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Regulatory • March 3, 2006




The BPOA Monthly published its last update on Berkeley's “soft story” program in October 2005, when the Council approved the implementing ordinance (now Sections 19.39.010 and following in the Municipal Code).  The Building and Safety folks are now putting the program into effect.  This requires quick action by affected owners.

 For those new to all of this, “soft story” buildings are those with five or more residential units, which have been identified by the Building Department as having “soft”, “weak” or “open” fronts.  In regular English, this means wood frame structures that are built on top of a parking garage, retail storefront, or open storage space, which appears (at least from the street) to provide adequate structural support for everything above.

The City's entirely legitimate concern is that “soft story” buildings are at greater risk of collapsing in an earthquake or other disaster.  The City's solution is (a) to inventory “soft story” buildings, (b) to require engineering studies pinpointing weaknesses and suggesting remedial measures, and (c) to require that tenants be notified, and buildings be posted, while all this is going on.  This inventory/study/notice stage is Phase One of the Program.  Phase 2 (dealing with mandatory retrofitting) has yet to be approved, largely because of arguments over how the work is going to be paid for, and whether any part of the cost may be passed on to the tenants of rent-controlled buildings.

But Phase One has begun.  Based on visual inspection from the street, about 400 candidate buildings (representing 5000 units) have been identified.  Notices are now or will shortly be sent to record owners.  BPOA has reviewed a draft of a “City of Berkeley Seismic Engineering Evaluation Report Framework” which describes the reports that will be required from the targeted owners.  They must include such things as original plans (if available-otherwise you will need to investigate and report on the structure as-built), the history of building modifications and permits, an evaluation of load-bearing ability (both in terms of vertical support and lateral resistance), a separate study if there is a wood frame structure built over an open “podium” (this is the garage situation), and suggestions for strengthening deficiencies, as by steel framing, hold-downs, and shear walls. The deadline for submitting this analysis is two years after the date of notice from the City.

Since the reports as described will be both extensive and expensive, owners should first consider whether their buildings have been properly inventoried.  Since the City's list is not based on a full inspection, but rather on a walk-by view from the street, it is entirely possible that a more detailed inspection would show that you building is not “soft” or “weak”.  You will have 180 days to appeal the listing, using a format described in the Framework document that comes with your notice.  Since the appeal process (not to mention the full-blown report) will require professional help. The City is planning to provide a list of qualified engineers.  BPOA's directors are also discussing how to best help our members who may be implicated in this very messy process.


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