State Allocation Board again delays access to earthquake retrofit money

The State Allocation Board delayed action Wednesday on plans to modify qualification criteria for state-funded earthquake modernization projects, a move that further delays access for many school districts to nearly $200 million in bond money for seismic upgrades.

The funds are a portion of the voter-approved Prop 1D school construction bond, which have sat untouched since passage in 2006.

While many school operators believe they could utilize the funds for an earthquake retrofit, the existing eligibility criteria are so restrictive that so far only a handful of schools have applied for the money.

Although theres some consensus that the regulations need to be amended, board members said Wednesday they are concerned that expanding eligibility would qualify too many schools, erase priority and drain the funds.

We have such a need and such a small pot to draw from, said Scott Harvey, chief deputy director for the Department of General Services. We have to fall back on the worst of the worst.

Another concern is that if eligibility criteria are changed for the seismic funding, and the money runs out then the state could be held liable if vulnerable schools are destroyed during an earthquake.

The board also decided Wednesday to hold off until next month a proposal to lower the ground shake intensity factor (GSI), a number signifying the assumed degree that the ground of a particular building would shake during an earthquake.

A motion was brought to the board to lower the GSI from 1.7 to 1.65, which would have given many more schools access to Prop 1D funds.

In addition to the GSI, school facilities must also fall into one of four different building types to qualify under the current eligibility criteria.

In comments to the board Wednesday, William Savidge, district engineering officer for West Contra Costa Unified, suggested the board remove the section of criteria devoted to building types.

What does it matter what kind of building it is if it is going to collapse? he asked.

Mike Bush, assistant superintendent for business at Castro Valley Unified, said several of his schools qualify under the existing building type criteria, but their GSI factors range only to 1.69, just a shade too short.

If the criteria were changed, we would qualify for seismic retrofitting, he said. I think there are probably hundreds of schools that qualify at one criteria and not the other. We need to meet at some point before the state can release any of that money.

The board decided to take up the criteria modification in June. The seismic matter has been an agenda item at every meeting since last year.