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Swanson’s seismic retrofit bill becomes law

Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law today an East Bay lawmaker’s bill that lets local officials use public financing to help private property owners pay for seismic improvements.

AB 184, the Seismic Safety Financing Act, will make retrofits easier to achieve and more affordable by offering a financing option that removes much of the upfront expense, according to its author, Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda.

Unreinforced masonry buildings present a big seismic hazard, and this bill’s state Senate floor analysis noted the Association of Bay Area Governments’ estimate that 26,000 of Oakland’s 163,000 housing units will become uninhabitable when the Hayward Fault has a major earthquake.

“Because commercial loans for earthquake improvements can be expensive, local officials want to accelerate retrofit work on vulnerable buildings by loaning money to private property owners at below-market rates,” the analysis said. “This bill provides local officials with another tool to help property owners pay for structural upgrades that save lives, protect rescue workers, and reduce economic disruption after a major earthquake.”

ABAG supported Swanson’s bill, as did the City of Oakland and the California Association of Realtors. The Assembly passed it on a 49-10 vote in April; the state Senate approved it on a 26-10 vote June 6.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had vetoed Swanson’s earlier incarnation of this bill last September, saying he didn’t support expanding contractual assessment programs – now used for energy and water efficiency improvements – to include seismic retrofits.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.