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The soft story

Submitted by on 1, January 14, 2009 – 7:45 amNo Comment

The city is considering new retrofit requirements for “soft-story” buildings (think multi-story apartment complexes with parking on the ground floor). A community hearing to discuss a planned ordinance will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Alameda Free Library, 1550 Oak Street.

City officials are concerned that such buildings are especially vulnerable to collapse during an earthquake, Alameda building official Greg McFann wrote a few months ago. And they’re looking at ways to make the buildings safer.

Berkeley and Fremont have already established ordinances, and San Francisco is working on one. Berkeley’s ordinance requires owners of apartment buildings with five or more units whose buildings are listed on the city’s soft story inventory to conduct an engineering study identifying fixes and their costs. Fremont’s ordinance requires apartment building owners on the city’s soft-story list to have the retrofit work done.

McFann said the city is modeling its ordinance on Berkeley’s. The ordinance is slated for discussion before the City Council on February 17.

The city also has to conduct an inventory of soft-story buildings (though McFann pointed out that Measure A essentially halted the construction of soft-story residential buildings in Alameda in 1973). McFann estimated the whole process could take four years.

The Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, in a 2003 fact sheet on soft-story buildings, estimated the cost of retrofitting apartment buildings could be $3,000 to $9,000 per unit to prevent collapse and upwards of $20,000 per unit to protect them from earthquake damage.

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