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In a message dated 97-02-28 02:00:29 EST, RLFOLEY(--nospam--at) wrote:

<< Since building officials see plans and calculations daily, and if they are
qualified to make such judgements, I think it would uplift the profession if
they were to report to the Board of Registration, engineers that submit
projects which are clearly below the standard of care and/or contain gross
errors or omissions.>>

Been there, done that, with nothing to show for it.  BORPELS has very few
investigators, and they mostly concentrate on cases involving unlicensed
practitioners, deceptive advertising, or unethical business practices.
 Incompetence charge cases, almost never.  Gross errors occur, but are rarer
than you may believe.  The most common occurrences of unprofessional practice
involve project documents that are sloppily and incompletely
designed/detailed, show evidence of obsolete or shaky technical understanding
and assumptions, are poorly drafted/laid-out, use boiler plates, many of
which are not customized to the project, etc.  Such products likely would
fall into your "clearly below standard" category.  But standards of care
occupy zones that are not demarcated by bright lines in the sand - that's why
so many torts are fought over the issue in other areas.  BORPELS
investigators know from experience that charges based on substandard
performance are more likely to be contested, have lower chances of winning,
and are more time-consuming and costly to prosecute.  The low priority
assigned to such complaints is understandable given the fiscal constraints
BORPELS operates under.

<<I have a feeling that many building officials are not adequately trained to
make such judgements.  I would like to hear your further comments.>>

Unfortunately, I have to agree with your feeling.  But my experiences, and
those of a few other building offcials who have made referrals to BORPELS,
all have been negative ones, so I doubt many more referrals would be made
even if the pool of "adequately trained" buildings officials is larger.
 First, you have to document a history and pattern of substandard work - an
isolated example is unlikely to be adequate (the engineer could claim
temporary stress, a bad hair week, anything).  That takes staff time to keep
records and/or do research.  Then you have to deal with the subpoenas,
depositions, and possibly go to Sacramento if hearings and/or trials take
place.  In one case, I was subpoenaed to produce plans and records in my
department's possession for projects that were sealed by licensed
professionals on all permits issued over the previous 5 years (the attorney
obviously wanted to establish how low the standard of care was, as well as to
harrass me).  This was before the recently enacted statute that allows
government agencies to recover actual costs in complying with a subpoena.
 The jurisdiction was SF, so you can understand the volume of
research/clerical work and documents this would have entailed, and why I told
BORPELS I wasn't going to pursue the case anymore.

There's a second and more significant reason why building officials don't get
involved on this issue - there's nothing in it for most of them.  Structural
engineers may assume the UBC, and especially the structural chapters, show up
front and center on the radar screens of building officials.   But that's far
from the case.  There are many areas that are of greater concern to building
officials because these have more and louder supporters or enforcement teeth.
 Some examples:  Getting high levels of compliance with Title 24
accessibility regulations to ward off complaints from activists, or worst,
from legal action by the activists or the Attorney General, is an example.
  Did you know that the CEC randomly performs office and field audits on how
well building departments are doing in getting compliance with Title 24
energy conservation regulations?  Perhaps you are not aware of the extent of
tensions between buildiing and fire officials over code interpretations,
extent of field compliance, and turf fights.  And as a last example, most
building departments have the very thankless and no-win responsibility of
enforcing housing and zoning codes on existing buildings.  Code enforcement
cases create disproportionate time demands as the building official attempts
to balance unhappy neighbors who have enlisted the help of elected officials,
against reluctant and angry owners.  In contrast, buildings that are
structurally marginally in compliance with the code, or even out of
compliance, seldom become issues, and even rarer cause problems that lead to
headlines.  Even major disasters in this country don't make a strong case,
statistically speaking, for giving higher attention to making structures
safer.  In Loma Prieta, fewer than a dozen deaths occurred as a result of
building collapses and falling debris from them.  The number for the
Northridge event was under 30 (the higher figures seen in the media include
non-structural causes, such as heart attacks and falls caused by the events,
and in the case of Loma Prieta, from the Cypress Freeway collapse).  Contrast
these numbers with the 10+K fire deaths annually to get another perspective
of the relative focus that building officials might give to fire and
structural safety.  [Note: reductions in property damage and business losses
through better design are coming into increasing focus, but those are
separate issues]. The bottom line is that building officials who wade into
the engineering competence issue would be diverting precious resources from
other issues that have much greater potential to get them into the headlines
and/or in trouble.

Sorry to be so blunt.  Hope this dose of reality isn't too bitter or
difficult to swallow.

Franklin Lew, SE

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Subject: Re: building code minimums for wood frame
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Richard Lewis, P.E.
Missionary TECH Team

The service mission like-minded Christian organizations
may turn to for technical assistance and know-how.