School Seismic Safety Reform Dies in the Legislature

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

California Watch apparently impressed the Pulitzer Prize committee—with its internet series last year on seismic safety deficiencies in public schools—more than the Legislature, which quietly let die a bill to enforce earthquake standards and reform the agency that oversees school construction.

The California Watch series, On Shaky Ground, was a wide-ranging Pulitzer finalist which found that the Division of the State Architect routinely let children and teachers occupy buildings with known structural flaws, and overlooked 16,000 school projects that lacked proper certification. Buildings with around 42,000 students were identified as having safety issues.    

But Senate Bill 1271 never got out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The legislation, which was supported by the Coalition for Adequate School Housing—an advocacy group that represents schools, architects, developers and financial interests—would have required the Department of General Services to make recommendations to the Legislature on ways to beef up the Field Act.

The act is the primary vehicle for setting earthquake standards and ensuring compliance in K-12 school facilities. It was at the heart of an investigation by the California State Auditor’s Office that concluded the state architects office was ineffective in its oversight and enforcement of safety laws.  

In its defense, the architects office complained that the Field Act for not giving it enough authority to do its job. The auditor concurred and recommended that it push for legislative changes to strengthen the law. SB 1271 would have compelled a study by experts to make those changes.

Although the bill died without comment, the bill’s formal analysis by the Appropriations Committee cast doubt about its necessity in a section entitled: “Need?” Citing an internal review already underway in the architects office, the analysis said: “It is unclear how a statutory requirement to submit a report will further this process.”

–Ken Broder  


To Learn More:

Assembly Quietly Kills School Seismic Reform Measure (by Corey G. Johnson, California Watch)

Assembly to Decide Future of School Seismic Safety Bill (by Corey G. Johnson, California Watch)

Senate Hearing Today Will Address Seismic Safety Reforms (by Corey G. Johnson, California Watch)

Analysis of SB 1271 (Senate Committee on Education, California Legislative Information)

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