Expansion of Berkeley financing program to ease costs of seismic retrofitting

August 20, 2015


City property owners can now apply for monetary support for seismic retrofitting — in addition to energy sustainability improvements — after a recent expansion of a city financing program.

Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, financing can be used to spread out the cost of important retrofitting and sustainability improvements over time, according to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko. He said part of the city’s goal was to make improving city properties as accessible as possible to those who are interested.

“We want to make sure that our properties are ready for earthquakes and that the city is as energy independent as possible,” Chakko said. “The city can’t advance independently. It requires individuals, so what we want to do is set up the framework for how this happens.”

PACE was initially developed as a pilot program in Berkeley in 2008 and was intended to expand into a statewide initiative, according to city Energy Program Manager Neal De Snoo. It was reauthorized in 2014 as a statewide program that cities can opt into. The new seismic retrofitting extension was added by Berkeley City Council at its April 7 meeting.

The California Statewide Communities Development Authority has taken control of implementing PACE across the state by acting as an aggregator for various independent vendors that provide PACE financing.

Financing is also available for sustainability improvements, such as renewable energy additions and water and energy conservation measures. PACE financing allows property owners to borrow the money necessary to make renovations and improvements, and redistributes the cost by incorporating it into semi-annual property tax bills over time, according to Chakko.

According to a recommendation presented to City Council by former city manager Christine Daniel, expanded PACE financing is important for facilitating the enforcement of requirements — implemented in January 2014 — for owners of soft, weak or open-front buildings.

Soft, weak or open-front buildings are wooden-frame buildings with open-space first floors, such as parking garages. These types of buildings are considered potentially hazardous in the event of an earthquake.

Owners are required to apply for a building permit by Dec. 31, 2016 and to retrofit their buildings within two years of applying.

PACE provides a “pool of capital” that allows owners to make changes themselves while avoiding the burden of large initial payments, according to De Snoo. He said that although the community has made progress in increasing sustainability over the last few years, there still needs to be a focus on making changes to building infrastructure.

“The concept is a powerful one because many people don’t have the resources to benefit from the sustainability improvements of their properties,” De Snoo said. “These investments have great yields, and the trick is to figure out how to leverage these long-term benefits.”

Originally published in The Daily Californian.