Supervisor's Report

Reality check: Is San Francisco ready for imminent disaster?

A Mexico City building destroyed by a recent earthquake. Photo: AntoFran

Last month, I attended a grassroots benefit for the survivors of the devastating earthquakes in Mexico City and Oaxaca. The community gathering with local D.J.s performing, colorful artisanal treasures being auctioned off, and neighborhood activists doling out hugs belied the somber reality thousands of miles away. The state of Oaxaca was the first to bear the brutal brunt of an 8.1 earthquake early last month, followed by another 6.1 quake that has exacerbated the damage to the region. Mexico City’s 7.1 magnitude earthquake has killed hundreds of people as of this writing and left countless more homeless.

I recently spent time in Oaxaca with my wife on vacation, walking among the historic and colorful concrete buildings, many of which have been reduced to rubble. The loss of life and suffering of the local people is heartbreaking, and I know that the Bay Area will continue to do its part to send relief and support to our neighbors down south.

Here in San Francisco, these tragedies are a sobering reminder that we still have a lot of work to do to prepare for the next big disaster. Our recent record-breaking heatwave raised serious concerns about the city’s coordinated disaster response. And recent updates from the Department of Building Inspection reveal more than 40 percent of our older, wood-framed housing stock has yet to comply with the city’s mandatory soft-story retrofit requirements. These are buildings with significantly “softer” bottom levels, and will be the first to crumble in the event of a seismic event. Older concrete commercial buildings are particularly vulnerable.

A 7.1 earthquake here will be just as horrific, if not more deadly, than what Mexico City experienced — and not just because of our weak buildings. Our seawall, which stretches for seven miles and protects critical city infrastructure and utilities, is extremely vulnerable. The layers of old rock and concrete will fold in on itself in a major earthquake, destroying everything close to the waterfront. The seawall is the only thing standing between the Financial District and the bay waters, which have become increasingly unstable as a result of unchecked sea level rise.

What can and should we be doing together as a city to prepare for this inevitable scenario?


Don’t wait for a natural disaster to make your plan. Make sure that you have supplies and a plan for your family and loved ones. Visit for more info.


Do your part to retrofit your building, particularly in North Beach and the Marina District. Visit the DBI website to get more information on compliance, and submit your permit application and plans for seismic retrofit work at


Ultimately, we are looking at a $5 billion effort to strengthen and reinforce the San Francisco seawall over the long term. There are critical steps we must take now to get this process going. The first will be placing a $350 million bond for seawall upgrades on the 2018 ballot — and we will need your vote.


San Francisco and Oakland have joined forces to sue Big Oil for knowingly causing climate change. And California’s attorney general and the California Coastal Commission (on which I represent the north central coast) have joined forces to sue the Trump administration for skirting environmental analysis on their disastrous proposed “border wall.” The message is clear: California will protect our environment and our communities from the clear and present danger of this federal administration.

Finally, a plug for Company Town, which is coming to KQED this month! Check out the KQED website for a full listing of showtimes on Oct. 10, 11, 15, and 27:


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