Councilmember Kalb’s and Mayor Schaaf’s Seismic Retrofit Ordinance Approved in Committee, Moves on to Full Council

Date Posted: December 4th, 2018 @ 12:00 AM
Last Updated: February 14th, 2019 @ 4:41 PM

OAKLAND, CA This afternoon, an ordinance authored by Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb and Mayor Libby Schaaf to save lives and reduce the potential for housing displacement in the event of a major earthquake was approved by the City Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee. The item will now move ahead to be heard by the full city council during their meeting December 11.

“It is imperative that we take action to make homes safe for the thousands of Oaklanders living in older apartment (or condominium) buildings,” said Oakland Councilmember Dan Kalb, principal author of the Ordinance. “This law will go a long way to ensure, in the event of a major earthquake, that lives are protected and displacement is minimized. Without this law, we could face our own ‘Katrina’.”

After a major earthquake, many residential tenants are likely to be displaced from damaged buildings, with soft-story buildings being particularly vulnerable. Soft-story buildings are multi-unit, wood-frame residential buildings with a first story that lacks adequate strength or stiffness to prevent leaning or collapse in an earthquake. The Mandatory Seismic Retrofit Ordinance would require that older wood frame buildings with 5 or more units that are vulnerable to major seismic events be seismically retrofitted.

“A major earthquake along the Hayward fault is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf. “As a city, we have a responsibility to put measures in place that will prevent injury and loss of life, and reduce displacement and recovery time in the aftermath of a major quake. This ordinance does all of those while also ensuring that we’re not placing an undue financial burden on property owners and tenants in our community.”

Required retrofit work is a capital improvement. Under Oakland rent adjustment law, 70% of the costs of a capital improvement can be passed through to tenants (unless the owner has otherwise been reimbursed). To prevent such pass-throughs from resulting in rent hikes that could displace tenants, the proposed mandatory seismic retrofit law would allow that pass-through costs be repaid over 25 years.

Upon the ordinance becoming effective, the City’s Planning and Building Department staff would notify property owners of the program and compliance requirements based on a mailing list from the 2009 screening program (Ordinance 12966 C.M.S.; O.M.C. Chapter 15.26) and property characteristics data. The Department’s Building Bureau would provide technical guidance on structural evaluations and retrofit designs.

The ordinance requires owners of soft-story buildings containing five or more residential units to do the following:

• Within one year, document that the building is exempt from the seismic retrofit program;


• Within four to six years, depending upon the type of building, perform a mandatory structural evaluation, obtain retrofit permit(s), and complete retrofit work per specified engineering criteria.

The proposal is designed to limit potential impacts to building owners as follows:

1. Preventative seismic retrofits will likely cost owners less than repair or rebuild work after a major earthquake;

2. Some financial assistance is available for owners doing seismic retrofit work; and

3. Zoning incentives apply, such as waived parking, setback and height regulations, and one or two additional dwelling units are permitted depending upon the size of the building.

The proposal is designed to reduce potential impacts to tenants as follows:

A. Preventative seismic retrofits will prevent occupant injury and loss of life and will reduce residential displacement in the event of a major earthquake;

B. Tenants that need to be temporarily relocated during seismic retrofit work are entitled to relocation payments by the owner under the City’s Code Compliance Relocation Program to cover the cost of temporary housing elsewhere; and

C. The ordinance directs the City Administrator to develop administrative regulations requiring owners to notify tenants of proposed construction schedules and provisions for tenant relocation, if applicable.

In 2008, the City and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) identified 24,273 residential units in 1,479 potential soft-story buildings in Oakland based on criteria representing the greatest risk -five or more units, two to seven stories tall, built before 1991, and parking or commercial uses on the ground floor.

Since then, several policy and legislative actions related to soft-story screening and seismic strengthening have been implemented in Oakland, including:

In 2015, the City Council approved the Housing Action Plan and Policy Framework contained within the Housing Equity Roadmap, which called for a mandatory soft-story retrofit ordinance that limits rent increases and provides resources and incentives to property owners. And in 2016, the Oakland Resilience Office released the Resilient Oakland playbook, which promotes the development and implementation of a soft-story retrofit program, among other recommendations.

Similar mandatory retrofit programs have already been implemented in several other California cities, including Berkeley, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Oakland’s program will benefit technically and financially by following these existing retrofit programs. Additionally, the Bay Area engineering community, construction industry, and financial lenders are establishing efficient practices and developing a competitive market, which will greatly benefit the implementation of this ordinance in Oakland.

For more information on the legislative history of this ordinance, details on the financial incentives for property owners, and examples of seismic retrofit programs in other cities, please review the staff report and supplemental reports, which can be found here:

Media Contact

Oliver Luby

Chief of Staff

Council District 1

Office of CM Kalb


Justin Berton

Communications Director

Office of the Mayor

(510) 238-7072