Teams of inspectors start assessment of Napa quake damage

A platoon of building inspectors scoured Napa’s central core Monday, visiting commercial and residential properties in what is likely to become an arduous task of assessing the full extent of Sunday’s earthquake.|

A small platoon of building inspectors scoured Napa’s central core Monday, visiting commercial and residential properties door to door in what is likely to become an arduous task of assessing the full extent of Sunday’s earthquake.

About 30 inspection teams, each with two inspectors, were tasked with conducting at least “windshield,” or quick exterior, inspections or assessments of properties in and near downtown Napa. As of 5 p.m. Monday, at least 70 buildings in the city have been “red-tagged” by building inspectors, which means the structures are uninhabitable because of earthquake damage.

On Sunday, there were 10 teams doing inspections, said Rick Tooker, Napa Community Development Director. Prior to Monday’s inspections, 35 percent of the town center already had been assessed, Tooker told reporters Monday.

Some city officials said it’s too early to fully determine the effectiveness of years of earthquake preparedness and structural retrofitting in the downtown area. Deeper structural inspections will come later after current preliminary inspections that are aimed at essentially determining whether structures are safe to inhabit.

One inspector said Monday afternoon that of the 25 to 30 buildings that he inspected, half of them had seismic retrofitting. These buildings, he said, were still standing.

“The retrofitting saved the building from collapsing; it did it’s job,” said Curt Taras, a professional civil engineer participating in the state Office of Emergency Services’ Safety Assessment Program. Taras was dispatched to Napa to assist in earthquake inspections.

Taras said that although retrofitted buildings were damaged, “the structural steel that was put inside effectively saved the building.”

On Monday afternoon, Taras, accompanied by Casey Handcock, a civil engineering student and intern with the Napa Public Works Department, made their way through downtown searching for damage.

At a home on Seminary Street, Taras knocked on the front door until the owner, Wes Jones, answered. Jones gave Taras a tour of the property, highlighting the most visible damage. Inside the house, there were numerous cracks on walls and on the staircase. Plaster had fallen off at least one section of lath and plaster wall, exposing wood slats.

Jones said the building took damage in 2000 after a magnitude-5.2 earthquake struck Napa Valley. That earthquake caused an estimated $55 million in damage in the valley. The home’s original chimney had to be replaced.

He said that after the 2000 quake, he spent tens of thousands of dollars retrofitting the old section of his house, which was built in the early 1900s. Jones said he bolted down the foundation and reinforced the cripple walls that extend down to the foundation. He also cross-braced the old part of the house.

After Taras completed his inspection, he gave Jones a yellow tag, which requires repairs to be made and advises caution. Some 200 buildings in Napa have been yellow-tagged.

Property owners are expected to assess and clean yellow-tag buildings and then call the city for a re-inspection. A green-tagged building means the property has passed the inspection and can be inhabited.

“Your property is between green and yellow,” Taras told Jones. “I could go green . . . I’m not really calling your damage structural.”

While Taras pounded the pavement, many homeowners and tenants anxiously waited for an inspector to get to their address.

At the corner of Napa and Fourth streets, Michele Farhat, director of marketing and development for Family Services of Napa Valley, a mental health clinic at 709 Franklin St., watched as a construction crew dismantled the building’s chimney.

From the top of the two-story building she described as an old Victorian, workers in hard hats tossed down bricks from the dismantled chimney.

Farhat said she was waiting for a city building inspector to come to assess the damage. Inside the building, there were cracks on the walls and along the molding. The clinic, Farhat said, is the only place where low-income residents in Napa County can get mental health services.

“It’s urgent that we get up and running,” she said, adding that she was having trouble getting in touch with a city inspector.

“You’re just in line,” she said. “I know every business is important, but we feel like we need to be up and running.”

Christina Daly, owner of a bungalow-style home on Vallejo Street, was also among those waiting for an inspection Monday. The damage to her home included a broken ceiling and non-load-bearing beam in the dining room.

Daly, who lives in Fairfield and rents out the two-bedroom home, said the house has been in her family for several generations and she lived there until she was 5 years old. When she heard about the earthquake, her heart sank, she said.

As she walked through the house, she pointed to a piece of wood molding surrounding a pillar where she “smacked” her face and came away with two black eyes.

She said she was relieved when she saw the house Monday. She said she heeded a call to stay away from the area Sunday.

“I thought it would be much worse,” she said. “But it makes me want to cry. We don’t know the extent to the structural damage.”

Daly said the house has been through a lot. After the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, bricks from the destroyed chimney were used to decorate the front yard pavement.

Taras, the civil engineer participating in inspections, said that one of every three buildings he inspected Monday had moderate to severe damage.

He said common damage included cracked or collapsed masonry or brick work; loose window panels on businesses; shear cracking in concrete; and collapsed hanging ceilings.

Napa City Manager Mike Parness said the city’s two main priorities are assessing earthquake damage and providing necessary support to the local community, making sure they have water and other necessities. As of Sunday afternoon, he said 600 properties did not have water.

Parness said he expected the city’s recovery to be quick and not take “months and months and months.”

“Given the magnitude of this earthquake, we did well,” he said. “I think people will be amazed at how quickly the recovery will take place.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or

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