Everything You Need To Know About Pasadena Soft-Story Retrofit City Ordinance


In recent years, Pasadena, a city renowned for its historic charm and architectural significance, has taken significant strides in enhancing the safety of its buildings, particularly focusing on wood-frame soft-story structures vulnerable to seismic events. Based on Seismic Ordinances of California, With a comprehensive approach to risk management, Pasadena has instituted priority designations and a structured timeline to guide retrofit efforts, ensuring that the most critical structures receive prompt attention while allowing owners adequate time for compliance.

Priority Designations in Pasadena: How do you know if your building's deadline is approaching?

The cornerstone of Pasadena's retrofit initiative lies in its priority designations, which categorize buildings based on their inherent risk and structural characteristics. Understanding that not all buildings pose an equal threat during seismic activity, the city has established three tiers of priority:

  • Priority I: Buildings of significant size and historical significance, including those with three or more stories, 25 or more dwelling units, or qualified historic buildings of any size or unit count. Identified as high-risk structures, these buildings warrant immediate attention to mitigate potential damage and safeguard occupants.
  • Priority II: Structures comprising 10 to 24 dwelling units fall under this category. While not as large-scale as Priority I buildings, they still represent a considerable risk and require diligent retrofitting efforts to bolster their resilience against seismic forces.
  • Priority III: This category encompasses 2-story buildings housing 5 to 9 units. While comparatively smaller in scale, these structures are not exempt from seismic vulnerabilities, prompting Pasadena to include them in its retrofit mandate.

By delineating buildings into these priority tiers, Pasadena aims to allocate resources effectively, prioritizing interventions where they are most urgently needed while balancing the logistical considerations of implementation.

Timeline for Retrofit Compliance: Make sure you know the steps.

Coupled with priority designations, Pasadena has implemented a structured timeline to guide building owners through the retrofit process. Recognizing the complexity of retrofitting projects and the need for adequate planning, the city has established clear milestones:

Notice Issued to Owner: The process commences with the issuance of a notice to building owners, informing them of their building's designated priority level and the corresponding retrofit requirements:

  • 1 Year After Notice: Building owners are provided with the option to submit a screening form completed by a licensed civil or structural engineer, allowing them to contest the ordinance if they believe their building is exempt from retrofit requirements. This step facilitates a thorough assessment of each building's structural integrity, ensuring that the retrofit mandate is applied judiciously.
  • 4 Years After Notice: The deadline to submit retrofit plans and obtain a building permit marks a crucial milestone in the compliance timeline. Building owners are afforded ample time to engage with engineers, architects, and contractors to develop comprehensive retrofit plans tailored to their specific structures.
  • 7 Years After Notice: The final deadline for completing construction underscores the city's commitment to expeditious yet practical implementation. By providing a seven-year window from the issuance of notice, Pasadena acknowledges the time-intensive nature of retrofit projects while emphasizing the paramount importance of ensuring building safety in a timely manner.

Through this structured timeline, Pasadena endeavors to strike a balance between regulatory compliance and practical feasibility, empowering building owners to navigate the retrofit process efficiently while upholding stringent safety standards.


Pasadena's proactive approach to building retrofitting exemplifies its commitment to preserving both its architectural heritage and the safety of its residents. By instituting priority designations and a clear timeline for compliance, the city has laid a robust foundation for mitigating seismic risks and fostering a resilient built environment. As Pasadena continues to prioritize safety in its urban development initiatives, it sets a commendable example for cities grappling with similar seismic vulnerabilities worldwide.

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