Issue 520

Member Profile: Patrick Otellini

Not long ago, Patrick Otellini chose to ignore the unavoidable fact that San Francisco is well overdue for a major earthquake. Today, he’s the city’s director of earthquake safety.

Urbanist Article

"I spent the last decade working for a fantastic consulting firm here in San Francisco helping people navigate the entitlement and building permit process,” says Patrick Otellini. “Through this work I not only acquired a building and fire code knowledge base, which led to my certifications as an ICC building inspector and a NFPA-certified fire protection specialist, but I was able to see how the city works and the hoops you have to jump through to get things done. I became an active member within SPUR and assisted with the processing of the building permits for the Urban Center on Mission Street. At the time the CAPSS project [the Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety] was in full swing and SPUR was working on their Resilient Cities Initiative, so naturally I became involved and interested in both of these efforts.”

Seeing the impact of the earthquake events in Japan, New Zealand, Haiti and Chile, Otellini, adds, only added to his interest in this type of work.
“Four generations of my family live within the city limits, which becomes an obvious factor in my interest in earthquake preparedness. But that aside, I love this city because of the uniqueness and quality of our built environment. A major earthquake could have such an impact on what our city looks like today. Taking the steps necessary to retrofit our buildings is sustainability at its core, and preserving our buildings not only prevents the loss of life but will help us to recover more quickly after a disaster and return to our normal lives.
Planning for disaster is daunting. What are some of the basics every Bay Area citizen should consider?
We are lucky to have so many tremendous resources here in the Bay Area like and There is a lot to be said about preparing at home with supplies and making sure your structure is safe, but in my opinion the single greatest thing you can do is have a plan with your partner and/or family unit. My wife and I have a simple plan. We have two children who both attend schools close together, and our plan is that we both try to go get them. The best news I could be given arriving at a school [after an earthquake] would be to hear, “Yes, your wife just came by and picked up your children. They are all safe and on their way home.” It seems totally obvious, but having a short one-minute conversation about this could make a tremendous difference when a disaster strikes.
Adams has a way about his writing that is so rooted in San Francisco and speaks about the city in the correct historical context.
So we think we can guess what your favorite city is. Do you have another favorite?
After San Francisco, Rome, Italy. I lived there for a time when I was in college. I walked everywhere, and the combination of the culture, energy and architecture of the city captivated me. They have had a few-thousand-year head start on our little boom town here by the bay, but both cities have a passion for life that is truly inspiring.
Urban view?
The view from the top of the Sutter-Stockton Garage. From the top of the building you are high enough to have a great view of the heart of Union Square, but you are also low enough to look up at a wonderful mix of both old and new towers in the Financial District in a particularly great context. I’m also a sucker for the view of the city from the north slope of Potrero Hill (especially at night).
Your favorite book on cities?
Heroes of the Golden Gate by Chuck Adams. My greatgrandfather worked as a welder on the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, so naturally I was very interested in the subject matter. Adams has a way about his writing that is so rooted in San Francisco and speaks about the city in the correct historical context.
Favorite building?
The Pacific Telephone Building at 140 New Montgomery. I am a huge Timothy Pflueger fan, and I think Wilson Meany (along with Plant Construction and Perkins + Will) is doing an amazing job of bringing that building back to life while respecting the architecture. They’ve also done a full seismic upgrade of the existing structure.