As California continues the transition to renewable energy, practical issues sometimes create unforeseen complications. One example: California requires that ALL residential buildings constructed after January 1, 2020 produce at least as much energy as they used. By 2030, all new nonresidential buildings must meet zero net energy requirements.

Additionally, the state is requiring that 50% of existing nonresidential buildings meet the zero net energy requirements by 2030, although some details obviously need to be worked out as far as deciding which 50% of those buildings must comply. (more…)

According to J.K. Dineen at the SF Chronicle:

With five months to go before a Sept. 15 deadline to pull permits for the work, owners of nearly 52 percent of “tier three” buildings — wood-frame structures of between five and 15 units — have yet to submit permit applications. That’s the first step in the process needed to comply with the city’s 2013 mandatory soft-story law, which targets buildings susceptible to collapse in an earthquake.

Out of 3,526 buildings in the category, 1,693 have filed for permits, while 1,834 have not, said Department of Building Inspection Director Tom Hui. Hui said he is surprised at how many property owners have ignored the call to bring their buildings into compliance, given the monthly mailed notices and publicity around the program.

“They have had plenty of time to respond,” Hui said. “It’s for public safety. We just want them to comply and protect themselves, the tenant and the public. Earthquakes are not predictable — one could happen this afternoon.”

The clock is ticking!

With 1.4-million square feet of habitable space, spread out among 61 floors, the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco is projected to be the tallest building “West of the Mississippi” topping out at 1,070 feet above ground.

(It should be noted that while the top of the spire at the Wilshire Grand in LA will reach 1,099 feet, Salesforce will still have the highest occupied floor at 970 feet. Until, of course, some third building is erected to surpass both of the former…) (more…)

During the tail end of my junior year of high school, my family and I temporarily relocated to Southwest Missouri.

We were fleeing the cratering of the entire construction industry in Southern California, hoping to catch the extraordinary boom in construction taking place surrounding Branson. Although the school year only had a few weeks left, I transferred to the local high school in an attempt at full immersion.

I kid you not, at least once a day while living and attending school in Missouri, someone would ask me about all the earthquakes in California. Students and teachers alike were astounded that people (in their minds) put their lives on the line daily, not knowing when the next rumbling of the earth would occur spelling certain destruction.

I on the other hand was shocked at how easily the locals could accept the likelihood of tornados, and listened in amazement to stories people told of their near misses and lost property caused by weather.

Which is why the latest report from the US Geological Survey is so mind-blowing. The LA Times has more:

The earthquake risk for Oklahoma and southern Kansas is expected to remain significant in 2017, threatening 3 million people with seismic events that can produce damaging shaking, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey forecast released Wednesday.

The seismic risk is forecast to be so high that the chance of damage in Oklahoma and southern Kansas is expected to be similar to that of natural earthquakes in California, USGS scientists writing in the journal Seismological Research Letters said Wednesday.

The cause for the dramatic uptick in seismic activity in the Midwest?

The earthquakes are thought to be the result of disposal of wastewater deep underground following fracking, a method to extract petroleum. Injecting wastewater deep underground is not thought to trigger earthquakes everywhere — in North Dakota, for example — but is widely believed by scientists to be a problem in Oklahoma.

Researchers have for years warned the public, various government agencies and building owners/managers of the potential dangers related to older buildings within reach of Southern California’s notorious faults in a major earthquake. In short, what building experts once thought would be sufficient, in terms of structural design requirements, we now know could leave building occupants seriously injured, or worse.

Los Angeles’ city council has been working on a seismic retrofit program for buildings previously identified by various experts as at risk. Beginning tomorrow, Santa Monica will formally announce its own mandatory seismic retrofit program. The LA Times’ Rong-Gong Lin II, Raoul Rañoa and Jon Schleuss have more:

Santa Monica is poised to require safety improvements to as many as 2,000 earthquake-vulnerable buildings in what would be the nation’s most extensive seismic retrofitting effort.

Santa Monica’s safety rules would go beyond what Los Angeles has done by requiring not only wood apartments and concrete buildings to be retrofitted, but also steel-frame structures.

Steel buildings were once considered by seismic experts to be among the safest. But after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, engineers were stunned to find that so-called “steel moment frame” buildings fractured.

Santa Monica City Council has already established a website to serve as a central repository for the latest info regarding the program. Of the six building types listed, the first to require a structural evaluation report to be submitted will be unreinforced masonry buildings, which must submit their evaluation within 3 months and have retrofits completed within 2 years.

As this is a developing story, expect to hear much more about this issue over the coming months.

You can download the complete list of addresses identified by the city in Excel format from the city’s GitHub repository (meaning the file will likely be updated over time).

San Diego has been at the epicenter of the microbrewery and craft beer scene since the beginning. The neighborhood my wife and I lived in when we were first married went from being an affordable place to rent an apartment, to becoming the scene for artisanal brews. The hookers have been mostly displaced by hipsters.

Besides my own personal observations, and bold statements made by various pundits in the local beer scene, is there really anything to this craft beer explosion in San Diego? (more…)

My colleague Alan Nevin provides a much-needed clarity to understanding the development challenges in San Diego in this piece, which originally appeared in the Daily Transcript. There is a study yet to be published that found that up to 39% of the cost of a residential housing unit in the San Diego region is strictly due to regulatory fees.

I recently completed a market study on a property in Placer County, immediately northeast of Sacramento. The property, immediately west of Roseville, contains 5,000 acres and is destined to have 14,000 housing units.

Placer County has been a cheerleader for the development of the property and has worked diligently for its approval as a master-planned community.

Processing on the property started in 2007 and if everything goes right, the first home could break ground in 2017. One wonders why it takes 10 years to approve a project if the local government is in favor of it.

The answer lies in increasing bureaucracy at all levels of the development process.

Source: SDDT

Tim Logan via the LA Times:

Los Angeles passed a law last year requiring bicycle racks within 50 feet of the front door of many new buildings. But a problem surfaced immediately: The federal Americans With Disabilities Act requires handicapped parking spaces with an easy path to the door clear of things like bikes.

The conflicting requirements — one in the city’s building code, the other in its zoning code — left developers in a quandary, said Craig Lawson, a land use consultant who’s seen several clients stumble on the rule. They could redesign the entryway of their building — no small task — or seek a variance to put the bike parking elsewhere, a costly process that can take months of hearings.

The City of Los Angeles zoning code is over 70 years old and will be completely revamped under a project by the city planning department known as re:code LA. The ambitious project is slated to be completed by 2017, but city officials warn that this will be no panacea. The planned effort is not an actual rezoning—zoning is still the jurisdiction of 35 individual community plans—but instead, “re:code LA is creating a new palette of zones that stakeholders will be able to choose from during the community planning process.”

Source: LA Times

Colleague, friend, and leading economist, Alan Nevin, wrote a fascinating article for the San Diego Daily Transcript on the relationship between apartment construction costs and rental rates.

The analysis shows the difference in the costs of developing three different types of apartment projects in San Diego County. The three types are a three-story garden walk-up, a five-story with two decks of above-surface concrete parking (known as podium parking) and a 22-story high-rise.
Each assumes current land costs, construction costs, the price of money and each assumes a 200-unit project with apartment units averaging 850 square feet.

I won’t spoil the results of the analysis, but will say that it certainly shows the long-term investment potential of apartments.

Source: San Diego Daily Transcript

Tamara Boeck, writing for the Stoel Rives blog, Ahead of Schedule, has written an excellent analysis on a very important appellate decision in the state of California. The case: Regional Steel Corporation v. Liberty Surplus Insurance Corporation (PDF) (May 16, 2014, No. BC464209) Cal.App.2d. [2014 WL 2643242]

The facts of this dispute are not unfamiliar, and could be substituted for many projects by changing the name, location, and nature. Here, the owner/GC of a 14-story mixed-use apartment project hired a subcontractor to erect the steel and another subcontractor to pour concrete.

The owner also retained Quality Assurance, presumably, to do just that. As a part of the construction process, the steel subcontractor (Regional) submitted shop drawings during a four-month period. The owner/GC and the owner’s engineer approved the drawings, which identified two types of seismic hooks. Four months after the last shop drawing approval, the City issued a correction notice requiring the exclusive use of only one type of hook. The owner became aware of the problem four months after the correction notice, and thereafter stopped further concrete pours until the hook issue was resolved.

The City then notified the owner/GC that the first three levels and part of the fourth level of the building had defective hooks and required repairs. The owner/GC withheld $545,000 of Regional’s progress payments as a result. Not surprisingly litigation followed, including a claim against Regional for the defective hooks, the engineer for approving the shop drawings, the concrete subcontractor for not catching Regional’s error, and Quality Assurance for, well, not providing quality assurance.

The owner/GC alleged that it was damaged because completion of the project was delayed, resulting in loss of use, loss of rental income, and other damages. Thereafter, the owner/GC filed a first amended cross-complaint adding claims based upon theories of negligence and negligent interference with economic advantage, and asserted claims against the parties’ performance bonds.

Ultimately, the insurer denied coverage for Regional (the contractor) because there was no evidence established of resultant damage. This is a critical element in construction defect claims in the state of California, and unfortunately, poorly understood in the building industry outside of the realm of construction defect litigation.

The actual workmanship of a contractor is not covered by standard CGL policies, unless it results in damage to another component. According to the Court in this case, “The risk of replacing and repairing defective materials or poor workmanship has generally been considered a commercial risk which is not passed on to the liability insurer.”

Lessons Learned; Best Practices

Boeck offers some recommendations for both owners and general contractors, stating that this case highlights some important concepts:

  1. The importance of good project contract documents
  2. The importance of good “hands on” project risk management
  3. The importance of understanding what insurance covers
  4. The importance of bonds
  5. Considering coverage in claims

Back to the “Quality Assurance” issue…

I just want to point out that in this project, “the owner also retained Quality Assurance, presumably, to do just that.” I have been involved with a number of cases recently where third-party “quality assurance” had been retained, yet failed to live up to their stated goal of actually assuring quality.

As Boeck says:

[W]hy didn’t anyone catch the hook error until the fourth floor had been built? Paper management is one thing, active and effective quality control is another. Even if the “catch” wasn’t in the shop drawing phase, there were plenty of potential “eyes” that could have caught the error on the first floor and saved substantial time and money. I’m sure everyone is grateful the “catch” wasn’t delayed until the 13th floor, but were there qualified personnel randomly verifying basic work?

Not all QA/QC companies/approaches are created equal. In the ensuing weeks and months, expect much more digital ink on this important topic.

Please take the time to read all of Boeck’s article, as I think it is an outstanding analysis on a crucial issue impacting California’s built environment.

Source: Ahead of Schedule


Construction_work_on_the_Millennium_Tower_(301_Mission_Street),_SF

Image courtesy Wikimedia