SF set to require private schools to conduct seismic evaluations

Twenty-five years ago, a damaged San Francisco — shaken by the Loma Prieta earthquake — began extensive planning to shore up The City's infrastructure in the event of a temblor of an even greater magnitude.

The “capstone” to that decades-long effort, according to Mayor Ed Lee's earthquake czar Patrick Otellini, is requiring private schools to evaluate their buildings for seismic safety within three years.

The recent magnitude-6.0 South Napa earthquake was another reminder that San Francisco lives with the stark reality that any day an earthquake of a greater magnitude could rock its foundation. In an Aug. 24 statement in response to the Napa earthquake, Lee said, “This is a good reminder that we need to do what we can now, before the next earthquake, because that will make our City's recovery all the more effective.”

On Monday, the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee. approved legislation that would require private schools, grades K-12, to conduct seismic evaluations within three years. The full board is expected to approve it next week.

Otellini described the proposed requirement for private schools, which builds on prior measures, as the culmination of “a very long process.”

“After disasters, if we are not putting our kids in schools, we are not recovering. I think this is a huge step forward,” Otellini said of the effort to protect private schools, which educate about 24,000 children in The City.

Much like a soft-story mandate, which was approved last year and requires building owners to complete seismic upgrades by December 2020, those impacted were not initially onboard. Private schools worried the requirements in the initial proposal were too cumbersome and would force school closures. Unlike public schools, the private institutions do not have access to public-bond money to help pay for the seismic upgrades.

To address such concerns, the legislation was changed to narrowly focus on an institution's buildings that are used for schoolchildren and exempts other aspects of the footprint like churches and places of worship. Among other exceptions, schools with less than 25 students do not have to do the evaluations, nor are they required in buildings where students spend less than 12 hours per week.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who assisted in negotiations, said that the legislation “will allow everyone to have a better understanding of the state of our private schools' seismic safety and to know what if any work needs to be done to improve that safety.”

A city report identified 113 private schools, comprising some 218 buildings including auditoriums and gymnasiums. As many as 124 private-school buildings would likely sustain significant damage in a major earthquake, the report said.

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