Berkeley, CA – Disaster Resilience

Following a major earthquake in 1989 and a wildfire in 1991, the City of Berkeley decided to address disaster resilience head-on. They updated their master plan and building regulations, and provided tax-funded financial support for seismic retrofits of public buildings.

Project Overview

Economic Impact of the Loma Prieta Earthquake

On October 17, 1989, an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale rocked the San Francisco Bay Area in the early evening. Throughout the entire region, the Loma Prieta earthquake caused in 63 deaths and 13,757 injuries. Property losses amounted to 1,018 homes destroyed, 23,408 homes damaged, 366 businesses destroyed, and 3,530 businesses damaged. The total estimated direct economic loss was valued at more than $5.9 billion (US$ 1989 dollars) in public and private property damage. Alameda County, home to the City of Berkeley and the University of California-Berkeley, sustained $1.48 billion (US$ 1989 dollars) in damages to structures. Across the county, 17 businesses were destroyed and 414 were damaged (Kroll et al. 1991). In less than fifteen seconds of ground shaking, the Loma Prieta earthquake awakened a nation to the threats to life and safety posed by strong, urban earthquakes (NISEE 2005). In the 1991-1992 California Legislative Session, 55 bills addressing earthquake resilience and recovery were signed into law (National Research Council 1994).

Addressing Disaster Resilience; Promoting Economic and Social Sustainability

Following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and the 1991 East Bay Hills wildfire, the City of Berkeley crafted a community safety strategy to make itself economically and socially sustainable within a high-risk environment (Chakos et al. 2002). Berkeley voters have approved five local ballot measures to fund the seismic retrofit of municipal facilities and school buildings totaling over $390 million. The city has invested $2 million annually for seismic subsidies and safety programs. The city council adopted a transfer tax rebate program and a permit fee rebate program for homeowner seismic safety actions, and the city operates a loan program and a free home repair program for low income seniors or disabled people. Its rate of retrofit is the highest in the San Francisco Bay area. Designated as a FEMA “Project Impact Community,” the City of Berkeley has used that program’s seed money to build partnerships within the community and the region (Godschalk 2003).

In the City of Berkeley’s 2003 master plan (“General Plan”), disaster resilience goals, objectives, and policies were incorporated to reduce risk from natural hazards. Concerns over seismic safety were incorporated in developing the city’s approach to development and land use for the next 5-10 years. The General Plan policies provide authority for the development of on-going mitigation and sustainable development programs, incorporating principles of risk reduction into the everyday life of the community (Chakos n.d.).

Following the earthquake, the city also created the Disaster Resistant Berkeley Program to aid citizens and businesses in preparing for natural disasters. The program aids businesses through the development of free resources, presentations, and workshops. Additionally, Community Emergency Response Training (CERT) classes were offered by the fire department to prepare participants for emergency situations, in which the usual emergency responders are overwhelmed during the first hours or days following a disaster and are unable to attend to everyone needing help. These classes can help business owners to become more resilient by providing them with the skills to lessen the effects of disasters (Office of Emergency Services 2013).

By making physical and social resilience major goals, city leaders in Berkeley created a model, which other hazard mitigations organizations can learn from, and against which decisions and actions can be measured and plans and policies can be evaluated. They created an example that decision makers and the public can understand and act to achieve (Godschalk 2003).

The largest employer in the city is the University of California, Berkeley and the associated Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (with approximately 18,000 employees). Aside from the City of Berkeley and Berkeley Unified School District, the largest employment sector is healthcare and biomedical (“Comprehensive Annual Financial Report” 2012). Noting that the majority of economic activity stemmed directly from public institutions, or was directly dependent upon these institutions, seismic retrofitting of school buildings and municipal facilities was a top priority of disaster recovery in Berkeley (Chakos et al. 2002). Retrofitting public buildings was a necessary step in improving disaster reliance and supporting economic stability for the city.

Efforts in disaster resilience appear to have had a major impact on economic resilience as well. Berkeley experienced negative population growth through the 1980s and 1990s, but grew by approximately 10,000 residents from 2000 (population 102,743) to 2010 (population of 112,580).  A revitalized arts district began to thrive in the city’s central corridor by the early 2000s and private investment lead to the redevelopment of commercial buildings (Chakos et al. 2002).  Over the last nine fiscal years, there has been a trend of increasing tax revenue collected by the city (“Comprehensive Annual Financial Report” 2012).

Project Highlights

Non-Structural Measures

  • After enduring a major earthquake in 1989, Berkeley, California focused not only on recovery, but also on strengthening resilience to future disasters. Because earthquakes occur without warning, Berkeley focused on improving structures to withstand earthquakes. Berkeley voters have approved ballot measures to fund the seismic retrofit of municipal facilities and school buildings totaling over $390 million. The city invested $2 million annually for seismic subsidies and safety programs.
  • The 2003 General Plan (aka master plan) pulls from lessons learned from the Loma Prieta earthquake.  Policies in the plan provide authority for the development of on-going mitigation and sustainable development programs, incorporating principles of risk reduction into the everyday life of the community.

Selection/Funding Criteria

  • While some funding for earthquake resilience came from the state government, most of the funding for local programs was levied through a voter-approved tax.  Citizens decided to invest in disaster resilience for their community.

Policy Changes

  • The 2003 General Plan was drafted to help incorporate disaster resilience measures throughout the community.

Leveraged Resources

  • Designated as a ‘‘Project Impact Community,’’ the City of Berkeley has used that program’s seed money to build partnerships within the community and the region (Godschalk 2003).

Lessons Learned

Investing in disaster resilience has helped Berkeley rebound from the 1989 earthquake and 1991 wildfire and contributed to the city’s economic growth. Although the state offered some assistance in the recovery of Berkeley, most of the initiatives in the city were driven by citizens and local government.

Resources

Berkeley, California: Sustaining Local Mitigation Efforts
Making it Work in Berkeley: Investing in Community Sustainability
Urban Hazard Mitigation: Creating Resilient Cities
City of Berkeley California Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Year Ended June 30, 2012
General Plan: Disaster Preparedness and Safety Element
Economic impacts of the Loma Prieta Earthquake: A focus on small business
Loma Prieta Earthquake
National Research Council. Practical Lessons from the Loma Prieta Earthquake . Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1994
City of Berkeley Office of Emergency Services
(The CERT program is also used in Los Angeles since 1985, administered by LA City Fire Department.  Open to all citizens

Research supported by a grant from the Kresge Foundation.