• Reuters


The city of San Francisco stepped up the pressure on property owners who fail to comply with seismic retrofitting regulations this week, posting large red-and-white warning signs on the buildings to make the violations public.

The move comes just weeks after Northern California was rocked by the biggest earthquake to hit the region in a quarter-century, centered close to San Francisco in the state’s wine-growing region of Napa County.

The requirement, which could cost property owners up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, affects mostly small apartment buildings and hotels but not single-family homes.

“It’s not intended to create panic, it’s intended to notify tenants and also to let landlords know that there are real consequences to non-compliance,” Patrick Otellini, San Francisco’s director of earthquake safety, said of the warning placards.

It marks the latest bid by a major West Coast city to address the threat earthquakes pose to aging infrastructure.

During his State of the City address in April, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he was working with seismic experts at the California Institute of Technology to develop a “first-rate rating system” for the city’s buildings.

A spokesman for the mayor said that rating system could include letter grades on buildings to inform the public of their ability to withstand an earthquake, although the details of the program have yet to be finalized.

In San Francisco, officials say the placards, which feature the words “Earthquake Warning!” in large letters at the top, are not a bid to shame anyone, but to gain compliance with a citywide campaign to retrofit older, wood-frame “soft story” structures, which are considered most vulnerable in an earthquake.

Owners of such buildings were sent notices a year ago that they needed to evaluate their properties for possible retrofitting.

Otellini said the roughly 10 percent of the owners who had failed to comply and saw their buildings tagged with the placards would have 30 days to comply before facing fines and the prospect of a freeze on future building permits.

“I think San Francisco faces a tremendous risk (from earthquakes),” Otellini said.

“But these programs we’re doing right now are really focused on having an impact a few years from now,” he said. “We have to balance the real needs when you’re asking property owners to spend thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of dollars on retrofitting.”

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