Study Predicts Damage to Southern SF Homes in Quake

Editor's Note: This story was substantially edited after publication to reflect revisions by the source of the data.

Aaron Williams

A major earthquake could damage 80 percent of Ingleside and Excelsior homes and cause $2.3 billion in losses according to the draft of a long-awaited study.

The data reflects the collaboration of public and private agencies studying the potential effects of the 7.2 earthquake that is projected to hit the city within 30 years. The final report, covering the entire city, is due this summer. Follow up reports are expected in the fall.

The report will likely influence the debate on mandatory retrofitting of homes to better withstand earthquakes. Residents of the Excelsior and Ingleside also can use the report to weigh the costs of improving their homes against a higher earthquake insurance deductible.

“I just pay for a bundle that includes earthquake insurance,” resident Christina Ridad said. A sewer below Ridad’s home broke during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which her insurance covered. Despite the minimal damage, she decided to keep the insurance.

Homeowners such as Teresa Nasareo said that she wouldn’t live without her insurance, although her home was not affected by the 1989 quake. “You have to have it. It’s necessary,” she said.

Danger Below
The garage or store under a multi-tenant, soft-story wood frame building is the most vulnerable to earthquake damage in San Francisco. It is also the most popular type of apartment structure. Though these building aren't prevalent in the Ingleside or Excelsior, most of the single family homes there have garages underneath that don’t provide adequate support.

“Just because many homes in that area don’t fall into that category doesn’t mean they’re exempt,” real dstate consultant John Paxton said of the neighborhood. “It’s very popular to have the construction of garages under the living unit in that area. So these people should be aware that their building type is susceptible.”

Laurence Kornfield, chief building inspector for the city, also noted that though earthquakes pose a threat to the city, the shaking isn’t the biggest concern. The biggest risk, he said, comes from the fires that follow.

The Department of Building Inspection jump-started the Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety to tackle the imminent danger of an earthquake in 2001.

While the city figured how to combat imminent natural disasters, think-tanks like the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) created their own proposals. In 2008, SPUR published a report entitled “The Resilient City” that asked for improvements such as transparent building codes, near-term cost-effective repairs and better owner incentives.

“We want to be prepared for the rebuilding process and part of that has to do with our buildings and our lifelines being strong now, so that we can prepare for a major earthquake,” SPUR Deputy Director Sarah Karlinsky said. The DBI, SPUR and CAPSS all collaborated to create the draft report.

Voluntary Cost
To be sure, earthquake preparedness is a primary focus of the city. Newsom’s push in February for mandatory retrofitting came with a strict criteria.

Currently, the primary focus is on homes that are three or more stories, five or more residential units, and have wood-frame structures according to Paxton. Buildings built before May 1973 also get attention because building codes were changed after that date.

The city has waived some fees and expedited inspections so that the city can have safer buildings. Still, a report by the San Francisco Controller’s office stated that an average of only 40 homes a year have been retrofitted since the 1989 quake.

The report noted that the city gave landlords the option to pass the entire cost on to renters over a 20-year schedule through a rent increase of 5 percent or $30, whichever is greater. However, some residents do not like the thought of increased rent, no matter the reason.

“It seems like a loophole around rent control,” Ingleside resident Max Gerhardt said. Gerhardt rented his home and doesn’t want any other cost on top of his rent, regardless of the what it’s supposed to do. “I’d be pissed. I’m worried homeowners would be able to abuse it.”