Seismic Retrofit Program – Soft Story “SWOF” (Soft Weak Open Front)

A soft story is a term used in architecture and engineering to describe a building with a weak or flexible ground floor that lacks the necessary stiffness to resist lateral forces such as earthquakes or wind. Soft stories are often found in older buildings that were constructed before modern seismic design standards were established.

A Soft Story ordinance is a set of regulations and building codes designed to reduce the risk of damage and loss of life caused by earthquakes. The Soft Story ordinance typically require buildings to be constructed or retrofitted to withstand certain levels of seismic activity, based on the location and potential seismic hazards of the area. The ordinance includes requirements for strengthening soft-story buildings, such as adding additional support structures or reinforcing existing ones.

In areas with high seismic activity, such as California, there are specific seismic ordinances in place that require buildings to be designed and constructed to meet certain standards, including the retrofitting of soft-story buildings.  Overall, the implementation of the soft story retrofit program in Culver City is an important measure to improve public safety and reduce the risk of building collapse during earthquakes.

Seismic Retrofit Ordinance - adopted September 27, 2021

Ordinance No. 2021-013(PDF, 3MB)

Is my property on the list?

Interactive GIS map with properties affected highlighted

Affected property owners will receive notices via mail, which will inform them that their property has been identified as a potential soft story building, appeal procedures, and compliance deadlines. Target dates for the mandatory milestones will commence from the notification date and will be dispatched as per the prioritization table and dates mentioned below:

Priority Description  Notice to Comply
Sent Date*
Priority I Buildings containing more than 12 units or 3 stories with more than 6 units. October 6, 2023
Priority II Buildings containing between 5 to 12 units, not falling within the definition of Priority I February 20, 2024  
Priority III Buildings not falling within the definition of Priority I or II, including, but not limited to: duplexes, triplex and townhouses. Spring 2024

*These are approximate dates, which will be confirmed after Priority notices have been sent out.

Buildings identified to be within the scope of the Soft Story Ordinance show characteristics common to Soft Story buildings.

Further evaluation by a Civil or Structural Engineer licensed in the State of California is required in order to determine if seismic strengthening is required or if the building meets the minimum requirements of the Ordinance.  A SWOF Screening Report will be required to be submitted for review. 

Required Action by Owner Timeline
Submit Screening Report 1 year from notice to the Owner
Submit Retrofit Plans 2 years from notice to the Owner
Obtain Permit 3 years from notice to the Owner
Obtain Permit & Commence Construction 4 years from notice to the Owner
Complete Construction 5 years from notice to the Owner

Program Background

Introduction of a Seismic Retrofit (SWOF) Program

The Northridge earthquake was one of the greatest economic natural disasters in American history, with losses estimated to exceed $25 billion dollars. In comparing the levels of seismic hazards as defined by the California Building Code, the City of Culver City is near that level of Northridge’s seismic hazards. In addition, the city contains hundreds of buildings that have potential soft/weak story deficiencies which is considered to have one of the Highest Risk of significant damage during a large earthquake. This deficiency often occurs in wood buildings with soft, weak, or open front (SWOF) walls. To minimize its seismic risk, the City of Culver City has chosen to be proactive in developing a program to identify, evaluate, and upgrade SWOF wood buildings (also commonly referred to as “Soft Story.”) The City has engaged in a three phase program to address Soft Story.

Phase One – Soft Story Building Survey

On December 10, 2018, the City Council selected Degenkolb Engineers as the technical consultants to prepare a citywide survey of commercial and residential structures in order to identify those that had soft story characteristics that make them vulnerable in earthquakes. 

On October 14, 2019, Degenkolb Engineers presented its findings to the City Council after having completed Phase One of the Project. Degenkolb Engineers conducted a city-wide building survey between March 27, 2019 and July 30, 2019 using a two-tiered approach which consisted of a computer survey via Google Maps and an on-site visual observation from the public right of way. The Survey of Wood SWOF (“Soft Story”) Buildings and Recommendations identified buildings that are potentially vulnerable to seismic damage or collapse associated with soft story building characteristics.

Phase Two - Soft Story Retrofit Ordinance Development

On October 14, 2020, the City of Culver City Community Development Department with the City’s technical consultant, Degenkolb Engineers,  conducted a Webex meeting, made-up of stake holders and city staff, for a discussion regarding a Culver City Seismic Retrofit Ordinance   The purpose of the meeting was to obtain input and comments from community stakeholders on the drafting of a seismic strengthening ordinance to address “Soft Story” buildings in Culver City. Soft Story buildings are wood construction and have soft, weak open walls at the ground floor that are particularly vulnerable to earthquakes. The comments from this community stakeholders will be presented to City Council for consideration regarding the drafting of a seismic strengthening ordinance to correct Soft Story building conditions.

External Technical Review - Structural Engineering Association of Southern California (SEAOSC) Safer Cities Advisory Program

In addition to getting feedback from the community, City staff also engaged the structural engineering community for their technical perspective via the Structural Engineering Association of Southern California (SEAOSC).   On November 5th, 2020.  Through SEAOSC’s Safer Cities Advisory Program, the Culver City staff and Degenkolb discussed drafting an ordinance and programs with a panel of independent, qualified, subject matter technical experts.   Insightful and expert comments from these highly qualified and vetted members are taken into consideration in further development of the ordinance and programs.  

Community Outreach

The City has engaged in a three Community outreach meetings to describe the proposed draft ordinance and collect input from the community were virtually held on the following dates: 



10/24/22 City Council Presentation(PDF, 585KB)