Soft Story Retrofit Program

Read the Soft Story Retrofit Program FAQ's Here

In an earthquake, "soft story" apartments and condominiums are most susceptible to shaking damage. Soft Story structures are typically residential buildings with open parking or commercial space on the first floor and housing on higher floors. These buildings were built in years past, prior to modern building codes. In an earthquake, ground shaking causes such structures to sway and sometimes to collapse.

Work is currently underway on a proposed Soft Story Retrofit Program in Mill Valley, with an objective to protect existing housing stock in the community. The City estimates that there are a number of buildings that would be considered Soft Story (with 3 or more units) in City limits. 

The development of the program was initiated over a year ago by then-Mayor John McCauley, spurred by his interest in public safety and preserving existing affordable housing in Mill Valley.

“We know that after an earthquake, rental housing that becomes damaged will return slowly and may be converted to condos, creating a loss of workforce and affordable housing,” McCauley said. “Developing a Soft Story Retrofit Program similar to what other Bay Area cities have implemented is an important step - both for public safety and for preserving the diversity of housing options in Mill Valley.” Other cities’ programs are described in the links below.

At their April 5, 2021 meeting, the City Council accepted the Planning & Building Department Work Plan for FY2021/22, which included a brief description of the program and identified funds for consultant support. 

In May 2022, Director of Planning and Building Patrick Kelly and Consultant David Bonowitz presented to Council a Soft Story Retrofit Program overview with legislative options for Council to consider. Council supported moving forward with a mandatory retrofit program for buildings with 3 or more rental units. Tentatively, the program would include a screening phase to confirm building conditions and exempt certain buildings based on an engineer’s review. After the screening phase, the program would allow several years to complete a retrofit. Review the Staff Report that accompanied the presentation.

On July 18, 2022, Council received an informational presentation on the purpose of the proposed Soft Story program, the status of the program's development and an update on next steps, which includes outreach to property owners.

On June 5, 2023, Council conducted a "First Reading" of the Mandatory Soft Story Retrofit Ordinance, and on June 26, 2023, Council conducted the "Second Reading" and unanimously adopted the Ordinance. The Staff Report details the timeframe for compliance.

Resources: Please click on the links below to learn about Soft Story Retrofit Programs in other Bay Area cities:

Meeting and DateTopicResources
City Council Meeting - April 5, 2021Planning & Building Department Work Plan (FY2021/22) Staff Report
City Council Meeting - May 9, 2022Earthquake Reduction Program/Soft Story OrdinanceStaff Report
Presentation slides
City Council Meeting - July 18, 2022

Presentation of the Mill Valley ’Soft Story’ Mitigation Program.

Presentation Video (Jump to Item 1)
Presentation Slides
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