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San Francisco wants private schools checked for earthquake risk

Laws and LegislationCrime, Law and Justice

San Francisco officials proposed Tuesday that all private schools in the city be checked to see whether they would be vulnerable to collapse in an earthquake.

Mayor Ed Lee said he wants an assessment of the seismic risks for the 24,000 children who attend about 120 private schools in San Francisco. Under state law, there is little seismic scrutiny of older private schools.

“Our city’s children are vulnerable and at risk until we take action to clearly understand how these buildings will perform in future earthquakes,” the mayor said in a statement.

DOCUMENT: Earthquake risk and San Francisco's private schools

The proposal will be considered by the 11-member San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Eight supervisors have signed on as co-sponsors, said Patrick Otellini, San Francisco’s director of earthquake safety.

If passed, the legislation will not require seismic retrofits. It would require a structural evaluation of private school buildings within three years, which could cost as little as $8,000 for smaller buildings.

But the results of seismic studies could cause school officials to voluntarily undertake seismic strengthening if the evaluation shows a risk to students’ lives, Otellini said. City officials plan to offer low-interest loans to schools that want to retrofit their buildings, which they could pay back in the form of increased property taxes.

“It’s a tool to empower schools so they can make informed decisions about their risk,” Otellini said.

City officials estimate that 57% of private school buildings in San Francisco will either perform poorly in an earthquake, or that there isn’t enough information to determine how they might ride out the shaking.

By contrast, 12% of San Francisco public school buildings might perform poorly in future earthquakes. The San Francisco Unified School District has identified about 15 school buildings needing seismic upgrades or evaluations but has not yet found funding or begun the retrofits.

“While most San Francisco parents assume that all schools are required to be safe in earthquakes, this is not, in fact, the case,” said a report released by a city task force on earthquake risks at private schools.

About 1 in 3 schoolchildren in San Francisco attend private schools, the highest rate in California, the report said.

California’s top seismic experts made recommendations about 20 years ago to write new laws to protect schoolchildren from collapsing school buildings. 

A year after the Northridge earthquake in 1994, the California Seismic Safety Commission recommended state lawmakers pass legislation requiring that older private and public schools be evaluated by structural engineers for life-threatening earthquake risks.

The state Legislature did not approve those recommendations. 

Some private schools and public school districts, however, have independently chosen to undertake those evaluations and upgrades. 

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ron.lin@latimes.com

Twitter: @ronlin | Facebook | Google+


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