Tuesday, September 15, 2015

$90-million Library Investment at Risk? It's Hayward's Fault

On tonight's City Council Consent Agenda is a resolution to award a construction contract for a new library and park plaza.

According to the subject staff report, the cost for the project will be about $65.7-million.

But, let's be honest, that's not really the total amount. What the report neglects to mention is the cost of the required financing. That amount has to be inferred from another source.

Architectural rendering of Hayward's proposed new library--the front entrance at C Street. 
A July staff report on financing authorization identifies the need to borrow $53-million for the project. This amount is to be paid back over a period of 20-years at an interest rate of as much as 4-percent. This will result in an overall finance charge of nearly $25-million and an overall project cost of about $90-million.

Allow me to state the obvious: $90-million is a tremendous amount of money. It's equivalent to $600 for every man, woman and child living in Hayward ($90,000,000 ÷ 150,000).

But the expenditure isn't just massive, it's risky as well.

In response to the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the City issued a Mitigated Negative Declaration for the project. It includes eight appendices of investigative reports that collectively total over 1,300-pages of information including such things as tree health, noise levels, and historical resource quality. Yet it doesn't include a single page of what is perhaps the most important document of all, the site's geotechnical study. Why is that?

Planned library location (red square) within a regulatory
Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zone (yellow) and ad-
jacent to known fault creep (C) traces of the Hayward
Fault.        Map Image from CA Dept. of Conservation.
Being that the site is located within a regulated earthquake fault zone, shouldn't the public (and perhaps those who actually authorize the project) know the full extent by which the site's seismic risk was investigated?

More specifically, how does it demon-strate, as required by California's Alquist-Priolo Act and City policy, that the proposed structure won't be built across an active fault? 

There doesn't appear to be any surface disturbance at the project site that is large enough to suggest that a proper trenching study had been performed. In fact, the text of the Neg Dec indicates that only cone penetrometer testing (CPT) was conducted.

If this is true, it's woefully insufficient. For a project of this type, size, and cost, considerably more ought to be done. Guidelines for evaluating the hazard of surface fault rupture published by the California Geological Survey (CGS) state that trenching needs to be conducted in conjunction with other methods. It also states that CPT must be done in conjunction with continuously logged borings. Nothing in the Neg Dec indicates that this has occurred.

It's widely known that a creep trace of the Hayward Fault is located no farther from the building site than the proposed building is wide. This separation is apparently sufficient for some to presume that the Hayward Fault represents a less than significant impact to the safety of the site. But seismologists at both CGS and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) have told me that a known creep trace is not a definitive indicator as to where a significant surface displacement might occur during a major seismic event.

A trenching study at Tyson's Lagoon in Fremont, for example, has revealed that adjacent to a known creep trace is another active trace of the Hayward Fault that appears to only move during major events. Additionally, Jim Lienkaemper of USGS has told me that many trenches in the wider Hayward Fault zone have revealed second and third order fault traces away from the main creeping trace that are active and in most cases are believed to have moved in a seismic rupture.

These numerous inconspicuous possibilities for lateral shift across a wide swath of a fault is the reason that the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zones are as wide as they are and why appropriate investigations are required.

Not withstanding the potential physical danger posed by not properly investigating a site, the failure to demonstrate proper compliance with the Act exposes the City to enormous financial liability for possible negligence.

One section of the Alquist-Priolo Act effectively strips away the "act of God" defense by stipulating that a city that does not comply with specific provisions of the Act "may be liable for earthquake-related injuries or deaths caused by its failure to so adhere."

I've previously heard project proponents brush aside concerns over any seismic risk. They've confidently stated that the proposed library will be a robust steel structure built to modern building code standards.

Design professionals and city officials shouldn't have to be reminded that our modern building code doesn't guarantee anything. It merely defines minimum building standards in an effort to reasonably protect public health, safety, and general welfare. In a worst case scenario, the hope is that today's minimum standards are sufficiently adequate to provide occupants enough time to escape a structure before it might ultimately suffer catastrophic failure.

As demonstrated by past deadly failures constructed to standards that were considered modern for their time, success is not guaranteed. Our knowledge and, consequently, our regulations are constantly evolving.

Case in point, a UC Berkeley study published earlier this year revealed a newly discovered connection between the Hayward Fault and the Calaveras Fault. This connection supposedly increases the amount of energy that could potentially be released during a major event by more than 2½-times that which had previously been thought possible. Will future building standards for this very project site be revised to consider greater local ground accelerations based on the new findings? Probably.

But regardless of regulations, be they modern or not, no building, steel or otherwise, can withstand a massive lateral shift of the earth directly beneath its foundation. During a major seismic event, it's believed that the Hayward Fault has the potential of shifting 4-feet or more. Any building walls straddling such a rupture will most definitely yield.

PG&E map (click to visit the interactive web page). The blue lines indicate
the location of high-pressure gas transmission pipelines. The red pin
indicates the proposed location of the new library, and the red lines indicate
known creep traces of the Hayward Fault (both added by this blog).
There's also a potential-ly exacerbating issue not even mentioned in the Neg Dec. 

Just a few steps from what will be the new library's front door lies a PG&E, high-pressure, gas transmission pipe-line -- the kind that exploded 20-miles to the west in San Bruno in 2010.

As can be seen on the inset PG&E map, this high-pressure gas line crosses the Fault Zone perpendicularly at C Street.

It really won't matter where the ground surface actually ruptures in a major event, at a previously identified fault trace or somewhere adjacent, the shearing of this and other pipelines will be a virtual certainty. (Just last month, the East Bay Municipal Utility District reported nine water pipes broke throughout its service area following a minor quake on the Hayward Fault.)

PG&E believes it has addressed the threat posed by fault crossings with the installation of automatic shut-off valves. However, not being able to find any detail as to the actual extent of its efforts, I remain dubious. And apparently, I'm not alone. The Public Utilities Commission has also indicated a lack of confidence in PG&E's safety policies and practices by announcing last month its consideration of an investigative review.

Don't forget that the principle cause of San Francisco's citywide destruction in 1906 was not due to the shaking earth, but to the relentless fires that ensued--which were abundantly fueled by broken gas lines.
Some will suggest that we have nothing to fear. After all, Fire Station No. 1 is only a block away at C Street and Main. Unfortunately, however, that building may be similarly at risk. Like the proposed library, it's located within the earthquake fault zone, across the street from an identified fault trace, and immediately adjacent to the PG&E gas transmission line.

Hayward PD Substation.  Main St at its front, fault trace at its rear.
And if that doesn't suggest a cavalier attitude toward the city's namesake fault, then consider that across from the fire station is the local police substation. It's located in an old masonry structure (constructed in 1927) whose rear wall sits inches from a mapped fault trace, and it too is immediately adjacent to the high-pressure gas transmission line. Clearly, if the City considers a site like this suitable for its public safety personnel, then nothing must be off limits for other civic buildings.

This then begs the question: hasn't anything been learned from history?

Hayward has a rather unfortunate legacy with regard to its public buildings.

The city's first permanent library, the Carnegie Library, was located just over a thousand feet from the proposed project site. It was substantially damaged during the historic 1906 earthquake.

The abandoned City Hall on Mission Blvd, which sits kitty-corner to the proposed project site, was constructed directly atop one of the creep fault traces. It's now slowly being ripped in half.

The city's widely admired Union High School was torn down and the site abandoned because it was considered too seismically hazardous. But then the City Center complex was erected at the very same spot only to be rendered useless by the 1989 Loma Prieta quake.

Two years ago Cal State's iconic Warren Hall was imploded because it was considered the most seismically unsafe building in the entire state university system. (The Hayward Fault lies at the base of the hill upon which Warren Hall was perched.)

How is it that one city can have such an infamous record?

It's partly out of stupidity and partly out of pride, but mostly it's due to simple ignorance. Decision makers generally didn't know any better. The fact is the Hayward Fault wasn't mapped, nor a regulatory fault zone established, until after most of these structures were constructed.

Today, however, we know better.

Therefore, it has to be asked. If in the future this incredibly expensive project becomes prematurely unusable simply because of its risky location (like the fiasco of LA's Learning Center Complex) then what's going to be our excuse?

Proverbs 16:18