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Study Shows 8 Bay Area Courthouses At High Seismic Risk

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A state courts committee has been told that 56 California trial court buildings, including eight in the Bay Area, pose a high or very high risk to human and building safety in the event of an earthquake.

The California Judicial Council's Court Facilities Advisory Committee received the report on seismic risk ratings of Superior Court facilities statewide at a meeting in San Francisco on Wednesday.

The purpose was to provide background for a future recommendation by the council to the governor and Legislature as to which courthouses most urgently need funding for retrofitting at a time of deep shortfalls in money for courthouse construction and repairs.

Advisory committee member Stephen Nash, the court executive officer of Contra Costa County Superior Court, said, "It is beyond frustrating that the state has redirected funds that would have been used to address some of the highest risk court facilities.

"In a seismically active state like California, the question is not if the next big one will come, but when. Yet there seems little urgency in the state capitol to address these problems, despite record surpluses and reserves," Nash said.

State court system Public Information Officer Cathal Conneely said the seismic analysis "is a stepping stone for a renovation feasibility study."

Next, a consultant will prepare a short list of 20 to 25 court buildings that appear to be the best candidates for retrofitting funding and will create a cost model and report on each building.

A final report is expected by the end of this year or early 2018 and will be used by the Judicial Council in requesting appropriations for the fiscal year that begins in July 2018.

The project is a response to the loss of $1.4 billion in court construction funds that the state borrowed, transferred to the general fund or redirected to court operations during California's fiscal crisis beginning in 2009, Conneely said.

The feasibility study "is driven by the council's fundamental oversight responsibility and concern about the lack of funding to support new construction and existing construction," Conneely said.

The San Francisco-based Judicial Council is the governing body of the state's trial and appeal courts, the largest court system in the nation.

The report lists 12 courthouse facilities designated as very high seismic risk, defined as an imminent threat to occupants and total disruption of building systems.

The Alameda Count Administration Building in Oakland, which houses civil courts on its third and fourth floors, ranks second highest in that category, with a risk rating of 37.2.

The only higher rating went to the Glendale Superior and Municipal Courthouse, at 44.2.

Judicial Council public affairs analyst Blaine Corren said the reasons for the 1961 Oakland building's steep rating were structural inadequacies typical of buildings of that era, such as sheer walls and column beams, and its location in an area of relatively high seismicity.

The report's seismic ratings were based on consideration of the strongest potential quake in a building's location and structural characteristics of the building, Corren said.

The cost of retrofitting the 12 buildings in the very high-risk category was estimated to be at least $321 million, including $64 million for the Alameda County Administration Building courthouse.

Conneely said the Alameda County building may also be considered for another funding stream, because it is one of a number of facilities for which plans for a replacement building were begun but suspended because of a lack of state funding.

But he said that because state funding for new courthouse construction is uncertain, it is prudent for the council to keep that building on the list of possible retrofitting projects as well.

The top 12 risk list also includes the 1878 Napa County Historical Courthouse, which was damaged in the 2014 earthquake and has a 22.9 risk rating, and the WPA-era Alameda County Superior Court Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland, which houses criminal courts and is rated at 12.4.

Estimated repair costs for those two buildings are not given in the report because they are historical structures not owned by the state; a decision was made to focus the renovation study on non-historic buildings owned by the state.

Another set of 44 buildings statewide is rated high risk, defined in the report as an extensive but not imminent threat to human life and extensive building damage with partial to total collapse likely.

The total cost of repairing them is estimated at $1.3 billion.

This group includes the Sonoma County Hall of Justice, rated at 9.3; Contra Costa County Richmond-Bay District, 5.1; Contra Costa County Wakefield Taylor Courthouse in Martinez, 2.7; Alameda County Fremont Hall of Justice, 2.4, and San Francisco Hall of Justice, 2.3.

Like the Alameda County Administration Building, the Sonoma County Hall of Justice is also in the category of building for which a replacement was planned but suspended for lack of money.

The report deemed 60 other Superior Court buildings in the state to be a moderate seismic risk. Twenty-nine lacked sufficient information and 145 had an acceptable risk.

© Copyright 2017 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

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