Soft Story Retrofit Program
This webpage is a direct resource to get up to date information about the Mandatory Wood-Frame Soft Story Seismic Retrofit Ordinance and its requirements. There are numerous links and attachments inserted directly into the content in order to provide property owners with additional information. Please feel free to contact the Building Department for any questions or concerns.
In an earthquake, "soft story" apartments and condominiums are most susceptible to shaking damage. Soft Story structures are typically residential buildings with open parking or commercial space on the first floor and housing on higher floors. These buildings were built in years past, prior to modern building codes. In an earthquake, ground shaking causes such structures to sway and sometimes to collapse.
Work is currently underway on a proposed Soft Story Retrofit Program in Mill Valley, with an objective to protect existing housing stock in the community. The City estimates that there are a number of buildings that would be considered Soft Story (with 3 or more units) in City limits.
The development of the program was initiated over a year ago by then-Mayor John McCauley, spurred by his interest in public safety and preserving existing affordable housing in Mill Valley.
“We know that after an earthquake, rental housing that becomes damaged will return slowly and may be converted to condos, creating a loss of workforce and affordable housing,” McCauley said. “Developing a Soft Story Retrofit Program similar to what other Bay Area cities have implemented is an important step - both for public safety and for preserving the diversity of housing options in Mill Valley.”
Other cities’ programs are described in the links below.
Meetings and Materials
At their April 5, 2021 meeting, the City Council accepted the Planning & Building Department Work Plan for FY2021/22, which included a brief description of the program and identified funds for consultant support.
In May 2022, Director of Planning and Building Patrick Kelly and Consultant David Bonowitz presented to Council a Soft Story Retrofit Program overview with legislative options for Council to consider. Council supported moving forward with a mandatory retrofit program for buildings with 3 or more rental units. Tentatively, the program would include a screening phase to confirm building conditions and exempt certain buildings based on an engineer’s review. After the screening phase, the program would allow several years to complete a retrofit. Review the Staff Report that accompanied the presentation.
On July 18, 2022, Council received an informational presentation on the purpose of the proposed Soft Story program, the status of the program's development and an update on next steps, which includes outreach to property owners.
On June 5, 2023, Council conducted a "First Reading" of the Mandatory Soft Story Retrofit Ordinance, and on June 26, 2023, Council conducted the "Second Reading" and unanimously adopted Ordinance No. 1343 establishing a Mandatory Seismic Retrofit program for certain residential buildings. The Ordinance is intended to promote public safety and welfare through a mandatory seismic retrofit of certain residential buildings vulnerable to earthquake damage and collapse. The Ordinance will become effective 6 months from adoption or by December 26, 2023. Within 90 days of the effective date, the Building Department will send notices to owners of each known subject building informing the owner of the requirement to comply with the ordinance. For each building, there will be three main steps, with deadlines varying based on which “Tier” the building is in. The Ordinance as well as The Staff Report details the timeframe for compliance.
Why is Mill Valley concerned about “soft story” buildings?
How big is the problem in Mill Valley?
Why did Mill Valley adopt this ordinance?
PROPERTY OWNER QUESTIONS