The Golden Gate Bridge

March 16, 2006


SAN FRANCISCO, MARCH 16, 2006. As the California State legislators shape and debate the Governor’s proposed strategic growth plan to expand highways and intercity rail, upgrade levees, build more schools, courthouses and reservoirs, and undertake other new public works projects, The Structural Engineers Association of Northern California (SEAONC) urges lawmakers to place more emphasis on seismically retrofitting existing infrastructure, not just building new systems, to improve earthquake safety for all Californians.

According to Structural Engineer Peter Revelli, a member of SEAONC’s ’06 Centennial Planning Committee, “SEAONC advocates that, during the debate, the Governor and legislators not lose sight of the fact that much of the existing infrastructure is in serious need of repair, and the State must address that reality even if it means less expansion of capacity.”

For example, Chief Justice Ronald George recently revealed in his State of the Judiciary Address, “two-thirds of present courthouse space is seismically deficient….” And a 2002 report by the Department of General Services concluded that approximately 14% of the total square footage of our California public schools might well be similarly deficient.

The vulnerability of the Delta Levees, as another example, has become well known. An earthquake could cause levee failure, resulting in millions of dollars of damage, and possible loss of life. “Investing in levee repair today is a small fraction of what a levee earthquake disaster would cost,” said Revelli. “One need only look at the Gulf Coast disaster six months ago to understand the consequence of being unprepared.”

SEAONC recommends that the budget initiative allocate an appropriate percentage of the funding to retrofitting or replacing existing infrastructure and thereby engage in a strategy of growing the State’s infrastructure while at the same time reducing our overall risk from natural disasters. Preliminary allocations appear to have down played the risk-reduction part of this strategy in favor of maximizing the amount spent on expanding, or building new, infrastructure.

“In the end,” noted Revelli, “it is far cheaper to strengthen deficient infrastructure now rather than to replace it wholesale after it has been damaged or destroyed.”

As the San Francisco Bay Area approaches the 100th year anniversary of the 1906 earthquake, Structural Engineers urge Sacramento, local governments and school districts to learn the lessons from 1906 and to invest a responsible portion of the proceeds from this timely budget initiative toward reducing the risk from seismic and other natural hazards.

Founded in 1930, the Structural Engineers Association of Northern California (SEAONC) is committed to the advancement and incorporation of the state of the art in structural engineering standards and practices through applied research, continuing education, and the promotion of professional relations among Civil, Structural, and Geotechnical Engineers.

Contact: Patricia Coate 415-309-2231.