Berkeley City Council discusses possible seismic upgrades to community centers

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Mitzi Perez/Staff

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The Berkeley City Council began looking into possibly retrofitting six community sites at a special meeting Tuesday, after a seismic evaluation report declared the buildings unfit in the event of a disaster.

The report found that none of the facilities — which are designated care and shelter sites should a disaster strike — would be able to perform their daily and shelter capacities without significant and expensive repairs if a major earthquake occurred.

“The fact that Berkeley is vulnerable to earthquakes is not news to any of us,” said Chief Resilience Officer Timothy Burroughs at the presentation to City Council.

The community centers evaluated are the North and South Berkeley Senior Centers, the West Berkeley Service Center, the Frances Albrier Community Center, the Live Oak Community Center and the Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Services Center.

During the meeting, Burroughs relayed findings from the U.S. Geological Survey, which estimated that there is about a 31 percent chance that a 6.7 or greater magnitude earthquake will occur on the Hayward Fault by 2038.

“Effectively, it’s not a matter of if the Hayward Fault or some other fault ruptures . . . it is truly a matter of when,” Burroughs said.

In the event of a major earthquake, 3,000 to 12,000 households would be displaced from their homes, and approximately 1,000 to 4,000 of those households would seek temporary shelter provided by the city and the Red Cross, according to a city analysis conducted as part of the Local Hazard Mitigation Plan.

City-designated safety centers serve more than 3,000 youth and adults as well as hundreds of seniors everyday, according to Burroughs.

“These sites — the senior centers, community centers and the parks — are clearly critical to our community, but you might also say that they are in critical condition,” Burroughs said.

Making the buildings seismically sound would cost the city almost $17 million, according to independent reports by the Department of Public Works and Risk Management Solutions, Inc., or RMS, a firm contracted by the city. The cost includes both deferred maintenance repairs and seismic upgrades.

The RMS analysis also stated that investing in seismic retrofits is substantially more cost-effective and environmentally friendly than rebuilding or repairing structures after an earthquake.

Additionally, the analysis noted that investing in the seismic upgrades improves a building’s efficiency and safety, as well as reduces operating costs.

Some council members, however, voiced concerns over the estimated cost of the renovations.

“You’re presenting us with a conundrum. We don’t have the money,” said Councilmember Laurie Capitelli. “We could either borrow the money through bonds, we can increase fees on our property-owning citizens or we can find (funds) somewhere else in the budget and give this some sort of priority.”

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin emphasized the necessity of the projects, calling the community centers in need of repair “the tip of the iceberg.”

“We have many facilities that are desperately in need of repair,” Arreguin said. “And I think we need to not only talk about this, but talk about all of our capital needs in a comprehensive way.”

The council will reconvene Feb. 9 to review funding options and community interest in seismic upgrades to the buildings.

Brenna Smith covers business and the economy. Contact her at [email protected].