Mayor Newsom is finally coming down hard on the city’s soft-story buildings with a new directive requiring owners of such structures to perform mandatory seismic upgrades. That’s right, what was once merely a municipally sanctioned guilt trip is now on its way to becoming law.

Just so we’re all up to speed here, a soft-story building is not an installation by Erwin Wurm, it’s the common San Francisco building type with a garage or large storefront window on the ground floor. A rather macabre study done in 2000 found that, should THE BIG ONE hit our dear city, most casualties would result from the inability of these buildings to withstand major seismic forces. The neighborhood most in danger? The Outer Sunset.

After a failed preliminary study last year proposed reinforcing the buildings with whatever Gavin Newsom uses to keep his hair in place, the Mayor admitted that there’s “no such thing as an earthquake-proof building” – but apparently that shouldn’t keep people from trying. The San Francisco Department of Building Inspection is currently crafting the new legislation that will require owners of wood framed, soft-story buildings to pay for their own retrofits. Considering that no one really has any money right now, it seems like curious timing to require expensive building retrofits. But maybe this is really just a thinly-veiled economic booster. After all, with so much newly-required construction, builders and engineers will have a windfall of much needed new business.

An imminent report from the Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety will suggest retrofitting options and construction cost estimates. And in acknowledgment of the tough economy Mayor Newsom is developing government subsidies and “a feasible financing program”–including possible reallocated and new voter-backed bonds to the tune of at least $260 million–to help building owners batten down the hatches.

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