildings built before 1978, which are at least three stories tall and have at least five residential units. These apartments are unsafe because an earthquake shakes the bottom floor that supports the weight of the apartments above, causing buildings to collapse and pancake. The retrofitting involves adding new walls or steel braces to strengthen the ground story. The cost of this structural work is estimated at $60,000 to $130,000 per building.

Previous efforts at mandatory retrofitting have largely failed because property owners have objected to the costs.  Property owners of the approximately 3,000 wood-frame soft-story buildings have 4-7 years to complete the retrofitting after receiving an inspection notice from the city. Those with a shorter time-frame are buildings that have a particularly high potential for loss of life, such as buildings that house a nightclub, senior citizens or students, or buildings with 15 or more units.

Property owners must pay for the work out of their own pockets or get a loan; however, they can fully pass on the costs of the seismic retrofitting to their tenants — even those protected by rent control — over a period of 20 years. Those who refuse to comply with the rules could be taken to court by the city attorney’s office.  The many fiscal concerns for low-income tenants and owners are further discussed in the L.A. Times article below.

For more information, see the article below:


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Public Financing option for Soft Story Retrofits – hurry the deadline for applications is 4/18/14

GreenFinanceSF may be the financial resource you need!

GreenFinanceSF is a program through the city of SF Department of the Environment. It’s a publicly administered alternative to traditional financing and is a 100% voluntary program.  The city will issue bonds to provide financing to the participating properties that that are interested in financing their soft story retrofit.  The rate of interest and loan terms will be set at the time of financing if  it is approved. You will be notified if you are accepted.

Loan payments to be paid along with property tax bill twice a year.  Each participating property owner will need to agree to pay special taxes in an amount sufficient to pay debt service on the City’s bonds or other debt and remains with the property when the property is transferred by one property owner to another.

Remember to hurry the DEADLINE TO APPLY FOR  THE PROGRAM IS APRIL 18, 2014.

Read more info here.

Download the application here.

Submit To:
Email to: jeno.wilkinson@sfgov.org


Mail to:
San Francisco City Hall, Room 362
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102

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