Earthquakes are an unavoidable fact of life in the Bay Area. But their ability to do devastating damage to life and property is potentially avoidable, thanks to advancements in seismic safety.
So it’s deeply alarming that the owners of nearly 2,000 apartment buildings in San Francisco have yet to bring their properties up to the standards required by a 2013 law.
Owners of nearly 52 percent of “tier three” buildings in San Francisco — wood-framed, soft-story structures of between five and 15 units — haven’t submitted permit applications for retrofitting their properties.
There is a looming Sept. 15 deadline to pull permits. There also are a limited number of local vendors who are capable of performing the work.
Public officials are right to be concerned about the slow rate of compliance, especially since San Francisco took steps to ensure the retrofitting program was more than just a costly regulation for property owners.
Another law, passed in 2015, allows the owners to add housing units when they do soft-story retrofits. Early reports from local engineering companies suggest that owners who have already pulled permits are eagerly taking advantage of the program.
The potential for adding rental income — especially during a time with historically high rents — should be enough of a carrot for property owners to do the right thing for their own properties’ and the public’s safety.
Perhaps the owners’ foot-dragging is due to simple human procrastination.
No one enjoys spending money on necessities, and retrofitting is an expensive proposition. Depending on the location and condition of the building, these kinds of seismic upgrades can cost from $100,000 to $1 million.
We urge the city of San Francisco to work with property owners to bring their buildings up to code as quickly as possible. The failure to upgrade these wood-framed buildings doesn’t just endanger the tens of thousands of residents who live in them. It endangers the entire city.