Soft Story Ad Hoc Committee


The Soft Story Buildings Ad Hoc Committee is intended to implement General Plan Policy CS-7.2: Residential Upgrades. That policy calls for encouraging owners of residential buildings with known structural defects such as unreinforced garage openings, “soft story” construction, unbolted foundations, and inadequate sheer walls to take steps to remedy the problem by retrofitting buildings to improve the existing non-conforming engineering standards presenting current life-safety issues.

The policy specifies forming an ad hoc committee to investigate and describe the seismic risk posed by pre-1980 wood frame “soft story” buildings in Burlingame and to evaluate the costs and benefits of potential actions that could be pursued by the City. The ad hoc committee is focusing on policy recommendations such as incentives and requirements that would compel property owners to retrofit existing buildings to address soft stories and related structural issues. The committee will reference soft story ordinances from other comparable municipalities to help devise recommended policies and programs that may be suitable to Burlingame, and shall report its findings to the City Council.

The intention of the ad hoc committee is that it reflect the broad range of interests represented in the multiunit residential and commercial property sector, and that it be constructive and collaborative. The committee is advisory to the City Council.

What is a "soft story" building?

For the purpose of the study, a "soft story building" is considered a structure with wood-framed construction built with two or more stories situated over an open parking, storage, or commercial level. The open level typically has disproportionately large openings (such as carports or garage doors) compared to the upper levels, and the upper levels are often supported only by slender columns. These characteristics make the building “top heavy” so that there is a variation in lateral stiffness, making the building vulnerable to damage from the lateral motion of an earthquake.

Two of the foremost events which brought to light the dangers of structural system failure due to soft story irregularity can be can witnessed in the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, and the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. These natural disasters caused considerable damage and exposed the vulnerability of buildings with this design characteristic.

Ad Hoc Committee Meetings 

April 26, 2023
Slide Presentation
Meeting Summary

December 8, 2021
Slide Presentation
Meeting Summary

October 20, 2021
Slide Presentation
Meeting Summary

April 7, 2021

The ad hoc committee had its first meeting on April 7, 2021.
Slide Presentation
Meeting Summary

City Council Meetings 

The City Council was introduced to the study and discussed the formation of the ad hoc committee on January 4, 2021.
Staff Report
Slide Presentation

Resources and References

Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG)
Soft Story Resources Page
Soft Story Retrofit Program Development
Soft Story Model Ordinance and Handbook
Soft Story Ordinances Highlights

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
FEMA P-807 

Jurisdiction-Specific Ordinances
City of Alameda
City of Berkeley
City of Fremont
City of Hayward
City of Los Angeles
City of Oakland
City of Pasadena
City of San Francisco
City of Santa Monica
City of West Hollywood

Project Contact

Kevin Gardiner, Community Development Director