Are Taxpayers On The Hook? State University Buildings Found Unsafe

The vast majority of state university buildings that fail earthquake safety standards are on UC campuses.

Earthquake safety problems facing UC San Diego’s campus buildings are evident on state university campuses across California, and the cost of repairs could land at taxpayer’s feet. 

Thursday marks the 30-year-anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake’s devastation in northern California. Since that disaster, building standards have improved but that doesn’t mean all buildings are in the clear. 

More than half of UCSD’s buildings -- including the Geisel Library, Jacobs Hall and the Price Center -- are a “serious” or “severe risk to life,” according to an internal seismic safety survey obtained by NBC 7 Investigates. (To read the team’s first report on the issues, click here.)  

Reporter Mari Payton and Executive Producer Tom Jones chronicled their investigation of UCSD’s building conditions in the latest episode of INSIGHT - a podcast from NBC 7 Investigates. Listen to the episode below. 

Beyond UCSD, records NBC 7 Investigates obtained through a California Public Records Act request reveal that 591 buildings on 17 public university campuses should be retrofitted or replaced. Those dangerous buildings include the Love Library at San Diego State University, which is on the state's priority list.

To determine a building’s condition, civil engineers use computer simulations of the actual stresses produced by an earthquake, to show how the building would react. 

“These buildings are going through really significant and brutal stress when they go through a major earthquake,” said David Mar, a civil engineer out of Berkeley, CA. “And they actually have to transform [and] dissipate energy. It’s a really hard task.” 

Mar’s firm specializes in designing and upgrading buildings to help them better withstand an earthquake. 

See the kinds of computer simulations performed on buildings in the video below.

This is a computer simulation of a building during an earthquake. Courtesy of Mar Structural Design, a Berkeley, California firm specializing in designing retrofits and original plans to enable buildings to better withstand an earthquake.

Records obtained by NBC 7 Investigates show the CSU system lists 65 buildings statewide that need to be demolished or upgraded to better withstand an earthquake. 

But the vast majority of state university buildings that fail to make the grade are on UC campuses. The UC system is currently in the midst of a two-year effort to inspect every structure on all its campuses. 

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NBC 7 Investigates asked the UC Office of the President about the status of UCSD’s buildings and how the state plans to pay for safety improvements. 

“After the updated ratings on a substantial number of buildings are thoroughly evaluated and confirmed by engineers, each campus will start prioritizing and planning its retrofitting work to meet the location-specific needs,” reads a statement from the UC System’s Office of the President.

“The university is exploring sources of funding to help with building retrofits. A General Obligation (GO) Bond issue, if approved by California voters in March 2020, would provide some funds for seismic retrofit projects.”

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