Photo: VV Nincic/Flickr

It’s easy to strike fear into the hearts of local San Franciscans — simply mention the imminent “big one” and people will start listing off the contents of their earthquake kits. It’s likely those same citizens would be especially concerned to hear about the 484 tier-three “soft-story” buildings in San Francisco whose owners have yet to submit plans for earthquake retrofitting.

A soft-story building is defined by the city as, “A wood-frame building […] where the first story is substantially weaker and more flexible than the stories above due to lack of walls or frames at the first floor.” Tier-three refers to the total floors in a building, meaning those in question are all three stories. Most of the flagged homes are in the Richmond, Mission, Chinatown, Western Addition, Castro/Noe Valley and in the Marina.

Currently, there are 3,464 tier-three soft-story buildings in San Francisco that submitted plans by September 15th to retrofit within two years. For the 14 percent who failed to submit their plans under deadline, warning notices will be put up to alert the public that they are seismically unsafe. But what about the other 86 percent? Will people be warned if they are entering any one of the nearly 3,000 buildings in the two years before retrofitting must be legally completed?

The owners of these buildings, especially the elderly, are left in a red-tape tangle. “There’s an awful lot of buildings that, I’ve been told, have been sold because you have people on fixed incomes, people that just had no idea how to get a contractor and an engineer and they sold their buildings,” Edward Sweeney, the deputy director of inspection services at the Department of Building Inspection told the San Francisco Examiner. “A lot… of elderly people have sold their properties because of this program.”

The 1906 earthquake stalled the momentum of San Francisco’s growth and prosperity and also took 3,000 victims’ lives, so it’s no surprise safety in the face of tectonic shifts is a major concern for city officials.

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