A Closer Look at San Francisco’s Mandatory Seismic Retrofit Ordinance

I recently attended the Soft Story Workshop on October 28th hosted by the City of San Francisco to help building owners understand the requirements of the Mandatory Seismic Retrofit Ordinance (66-13).  Notices were sent out on September 15, 2013 to owners with buildings that may potentially met the screening criteria:

  • wood-frame structure (Type V combustible),
  • containing five or more residential units,
  • having three or more stories, or two stories over a basement or under-floor area that extends above grade, and
  • permitted for construction prior to January 1, 1978

Owners are then required to fill out a screening form to confirm whether their building does in fact have these characteristics.  Assuming all four items are present the structure is subject to the ordinance.  The form allows the owner to “opt out” based on voluntary retrofits already completed in compliance with AB-094 Voluntary Seismic Upgrade Administrative Bulletin.  All screening forms are required to be returned to the City by September 15, 2014, so building owners have a full year to complete the screening process.

Even so, many building owners were on hand at the October 28th meeting in hopes of finding answers. Although there were some questions regarding financing, timelines, and pass-thru costs, most individuals had questions about the process of choosing qualified contractors and/or engineers.

Some of the participants I spoke with already had a contractor or engineer out to the site to either complete the forms or provide an estimate, and understandably the process only got more confusing, not less so.   Building owners should be weary of the information they receive if they are getting quotes directly from contractors before an engineer evaluates the building in order to avoid hidden fees.    Building owners are understandably uncertain as to whether they are getting sound and trusted advice when reaching out to professionals and are anxious to make sure that they are getting the best possible advice.

The City has not been clear on the suggested process for this seismic retrofit Ordinance and it is clear that the owners are confused by the lack of guidance.  There are many qualified engineers and contractors in the City, capable of executing a soft/weak story retrofit project.  The key issue I have identified is the engineer needs to be involved early before any firm construction bids are provided.  The retrofit solution is based on the engineer’s analysis and the identified seismic retrofit scope.  No matter what level of experience a contractor may have they cannot fully capture the required retrofit scope and cost of construction based on “past experience with similar projects.”  Only after a properly-designed retrofit solution is presented can a contractor provide a qualified and cost-effective bid.  Otherwise the uncertainty in the final design may likely be built into the cost.

The process is important and Partner will provide guidance on the suggested method to navigate this new ordinance, while providing a cost-effective retrofit solution that meets the life safety performance objective of the City’s mandatory seismic retrofit ordinance.

Partner Engineering & Science, Inc. is a transactional based due diligence firm that specializes in providing environmental engineering solutions for commercial real estate.  Our structural engineering and seismic risk (or Probable Maximum Loss) team has performed thousands of structural investigation and rehabilitation projects on wood frame residential buildings throughout the Bay Area and within San Francisco.  We have experience working for a diverse client base, representing lenders, brokers, and building owners, all of whom trust us to deliver results.  Due to nature of our business, we remain flexible, with your goals in mind, while problem solving to develop a solution that meets our client’s expectations.

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