Among piles of other things, I'm in the process of seeking housing in Palo Alto for the summer and Berkeley again in the fall. Today, I learned in great detail about the concept of "soft story" buildings, after seeing a sign at one of the complexes we visited that referred to Berkley Municipal Code section 19.39.060.
It turns out that Berkeley has a program for identifying soft-story buildings that might be dangerous in the event of an earthquake. Since it's rather likely that we'll have a significant earthquake in the next couple decades, and since lots of housing in Berkeley would not survive such an earthquake, the city created measures to help protect the city against the expected natural disaster: all buildings that were likely to have soft-story weakness were required to have an inspection by a professional engineer, who would file a report on the building's safety. If the building was considered potentially hazardous, the building owner would be required to make tenants and visitors aware through letters and signage that it was known to be possibly unsafe, until it is retrofit with structural reinforcements to bring the building up to a higher standard of safety. No mandate to actually retrofit the buildings was given, but the action taken effectively incentivizes landlords to fix their dangerous buildings by making them less desirable on the housing market.
One of the apartments we went to see was on Berkeley's Inventory of Potentially Hazardous Buildings (pdf). I've pretty much reached the conclusion that as nice as the apartment was, it's a pretty bad idea for me to choose to live in housing on the Potentially Hazardous Buildings. My life and possessions in the event of a rather likely seismic event are worth more than saving a hundred bucks a month. I'd rather not have my car go like this.
In other news: I filed for my 2010 tax returns today. I seriously need to start upping my withholdings exemptions, because this is a second year that I've given the US government a sizable several-month interest-free loan. Then again, goodness knows they need it.