Earthquake code compliance enforced in San Francisco

The two Mexican mega quakes prove that their building codes will have to be strengthened significantly. Constantly improving California Codes has proven they can and do minimize injuries and death, provided they are followed. But lately, we have a problem with that here.

The city of San Francisco is about to start placing scarlet letters on as many as 472 multi-family apartment buildings that violate earthquake codes. If there's a great quake and any these building collapse, there will be very serious consequences.  Nonetheless, there are still hundreds of owners of multi-family apartment buildings who have failed to reinforce the so-called lower soft stories of their properties to prevent a pancake collapse like we saw in the Loma Prieta earthquake.

"Any apartment building between five to fifteen units," said Tom Hui, San Francisco's Building Inspection Director.  He adds that encompasses about 3500 San Francisco buildings, most of which have been strengthened or have active building permits to do so. But, a week ago, there were still about 1400 before last Friday's deadline. What a difference a week has made.

"Since today, we have 472 not in compliance," said Mr. Hui.

Examples: A property on Julian Avenue owned by 529 Commercial Street Associates headquartered in a toney financial District building. Another building, on 15th Street, is owned by a Kavoos Ghandi Trust in Marin County. And another, on Vallejo Street, is owned by Schools of the Sacred Heart in San Francisco.

The next step is scarlet letters in the form of warning posters to be placed on the front of the building, and a notice of violation to be posted in the door, warning tenants that their building is not earthquake safe. Tenants could sue for failure to meet safety codes. Some may withhold rents.

The owners will be summoned to a Director's Hearing to explain their noncompliance. After that, the City Attorney can sue to have the building red tagged against occupation and place a lien on the property. With the lien, the owner can neither sell nor borrow against the building. The ultimate penalty: demolish the building. "There is a consequence if they are non-compliant," said Building Inspector Chief Hui.

One of the owners of the Julian Avenue property said he would call his partners and get the ball rolling.

There were no responses from Sacred Heart or the Ghandi Trust.