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SF mayor wants to mandate upgrades
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The mayor of San Francisco wants to require thousands of San Francisco property owners to upgrade their apartment and office buildings to withstand major earthquakes, saying that encouraging people to retrofit their structures has not worked.

Mayor Ed Lee said the city is trying to protect about 58,000 residents and 7,000 workers who live or work in so-called "soft-story" structures, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday.

A majority of the 11-member Board of Supervisors supports legislation Lee introduced that would mandate seismic improvements on buildings built before 1978 that are believed to be most vulnerable to collapsing from an earthquake — buildings with wood frames, three or more floors and ground floor garages, windows or other openings.

"We've been talking for years and years about doing something, and our voluntary retrofit program doesn't seem to work for everyone because the work is not getting done," Supervisor Scott Wiener, a co-sponsor of the bill introduced Tuesday.

City officials estimate that between 3,000 and 4,500 residential and commercial buildings would be subject to the mandate, which does not apply to single family homes. In most cases, property owners would be required to reinforce wooden structures with steel frames, a job that costs $60,000 to $130,000 depending on the size of the building.

The city is looking into ways to help owners with the costs, the mayor said.

Under Lee's legislation, owners who do not perform the required work could be fined or have tax liens imposed on their properties.

San Francisco Apartment Association board president Robert Link, who owns two properties that would be subject to the requirement, told the Chronicle he supports the proposal.

"It will compel owners to safeguard their building while also safeguarding their investment," Link said.

The city already has a voluntary program that waives some permit and building fees that owners would have to be pay for remodeling work, but Department of Building Inspection spokesman Bill Strawn said only about 50 property owners have participated.

The San Francisco Tenants Union is withholding its support of the legislation unless eviction protections and limits on rent increases are written into it, director Ted Gullicksen said.