Shaky enforcement

CITY AFFAIRS: The city has dwelled too long on the issue of coercing owners into retrofitting their buildings. It is time to act.

The city’s dilemma of coaxing landlords into retrofitting their earthquake-vulnerable buildings has dragged on too long.

According to a 2008 US Geological Survey study, there is a 63 percent chance that in about the next 30 years an earthquake of magnitude 6.7 or greater will shake the Bay Area. According to the city, 14,000 residents are currently at risk of being displaced by such a catastrophe. Thus, we are alarmed that the city is still debating an ordinance that was passed six years ago to address the matter.

At a meeting Thursday, Berkeley City Council members and Rent Board Stabilization commissioners debated what to do about the Soft Story Ordinance of 2005, which seeks to reinforce “soft-story” buildings, or those that have weak first stories with parking garages or commercial spaces. However, these officials can’t seem to figure out how to actually enforce the ordinance.

Only 66 out of the 269 owners of soft-story buildings have retrofitted their buildings while 86 owners haven’t even submitted plans for their buildings, according to Lief Bursell, the city’s assistant planner. This is not acceptable. We are especially concerned because many of these buildings are home to students. Young, naive students often do not realize that they are living in unsafe buildings and are susceptible to the whims of landlords who have not been complying with the ordinance. Students often do not invest the time to research their apartments because they are transitory.

The city must be strict with owners who are putting their tenants at risk by not retrofitting their units. Enforcement must be the priority.

We also urge the campus administrators and the student government to get involved on behalf of the large student population within these buildings. The campus must still be responsible for protecting students once they leave the safe haven of the dorms. Administrators and ASUC officials must lend their voices to the discussion of the Soft Story Ordinance and advocate with an influence that the average student does not possess.

Without proper enforcement and support, the efforts behind the ordinance will all come crashing down.