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Local Governments Lag in Preparing for “The Big One” Along Hayward Fault

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Local Governments Lag in Preparing for "The Big One" Along Hayward Fault

Professor Calls for Long-Term Recovery Plans to Recoup Likely Housing Losses

Posted November 3, 1999

The Loma Prieta earthquake was nothing, warns Mary Comerio, professor of architecture. The "Big One" will probably happen on the Hayward Fault, and Berkeley is ground zero, she says.

"Building damage in this area due to Loma Prieta was not that great, yet the recovery took almost 10 years," said Comerio in a lecture last week on the potential for a major Hayward quake. "The clean-up time for a more powerful quake will be even greater."

While many cities and local governments prepare for emergency needs within hours and days of an earthquake, little attention is paid to long-term recovery issues, such as shelter, schools and jobs, she said.

Housing will be the hardest hit, according to Comerio. She estimates that 150,000 homes in the Bay Area will be rendered uninhabitable, after a major quake on the Hayward Fault costing $20-$30 billion in damage.

"These are scary numbers," said Comerio, who said she is sometimes referred to as the professor of doom and gloom. "I hate to say it, but it's reality. A lot of other agencies have come up with these same numbers."

Homes and apartments with "soft" first stories, like those built on top of garages, are among the most vulnerable. Comerio points out that Berkeley has more than 800 of these types of apartment structures.

What will be done for all the people who will be rendered homeless? No one really has answers, and many cities are reluctant to plan for this, she says.

"Governments need to establish recovery plans and priorities," said Comerio. "Is Berkeley ready to put temporary housing down University Avenue? What kind of housing will be used, and who gets first dibs on it?"

As an example of the politics involved in recovery, she points to the city of Watsonville, which after the Loma Prieta quake left numerous low-income residents homeless. FEMA sent trailers within weeks of the disaster, but it took officials six months to find a place to put them, because no one wanted them in their back yard.

Making matters worse for Bay Area homeowners is the often prohibitive cost of earthquake insurance and retrofitting to lessen damage.

"People gamble that it won't happen to them," said Comerio. "When asked to choose between braces for your kid or retrofitting your home, most choose the braces."

Comerio offers several solutions to some of these dilemmas: the government should develop income tax incentives for retrofitting homes; rethink disaster assistance as recovery financing; re-invigorate earthquake coverage by private insurance companies; and create state mandates for disaster planning at the local government level.



November 3 - 9, 1999 (Volume 28, Number 13)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the
Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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