Rules Committee Discusses Ways to Incentivize Seismic Retrofits

When the next big earthquake strikes, hundreds of buildings in Silicon Valley are prone to collapse. Yet unlike other major Bay Area cities that have adopted policies to incentivize seismic retrofitting—namely Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley and Fremont—San Jose has done nothing to fix the problem.

A group of City Council officials want to create a program, similar to those in Oakland and San Francisco, encouraging property owners to make their buildings sturdier. A proposal by council members Sam Liccardo, Johnny Khamis and Rose Herrera would focus on so-called “soft-story” buildings, structures with a wide-open first floor generally reserved for parking. The layout makes these buildings, many of them constructed in the ‘60s and ‘70s, vulnerable to collapse.

In a memo submitted to Wednesday’s Rules and Open Government Committee they ask the city manager to explore ways to incentivize property owners to seismically retrofit 1,093 multi-family “soft-story” buildings that pose a threat to the people who live there.

“As we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the tragic Loma Prieta earthquake, cities throughout the Bay Area are in a position to reflect on past preparedness efforts and move forward on addressing susceptible structures,” the memo states.

According to a 2003 survey by Santa Clara County, nearly 1,100 soft-story buildings with 10,923 units housing 27,000 residents would likely collapse in a quake. The proposals outlined in the memo suggest city financing, waiving permit fees and other breaks to encourage property owners to fortify their buildings.

“All of us share responsibility for preparing for the next ‘big one,’” Liccardo said. “Developing a unique set of incentives and financing mechanisms, while working in conjunction with property owners and industry representatives, is a step in the right direction to tackling this inevitable event.”

More from the San Jose Rules and Open Government Committee agenda for October 22, 2014:

  • A veterans group is asking the city to install directional signage and two 20-minute parking spots by the Vietnam War Memorial in downtown. “The signage would assist veterans, whose currently serving in the military and the community at large in locating the city of San Jose’s memorial remembering residents who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” says Ernie Glave, president of the United Veterans Council of Santa Clara County, in a letter to the city. "The parking spaces would be a great service to those who may not be as able-bodied as they once were.”
  • California’s agriculture regulators have declared a state of emergency after finding sap-sucking bugs that kill citrus crops throughout the state, including in San Jose. The Asian citrus psyllid is an exotic pest that literally sucks the life out of citrus trees and renders the fruit bitter, misshapen and unfit for human consumption. The California Department of Food and Agriculture will apply insecticide to affected areas.

WHAT: Rules and Open Government Committee meets
WHEN: 2pm Wednesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. “Soft-Story Retrofit Program” is really a corporate entitlement benefiting wealthy property owners.

    “Soft-Story building owners” can be compelled by government to upgrade their properties. These wealthy individuals and or corporations see a “Gold-mine” in Council Members Khamis, Herrera and Liccardo’s joint Memorandum passed out at “RULES” yesterday. But, I don’t buy into their bull-manure based program for a femtosecond. Check-out this piece of crap:

    Under the aforementioned Council Members plan, the taxpayers waive revenues that serve to fund in part, Planning Building and Code Enforcement (PBCE) functions. Further, this masterful set of mulligans for the wealthy allows for “expedited review for re-zonings or permits that would allow for redevelopment of those sites with hazardous soft-story buildings…” This just expedites more high-density living projects in already cramped and congested neighborhoods, subsidized by the taxpayers and future renters.

    The masterful set of mulligans for the wealthy also includes this tidy little gem, “Allowing exemptions of soft-story building retrofits from costly building code improvements triggered by the renovation / improvement but unrelated to the seismic safety of the structure (e.g., Plumbing, electrical, etc. improvements that could be required but have no bearing on building safety).”
    Any time an aged structure is opened up there could be a plethora of needed “fixes.” What if the structural timbers were partially eaten away by termites? What if “knob and tube wiring” was found? What about corrosion on gas lines and water lines? What is the status of the electrical panel? What about sewer connections, back-flow prevention? What about Fire prevention upgrades? What about accommodations for the Disabled? None of the aforementioned would be required. Just make the structure as “earthquake proof” as the property owner wants AND put the capital improvement costs on the property tax bill to facilitate gouging renters to pay for the capital improvements.

    I’ve got a better idea. Put the property owners of these “Death-traps” on NOTICE to arrange for their own funding for required capital improvements. The property owners are; to pay all required fees, perform needed upgrades to Code or close down the commercial enterprise with dispatch. Once these “Death-Traps” are closed the city should initiate legal causes of action to ensure rapid demolition of these “hazardous soft-story structures.” And forget-about preferential treatment in the re-zonings and redevelopment permits associated with these properties.

    To the people who live in these “Death-Traps” you should move as soon as possible. For you will be compelled to move on a date you may not be prepared for.

    David S. Wall

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