Quake safety an ‘obligation’

The dramatic images of San Francisco homes collapsed after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake are ones Mayor Gavin Newsom would like to avoid in the future.

Newsom said he is looking at requiring private-property owners in The City to fix their buildings — especially “soft story” buildings with a garage on the first level — to help prevent the structures from buckling in a large earthquake, which experts expect to hit the Bay Area in the coming decades.

Seismic upgrades to a building include creating a stronger interior structure, such as using steel bars to reinforce masonry or concrete. Currently, required seismic retrofitting can be triggered if a property owner remodels or adds on a sizable space, according to Bill Strawn, spokesman for the Department of Building Inspection.

Neighborhoods such as the Marina district were famously destroyed during the 1989 earthquake when upper floors collapsed down on the first levels of buildings.

Newsom said the Department of Building Inspection has mapped out the “most vulnerable parts of San Francisco” to a violent quake. Residents might be surprised, however, that it is not the Marina but the Outer Sunset that is most vulnerable.

City officials now need to go door to door, individual by individual and “address some responsibility,” Newsom said. “I do believe it’s the responsibility of property owners in San Francisco that live in this area to seismically retrofit their buildings,” he said. “No one wants government necessarily to tell them what to do, but in this case we have a moral and ethical obligation to do it.”

In 2000, the Department of Building Inspection began the Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety, an effort to investigateearthquake risks in The City, but that effort was suspended before it could be completed.

The department then restarted CAPSS with “the idea being that if analysis shows [soft story] buildings are more at risk then we could seek legislation to make that happen,” Strawn said.

Shawna McGrew, who lives at 32nd Avenue and Kirkham Street in the Outer Sunset, said she had discovered that her home was not bolted to her foundation.

While she supports seismically upgrading homes, she said she had concerns about The City requiring work that would be a large cost to the homeowner.

“It’s my home; it’s my home to lose,” McGrew said. “It’s a good idea, but who pays for it?”

dsmith@sfexaminer.com

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