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An update from Chancellor Carol Christ on seismic issues

When you drop your children off at Berkeley at the start of a new semester, as many of you did this past August, you put your trust in us to keep them safe. We take that trust very seriously. That is why I want to provide you with a detailed update about work underway on our campus to assess and mitigate risks to our community in the event of a major earthquake.

Berkeley is the oldest of the UC campuses, with some buildings well over one hundred years old. Due to both the campus’s age and to new knowledge gained from advances in engineering and seismology, we have spent more than $1 billion in recent years to address our buildings’ seismic deficiencies. This kind of improvement is a continual process, and in line with a UC systemwide policy adopted in 2017, we are now conducting a new set of seismic studies to assess building conditions. Buildings deemed seismically deficient will be retrofitted, replaced, or vacated no later than the year 2030.

(For more on this issue, read “What you should know about seismic issues on Berkeley’s campus”)

While the assessment process will not be completed until June 2020, initial work by outside engineering firms has determined that 62 of the buildings assessed to date at Berkeley are seismically deficient and should now be rated “poor,” and another six buildings were given a “very poor” rating. Fortunately, none of our buildings was found to warrant the most severe rating, reserved for buildings where the risk to life is, as per California code, “dangerous.”

These findings do not mean that our campus buildings are any less safe than they were before. Evaluators are using strict seismic standards, developed in recent years by earthquake and engineering experts. Because all of our buildings are compliant with the standards in place at the time of their construction, we are not required by law to do this work. Still, our university is home to some of the world’s leading seismic experts, we are dedicated to following recommendations drawn from new scientific knowledge, and we are committed to protecting those on our campus. So we will do what is necessary to ensure our campus remains safe for all who study, teach, and work here.

We have submitted our preliminary findings to the UC Office of the President to support a coordinated, systemwide effort to prioritize and address similar work that will need to be done on hundreds of buildings across all of the 10 UC campuses. Before remediation can proceed, experts must first determine the best option — retrofit, replace, or vacate — for each of the seismically deficient buildings. In addition, given that the individual campuses lack sufficient resources to act on their own, we must work with the Office of the President to develop the financial plans needed to fund the extensive work required.

In this latter vein, the UC, California State University system, and other organizations have been collaborating with state leaders on a general obligation bond that would provide some funding to finance these seismic retrofit projects. The University of California officially supported Assembly Bill 48, The Public Preschool, K-12, and College Health and Safety Bond Act of 2020, which was recently approved by the legislature and is expected to be signed by the Governor. This bond measure will appear on the March 2020 ballot and if approved would provide $2 billion for UC to help address critical capital needs.

In the short term, Berkeley will begin to review available, realistic options to limit occupancy and usage of seismically deficient buildings on our campus. We will provide timely communications to you about relevant developments and decisions.

I understand that this message will generate concern and questions, and I encourage you to read this fact sheet for much more information on the studies and our plans.

Leaving your children in our hands is a mark of trust, and their safety is paramount to us. Since the University of California implemented its first seismic safety policy in 1975, there have been 37 major earthquakes in California and no injuries caused by them on any of the UC campuses. We will continue to live up to that legacy.

Sincerely,

Carol Christ
Chancellor

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