Engineering Public Safety

Personal drama aside. Thanks to everyone for the incredible outpouring of warmth and support. I really feel it. Thank you.

I was buying a coffee at the SOMA cafe today and glanced at the SF Chronicle, usually such a worthless rag that I can barely read anything but the headlines. But to my utter amazement a left column article detailed how engineers in the Dept. of Building Inspection have halted the mammoth 550-ft. tall Rincon Towers project that just broke ground a few months ago. Why? Because the public engineers are not convinced that the design can survive an earthquake! I’m flabbergasted.

UCSF has been building biohazard facilities on landfill in Mission Bay and there’s been nary a peep about public safety. It seems like everyone believes that modern engineering can defeat the movement of the earth, no matter how bad. But then this new tower (larger than the monster proposed by US Steel back in the early ’70s that was defeated by intense public opposition), which seemed to be on the fast track thanks to the funds extracted from the developer for community and housing funds, provokes the city’s inspectors to call a halt for safety.

Tellingly, the developers’ engineering firm offers its interpretation of what the extent of the code’s expectations are:

“It is our interpretation that the intent of the code is to provide design procedures that will result in structures that may be significantly damaged or perhaps unrepairable, but remain standing following a major earthquake,” read one reply from Magnusson Klemencic among hundreds of pages of technical documents reviewed by The Chronicle.

Hearty thanks to Chief Engineer Hanson Tom who threw the flag on this. After ruminating on public health and general preparedness for disasters of various natural and unnatural types, I’d really given up on anyone working for the City taking their job seriously enough to contest the Money that runs this town. Still a long way to go, but here’s to hoping for more bureaucrats with balls!

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