California’s two public university systems have been sharply criticized by the California Seismic Safety Commission for failing to bring campus buildings up to earthquake safety standards.
The Cal State system has neither an adequate policy statement about the need for seismic safety nor a plan to bring it about on its 20 campuses, the commission said in a report made available Wednesday.
And the University of California system has a policy to retrofit existing buildings but is not implementing it quickly enough, the report said. Failure to do so immediately “will continue to expose both people and programs to a high degree of vulnerability for years, perhaps decades, to come,” the report said.
The commission said the plan for the nine UC campuses was good in concept but that “there are serious problems in the areas of funding and accountability.”
Officials of both university systems agreed that many buildings still need to be made safer but complained they lacked funds to do the job.
The commission report acknowledged that both systems face a funding problem but urged them to shift their priorities so that more money is spent to shore up hazardous buildings, rather than on other purposes.
The report was a response to an executive order signed by Gov. George Deukmejian after the 1989 Bay Area earthquake, calling on all state agencies to make seismic safety a high priority.
The governor ordered the commission, made up of 15 of his own appointees and two state legislators, to monitor progress and report to him periodically. This is the first report dealing with the two university systems. It does not list the buildings considered to be unsafe.
The commission praised the UC system for an earthquake safety program that dates to the mid-1970s and also had kind words for UC President David P. Gardner’s “personal commitment to seismic safety.”
But decisions by local campus officials have not always matched that commitment, the report said.
For example, new coaches’ offices, a weight-training room and a “Hall of Fame,” paid for with private gift funds, were added to Memorial Stadium on the Berkeley campus, even though no additional structural improvements were made and the 72,000-seat football stadium sits astride the dangerous Hayward Fault.
“In this case, improving intercollegiate athletic facilities was a higher priority than improving the seismic safety of this known collapse hazard,” the report said. “Instead of reducing the risk by reducing occupancy, the campus actually chose to increase it.”
Nadesan Permaul, a UC Berkeley official, said the additions, all part of the “Cal Sports ‘80s Improvements” program, were approved by two engineering firms.
Permaul said there was a “difference of opinion” between the structural specialists engaged by the Seismic Safety Commission and those hired by the campus.
“We certainly respect their opinion, but we feel we’ve taken a prudent, cautious approach in making these improvements,” he added.
Sandra Smith, a UC assistant vice president for policy analysis and capital planning, said the system is just as eager as the commission to make campus buildings safe.
“We’ve been working on seismic safety for many years,” Smith said. “The issue is lack of funds. The commission wants seismic safety to be the university’s highest priority, but we have other state mandates to meet at the same time,” such as increasing campus capacities to accommodate the top one-eighth of the state’s high school graduates who are eligible for the system.
Smith said UC has identified 149 buildings on its campuses as “poor” or “very poor” and has repaired, or has plans to repair, all but 49.
“We look at that as pretty significant progress,” she said. “We would do them all but the problem is, where does the money come from?”
Leon Schwartz, UC Irvine vice chancellor of administration, said two buildings on the campus are already undergoing earthquake safety retrofitting. UCI received $1.7 million to build exterior braces on the university’s gymnasium and Humanities Hall, which were among the first buildings on the campus. They had been rated “poor” by engineers hired by the University of California in its internal study. Schwartz said UCI also plans to secure shelves at the library and chemistry laboratories to make sure books and chemicals do not topple when a temblor hits the campus.
But Schwartz said UCI does not face the same potential earthquake problems as older campuses in the UC system. The Irvine campus, which has about 50 large buildings, is 25 years old and has structures built to more stringent earthquake safety building codes, Schwartz said.
“We are in pretty good shape here,” Schwartz said.
While the report deals at some length with UC, the section on Cal State is short because of the lack of a specific policy aimed at addressing the seismic issue.
Possible sources of money to pay for repairs have not been identified and Cal State has been unwilling to increase student fees to pay for structural repairs in such student-funded buildings as cafeterias and dormitories, the report noted.
Jay Bond, Cal State Fullerton’s associate vice president for facility planning and construction, said he does not know whether the campus has plans to evaluate its buildings’ seismic safety status.
Bond said the campus cannot initiate any major earthquake safety changes unless the entire Cal State system does.
“We can’t operate in a vacuum,” Bond said.
Tom Coffin, chief of architecture and engineering for the 360,000-student Cal State system, said a 10-year earthquake-repair plan has been prepared but conceded that “there has been no systematic effort” to solve the problem.
“We haven’t had the money to do it,” Coffin said. “Unlike UC, we don’t have any discretionary money we can move around for a purpose like this. All our money comes from the state.”
Times staff writer Lily Eng contributed to this report.