Expert panel says San Francisco’s building codes need to be rewritten and tall buildings require inspection, retrofitting

Millennium Tower sinking
Image from the European Space Agency confirming the Millennium tower sinking

An expert panel says San Francisco’s building codes are inadequate to deal a large earthquake’s aftermath and called for both the inspection and retrofitting of existing tall buildings and stronger regulations for new ones, The New York Times (NYT) reports.

Former mayor Edwin M. Lee commissioned the report, which was prepared by a group of engineers.

The report focuses on the seismic vulnerability of the city’s skyscrapers. It follows construction flaws in two high-profile new buildings, including the 58-story Millennium Tower, which continues to sink into the ground and is tilting 15 inches toward neighboring skyscrapers.

In addition, the newly-built Salesforce Transit Center was closed after large cracks were discovered in the structure’s supporting beams.

The report recommends that tall buildings be required to be more rigid and that critical infrastructure like plumbing, water supply and electricity be built to higher standards.

“What you are seeing here is the city’s recognition that it cannot protect their citizens from the biggest earthquake without dealing with these issues,” the NYT quoted earthquake specialist Lucy Jones as saying.

No legislation has been written yet, but the report’s recommendations will be presented to the city’s board of supervisors later this month. If passed, they could be put into effect in the next revision of the city’s building code in September 2019.

The NYT reports that the driving philosophy of seismic building codes, which were conceived when most of the population in California lived in rural areas with lower-lying structures, focuses on protecting lives, not on whether a building will be usable after an earthquake.

A growing number of experts say the current building codes are not appropriate for modern urban areas that are much more dense. If it carries out these recommendations, Ms. Jones believes that San Francisco would be the first city in the United States to enact broader regulations that demand that a city be functional after an earthquake.


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