The state Seismic Safety Commission, rebuffed by the Legislature four years ago when it proposed a policy and timetable for alleviating earthquake hazards in state buildings, decided Friday to lead a new effort to reduce hazards in all the state's buildings, public and private.
The commission decided to include in its report on the Northridge earthquake, now expected to be delivered to Gov. Pete Wilson in April, a statement that it would convene a group of experts to "recommend acceptable levels of earthquake risk and performance objectives consistent with those levels."
The procedure could lead to more rigorous design standards for buildings.
Originally, the commission was going to recommend that Wilson convene the meeting of experts. Instead, on a 10-3 vote, the commission staked out a more prominent role for itself in trying to set earthquake mitigation policy.
Members differed Friday on the exact form for the conference of building owners and managers, contractors, banking and insurance officials, emergency management and health experts and earthquake scientists.
Some said it would only be a two-day meeting, but William Gates, the member who proposed the lead role for the commission, said it might turn into a task force with deliberations that could last for months. Gates is an aide to state Sen. Alfred E. Alquist (D-Santa Clara), the author of legislation creating the commission two decades ago.
The commission's executive director, L. Thomas Tobin, said he hoped that if participants paid their own way, the required government funding might be no more than $50,000.
In its 1991 attempt to win acceptance of a "policy on acceptable levels of earthquake risk in state buildings," the commission set as its goal "that all state government buildings shall withstand earthquakes to the extent that collapse is precluded, occupants can exit safely, and functions can be resumed or relocated in a timely manner consistent with the need for services after earthquakes."
"Compliance with this policy will provide reasonable protection of life, but it will not prevent all losses of life, building function or damage," the commission said then, and it recommended a compliance schedule that would have required all state buildings to be brought up to standard by Jan. 1, 2000, or their premises vacated and the employees moved.
To the unhappiness of the commission, the Legislature never took up the recommended policy, although certain parts were followed by various state agencies. Its timetables were ignored.
In the wake of the Northridge and Kobe earthquakes, new impetus has been gathering for such standards.