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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  • mackochee

    There may be more layers to this rotten onion than you think.

    The first layer: Yes, it is in the interest of human safety. Maybe not.

    The second layer: Yes, it is probably motivated by the City’s need to get more money coming in during the recession.

    The third layer, and the smelly layer: It is a part of that detestably comfortable relationship between the Mayor, the Building Department and the Planning Department, (one side,) with the corrupt developers in the City, (actually, the same side, as well,) who are itching to have easier access to the land on which historic old buildings are unfortunately located. The City’s increasing total disregard for historical structures, coupled with the developers who find them a total nuisance, is going to take full advantage of his opportunity to implement earthquake requirements like this in the future for purposes other than human safety.

    This possible legislation to require earthquaking of residential structures with soft stories will lead to many owners not being able to afford the cost– to eventual condemnation– and a competitive group of developers waiting around the corner to move in with “City authorization” to demolish for reasons of safety.

    I watch in amazement, as San Francisco looks more and more like Columbus, Ohio everyday.

    Gavin, please, please, please run for governor. It is inevitable you will lose, but at least your ass will be out of San Francisco.