San Francisco Seismic Retrofit Blog

Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge Reopening

Bridges all over California (and elsewhere) are undergoing improvement projects to ensure their security in the case of a large earthquake- some preemptively and some by necessity. Most recently the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, which runs on Monterey County’s Highway 1, has reopened after major damage- which nearby residents are thrilled about.

The newly constructed bridge, which is now made of steel, was built in replacement of the original concrete bridge that was severely damaged following a severe winter storm in February. 30 miles of this very essential bridge was closed for eight months while repairs were made. 

Many businesses in Big Sur suffered from the loss of traffic coming through the tourist destinations, with many tourists and residents unwilling to make the hike. Some businesses even closed their doors while the bridge was under construction.

The bridge, which opened last month, was a joyous occasion for residents and business owners who celebrated with a grand opening the day that it was officially ready to be driven on again.

The fact that this bridge was able to be completed so quickly is quite amazing. One estimate stated that a project as large as this one could have taken as long as 10 years to complete. However, with a dedicated team of professionals who worked tirelessly through holidays and weekends, the bridge repair was able to be completed in a mere eight months.

Penhall Company was involved in the final portion of the bridge repair. Using a Penhall G-38 grinder, Penhall Company’s team ground the bridge and gave the proper texture to the bridge- as required by CalTrans. Penhall Company finished their work two days before the bridge’s grand opening.

Thankful for all those involved in the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge reconstruction process for making it a success and safer for all of those who use it.




November 22, 2017

Private School Seismic Retrofitting in SF

St. Anne’s Catholic School in San Francisco is undergoing seismic retrofitting.

Photo by Valerie Schmalz/Catholic San Francisco

St. Anne’s is the first of the four Catholic schools in San Francisco that will be retrofitted by the end this year.  These projects came in response to an ordinance that was passed in 2014. This ordinance required that all private school buildings must be evaluated in compliance with a “life-safety” standard. In other words, it must be determined as strong enough to allow for everyone in the building to safely exit the building in the case of an earthquake. This ordinance does not “require” the actual retrofit- just the evaluation, but it is a top priority of school officials to complete the retrofit in its entirety. It was signed into law in 2014 by Mayor Ed Lee. The Archdiocese of San Francisco is passionate about the seismic retrofit project for the safety of their students, present and future.

They feel that the seismic retrofit projects are of the utmost importance if these schools are to continue educating children for years to come. Although St. Anne’s was not damaged during the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, nor did it experience damage in any other quakes, it doesn’t mean that they weren’t at risk. Had the Loma Prieta quake “zigged instead of zagged” the outcome would have been much different due to the difference between the wooden floors and the concrete walls (

St. Anne’s is very fortunate to be funding this retrofit largely with money that has been accruing from their endowment as well as through loans and funds raised by alumni and parents. It is estimated that the other 24 schools recommended to retrofit will be completed within five to eight years, after they have raised funds and completed the engineering and construction process. To avoid disrupting the student’s and faculty, most of the retrofit work will be done during summer breaks. Many of San Francisco’s Catholic schools were built following the tragic 1906 earthquake in San Francisco- making some of them nearly 90 years old. The city of San Francisco has more private schools than any other majority city in California- many of which are within historic buildings. Private schools and public schools have different seismic safety requirements per the Field Act.  Any building constructed after 1978 is at significantly higher risk, so these retrofits are certainly necessary.



September 1, 2017

Seismic Retrofit Pass Through Rate City By City

It can be a misconception that if you own a rental property you are extremely wealthy with millions in liquid capital. Some may picture Daddy Warbucks or Scrooge McDuck counting his gold pieces in a vault. However in reality, many multi-family property owners in California only own the one building. Many of the buildings have been passed on by inheritance or death of a spouse. Others use that piece of property as their only source of retired income.  Many of the property owners affected by the soft-story retrofit ordinance may not have the money in the bank to pay for the retrofit work and that must be addressed.

In order to assist property owners with some of the costs that are associated with the seismic retrofitting of their buildings, “pass through programs” have been implemented in certain cities. A pass through program is essentially a way that the burden of cost can be lessened for property owners. Based on the type and size of the building as well as what reinforcement it requires, the cost of a retrofit can vary considerably. For example, a 4 unit 3 story building on Haight Street in San Francisco costs $120,000 to retrofit but a 6 unit 3 story building on Dolores Street costs less than half the price of the aforementioned building ( Regardless if the price is $200,000 or $20,000, it is still an expense that many property owners are not able to incur alone.

The pass through program seeks to provide relief to property owners, many of whom rely on their building as a sole source of income. So far San Francisco seems to offer the highest pass through rate, allowing property owners to pass through 100% of the cost to tenants. However, this pass through cannot happen overnight. There are limits on how much property owners can increase the rent per year. In San Francisco that limit is no greater than $30 a month or a 10% increase of the tenant’s existing rent (

Los Angeles does not have as hefty as a pass through rate as San Francisco does. The maximum pass through rate in Los Angeles is 50%, which must apply to all rental units in the building. This can be implemented through a rent increase of $38 per month for 120 months, according to the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department (

Santa Monica and West Hollywood have not yet established a pass through program. West Hollywood City Council has stated that they will consider potential pass through options in the coming months (

We (and your city council members) understand that the mandatory retrofitting of buildings puts a significant financial strain on building owners. This is why pass through programs and other financing options are available. Collectively, building owners and tenants will make themselves and their homes safer through seismic retrofitting- the importance of which cannot be priced.

In the end, whether the property owner chooses to pass costs through or not, one thing that landlords and tenants can agree on is that the retrofit work is a necessary action to protect the building structure, personal property and many lives from major loss.

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August 3, 2017

San Francisco Seismic Retrofit Deadlines Approaching

Procrastination is an ailment that we all can occasionally fall victim to. Whether it is writing a school paper, paying your taxes or seismically retrofitting your building, eventually these things must get done. However, some procrastination has graver consequences than others, none more so than delaying the compliance of the San Francisco mandatory seismic retrofit mandate of soft story buildings, where losing lives and property are the real repercussion.

The deadline for submitting engineering plans for approval for seismic retrofitting in San Francisco is rapidly approaching. September 15th is only a few months away yet there are nearly 2,000 buildings in the city that have no proposed engineering plans submitted SFDBI (San Francisco Department of Building and Inspection).  It is important to remember that this a mandatory ordinance, so eventually procrastination transform into action.

Understandably, nobody really likes to be told what to do. This is especially true when you are the property owner and you realize it may cost you thousands of dollars to complete a retrofit. However, the safety of your building and those who reside in it cannot be short changed. So if this mandatory ordinance is causing you stress, the best way to handle that is to address it head on. Pull that band aid and call the professionals at Penhall Company, a reliable design-build firm that can handle your seismic retrofit from concept to completion.

Penhall Company was established in 1957 and for 60 years has been setting that standard of excellence in the construction industry. Penhall Company Seismic Service offers customers all the the benefits of a larger company, while still providing the close personal attention of a small firm. Our team of professional engineers and project managers work side by side to help you through the seismic retrofitting process. Penhall Company Seismic Services aims to make this process as easy on you as possible.

The deadline is rapidly approaching so the time to act is now.  If you received a notice to comply and do not submit your plans by September 15th, your building will soon display a large sign that reads “Earthquake Warning”. If that is not enough of a deterrent, owners will then be asked to appear and explain to the city why they have not complied. Finally, fines will be issued if owners do not bring their buildings up to proper code ( In short, this mandate is not going away so it is recommended that you are proactive in complying with it.  For more information on the Mandatory Soft Story Program in San Francisco visit their website at

seismic mandate earthquake warning sign



For additional information on Penhall and the services we provide, visit or call us now to schedule your free property assessment!

San Francisco Office- 1-415-619-3204


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July 24, 2017

Seismic Retrofit Grants in Berkeley

Following San Francisco’s example, the city of Berkeley also adopted a mandatory seismic retrofit requirement for soft, weak, and open front buildings. This requirement applies only to wood frame buildings that have five or more units and were constructed before 1978. With the help of FEMA and Emergency Services Office, design and construction grants have been made available for property owners. Although these seismic retrofit grants do not cover all of the costs associated with the retrofit, it is still a great help to property owners going through this process. Property owners are able to receive reimbursement for design costs up to $5,000 and are also eligible to receive 30% or 40% reimbursement for the cost of construction.

If an owner applies for a design grant as well, they can receive up to 30% of the construction costs. If a building owner does not apply for a design grant, they could be reimbursed with up to 40% of the costs of construction. For example, if a property owner received a design grant of $5,000 and the costs of construction were $40,000 he or she would receive a reimbursement of $12,000 for construction (30%).

Unfortunately there are no grants available yet for buildings containing less than 5 units. However, the city of Berkeley is not ruling out the possibility of grants becoming available for smaller buildings in the future. In conclusion, your city council members are not happy that you must incur the costs of retrofitting. It is, however, very important that unsafe buildings are retrofitted to avoid the damages that a large earthquake could bring.

It is a priority of Penhall Company Seismic Retrofit Services to provide quality service at a reasonable price. We retrofit with a purpose – we have been first responders after the devastating effects of earthquakes in California. We believe every life matters. Our daily goal is to make people safer one retrofit at a time.

For more information on the grants that Berkeley offers visit their website

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July 18, 2017

Penhall Company’s Involvement With Earthquakes: Why We Retrofit With A Purpose

The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake will forever be embedded in the minds of those who experienced it, as well as those who participated in the cleanup of the quake. Team members of the Penhall Company from all over the country responded after this tragic event to help clear the wreckage caused by the collapse of the 880 Cypress Freeway. This collapse has been described as “the worst disaster of the quake” and many people tragically lost their lives as a result.  The timing of this quake is thought to have saved the lives of many, since it occurred during the third game of the 1989 World Series. If not for this event it is estimated that there would have been many more people on the road, especially on the Cypress Freeway.  After the quake, Penhall Company employees worked tirelessly for weeks to clear the area where the Cypress Street ramp of Interstate 880 once stood.   Many of our employees saw first hand the horrendous impact that earthquakes can have through their aid in the recovery of victims.  These experiences explain in part why we as a company are so passionate about the seismic retrofit process. 

Loma Prieta Earthquake 1989

Loma Prieta, 1989.

Less than five years after Loma Prieta, Penhall employees responded to the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge earthquake. This 6.7 magnitude quake shook the San Fernando Valley early in the morning on January 17th and was felt as far out as Las Vegas. It is estimated that over 20 billion dollars worth of damage was done, as a result of the commercial, residential buildings and freeway ramps that crumbled ( Many of the responding staff were locals that were personally affected by the quake. Both of these earthquakes changed the lives of both the affected citizens and the Penhall team. So it is with this knowledge that we must commit ourselves to preparing properly in the event of another major earthquake.

Penhall Company Seismic Services offers earthquake retrofitting that is dedicated to saving lives, because ultimately we know that the high quality seismic retrofitting of buildings affects us all.  Elizabeth Wilson, Penhall’s Director of Seismic Services, often says that “we retrofit with a purpose”. We have seen first hand the devastation of these quakes and we are driven by our dedication to excellence. Penhall Company continues to holds itself to a higher standard; from our quality control measures to our customer service, we value integrity in business and safety first.

Tragedies such as those experienced during the Loma Prieta and Northridge Earthquake can be avoided by being proactive and choosing to make your building compliant to the seismic ordinances in your city. Although it is painful to think about these past earthquakes and the loss that many people experienced, it serves as a necessary reminder. We are reminded of the importance of using today’s construction advances to promote the safety of property and most importantly life.

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July 11, 2017

Shake Alert- Earthquake Early Warning System

Presently, scientists and seismologists alike have been unable to predict a major earthquake ( 2017). According to the USGS, they do not know how to predict quakes and cannot anticipate when this fact will change ( This understanding is unsettling because a major earthquake could hit at any time and no one would have the slightest clue that it was coming.  To help with this issue, there is an earthquake early warning system that is being developed. The system, ShakeAlert, does not predict where or when an earthquake will occur. However, it does warn people as early as possible once the seismometers closest to the epicenter of the Earthquake detect seismic activity. For example, as was the case during a magnitude 6 earthquake in Napa, warnings were sent out within 5.1 seconds to users in San Francisco (IRIS Earthquake Science). This warning notified recipients that in eight seconds the strongest shaking of the quake would occur. Eight seconds may not seem important but those valuable eight seconds could allow sufficient time for individuals to stop and take cover.  ShakeAlert is not fully “active” yet. According to, there are still steps that need to be taken in order for the system to be fully developed and tested. Efforts to make this system a reality are still in the works and USGS and its partners hope to continue its growth. Japan already has an advanced early warning system in place that notifies residents of earthquakes via phone, radio, and television. It quickly provides information to the residents about the whereabouts of the earthquake, its magnitude, and when the quake will arrive at their location. During one earthquake, it was estimated that Tokyo residents had nearly 80 seconds of warning before the shaking began. This early warning can allow for drivers to stop their cars, doctors to prep their patients, and so much more. Having a comparable system in California could save lives, by giving residents a chance to react, take action, and seek shelter.

For more information on ShakeAlert and its progress, visit their website at

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July 6, 2017

USRC Building Rating System

Recent Recorded California Earthquakes

California is no stranger to earthquakes and the San Francisco area has certainly seen some powerful quakes over the years. The San Francisco area has experienced seven earthquakes in the last seven days and thirty-two in the last 30 days, which is essentially an earthquake a day (  Although these quakes are not of a particularly high magnitude, their frequent occurrences still call for attention to be paid.  In addition, although it is not a recent earthquake, it is important to remember the historical 1906 San Fransisco earthquake. With a magnitude of over 7.7, this earthquake was extremely destructive in San Francisco and the surrounding areas. This quake has gone down in history as being one of the worst in United States history, when considering the damage caused and the lives that were lost as a result. The 1906 is still to date the largest quake that has occurred in the San Francisco area. Many Californian’s may be thinking, “accompanying all of these frequent and small earthquakes must be the big one as well too right?”  The answer is yes! It is a general understanding from various scientific outlets such as the USGS and academic studies that another high magnitude and destructive quake could come at any time. This consensus is what has driven policies regarding mandatory soft-story and non-ductile seismic retrofitting in San Francisco and Berkeley. Mandatory seismic retrofit ordinances have already begun and are actively being implemented and now and for the next twenty plus years. Greater recognition of the importance of seismic retrofitting has been made possible through the efforts of many earthquake experts and structural engineers over the last decade. These experts, although sometimes ignored historically, have been explaining for some time that the frequency and unpredictability of California quakes combined with deficient infrastructure is why seismic retrofitting should no longer be voluntary, but mandatory.  The preventive measures of seismic retrofitting that is now required in many cities in California will be to the benefit of all, when inevitably a larger and more powerful earthquakes hits the state.

Industry News for Seismic Retrofit Service for San Francisco

The San Francisco Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety (CAPSS) estimated back in 2013 that “43 to 85 percent of the most vulnerable multi-unit, wood-frame buildings would be posted with a red UNSAFE placard (“red tagged”) following a magnitude 7.2 earthquake on a nearby segment of the San Andreas fault, representing 1,200 to 2,400 red-tagged buildings. Red-tagged buildings are uninhabitable and may not be occupied after an earthquake until they are either repaired or replaced… The CAPSS study estimates that with appropriate seismic retrofit the overall rate of collapse in a 7.2 San Andreas fault earthquake drops dramatically.” (Per the San Francisco Ordinance No. 66-13)

In the event of an earthquake there has to be some type of system to evaluate how well a building will hold up. One such rating system is known as the United States Resiliency Council Building Rating System. Per the USRC website, “The USRC Building Rating System assigns one to five stars for three performance measures – Safety, Damage expressed as repair cost, and Recovery expressed as time to regain basic function.”

It is the discretion of the owner to what level of resiliency they desire for their building. At minimum, the seismic retrofit ordinances aim to make buildings safe enough for tenants to exit the building safely in the event of a large earthquake. This does not guarantee that the building will be habitable after an earthquake. For other buildings that would in fact need to be in operation after a large quake, i.e. hospitals, these buildings must be kept to a higher standard of resiliency.

Every city should be concerned first and foremost about the safety of its residents, but secondly, they should want to make sure that the City would still be able to thrive after an earthquake. Would the residents be able to return to their homes and/or jobs after a quake, or will they move to an area of less seismic activity? Per, “If you live or work in retrofitted structures, you’re less likely to be injured during an earthquake. After the earthquake, you’re also more likely to have a home and a job to which you can quickly return. Businesses that use retrofitted buildings are more likely to survive damaging earthquakes and to sustain shorter business interruptions and fewer inventory losses.”

April 14, 2017