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Re: BORPELS and residential room additions

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This reply had to wait until I completed a residential addition calc and
sketch job over last weekend, which didn't go any easier as a result of my
having read the two source messages and all 32 responses to date.

Unfortunately, the attack on the civil engineer that Mr Harris describes
fits a pattern, and is not unexpected to one who has been observant. I am a
structural engineer in Sacramento, a past president of the Central Section
of SEAOC, have had four years on the SEAOC Board of Directors, and I have
been following the affairs of the California Board of Registration since
1983, as a representative of my local SEAOC section for some issues and as a
private party otherwise. Nearly every month I appear and report on BORPELS
matters to Central Section's Board of Directors at their request. Not very
much of what I report appears in their minutes nor, of course, in the
minutes of BORPELS' own meetings. There is a wealth of ominous BORPELS
doings to reveal just on this disciplinary action topic, too much for a
single e-mail shot. Another deterrent to saying much is the one noted by Mr
Brudigam: these stories make one sick. For now, I will only reply to two
issues raised earlier, and touch on a third.

As to minimum engineering services for a residential room addition, the
answer is easy if it's woodframe construction. In 1985 the state legislature
enacted SB 790, which exempts woodframe residential construction from
needing any engineering at all, except as specified. The exception appears
in Sec 6737.1(b) of Cal Business and Professions Code (the PE Act) as
follows: "If any PORTION of any structure exempted by this section deviates
from substantial compliance with conventional framing requirements for wood
frame construction found in ...(the building code)...the building official
having jurisdiction shall require the preparation of
plans,drawings,specifications,or calculations FOR THAT PORTION by,or under
the direct supervision of,a licensed architect or registered engineer."
(emphasis added)

Those conventional framing requirements in code are the prescriptive ones
that are pre-approved so that no engineering design is needed. Building
elements not covered by code in that manner are the ones needing
engineering. As such, the minimum scope of engineering services is not
fixed, but would vary wildly according to the nature of the construction. It
could be as little as a single beam or shear panel. Foundations weren't
mentioned by the legislature in their enactment, but the building code
itself gives prescriptive widths and depths to use for stud bearing walls
"where a design is not provided." See Sec 2907(b) of the 1985 edition in
effect in 1987. 

It appears that the legislature rather clearly intended that residential
room additions not be larded up with unnecessary engineering and materials
testing. It is doubtful that they have given BORPELS authority to require

Many replies have debated the proper role of BORPELS' technical consultant:
impartial advisor or partisan adversarial advocate or shameless prostitute?
No consensus emerged. Perhaps quoting from BORPELS' own Technical Expert
Training Manual would be of use. This 37-page pamphlet was created in
October 1995 and was issued to some 400 newly recruited "experts" who
answered ads placed in various newsletters. The only qualifications were to
be a PE or LS and not have ever been the subject of any complaints filed
with BORPELS. Each expert was to attend a training session, where the
speakers included a prosecuting deputy attorney general, an administrative
law judge, and an instructor technical expert who is a Sacramento-based
structural engineer. The president of Central Section of SEAOC made written
request to BORPELS to have two members of our Professional Practice
committee attend, to buy a copy of the video tape that was to be made, and
to buy two copies of the training manual. Our stated purpose was to learn
the ropes so as to be able to advise our membership how to practice without
getting into trouble. We called their attention to the fact that the
definition of negligence given in SEAOC's Recommended Guidelines for the
Practice of Structural Engineering in California markedly differed from what
we believed BORPELS was using. Our request to attend was denied, our reasons
were scoffed at, but two copies of the manual were sent. I have one; our
current president has the other.

The BORPELS Technical Expert Training Manual at page 17 tells the user:
"Your responsibility is to honestly and fairly evaluate the work of another
professional; you are NOT being hired with any preconceived intentions. The
basis of the review is the 'Standard of Practice' of similar professionals
practicing in the state. If your firm has established stricter standards
than are generally accepted by the profession you should NOT base your
opinions on those stricter standards. Remember that you are making judgments
on a colleague's livelihood and perform your review accordingly....REMEMBER
that there is often more than one method of rational design; the use of
rational alternate design methods are acceptable. Do not impose your
personal preference of design methods, detailing, or presentation on the
subject engineer." (emphasis in the original)

It seems possible that the BORPELS consultant in the case at hand is not
keeping to that doctrine.

Elsewhere in the BORPELS Training Manual is given a definition of negligence
that indeed is vastly different from SEAOC's, in that it is based solely on
"departure from standards of practice" and makes no use of the more general
"standard of care" as used in California Jury Instructions on negligence,
and in Cal Jur 3rd discussions on professional negligence, and in the SEAOC
Guidelines. There are many stories to tell of the struggles to get the PE
Act's disciplinable offenses clearly defined so we don't unwittingly commit
them or -worse- get blindsided by overzealous enforcers.  Anyone interested?

Charles O. Greenlaw, SE,  4208 B Street, Sacramento CA 95819  916 457-6022
"The down payment on freedom is eternal vigilance"         

At 11:20 PM 9/11/97 -0400, you wrote:
>     I have been asked by a civil engineer in another county to comment on
>his structural engineering for a 500 SQ. FT. room addition he calc'ed in
>     There was a complaint ( but no failure type problem ) and BORPELS asked
>one of their technical consultants, who also does litigation work, to
>comment. The expert SE said the civil engineer should have investigated the
>site, tested the concrete, obtained a soil report, as well as performed
>structural observation , and since he did not the civil engineer is ( 1997 )
>incompetent and BORPELS has offered to settle by allowing the civil engineer
>to give up his license for 4 years. 
>     It was a calc and sketch job for  $450.00 and the were 37 pages of calcs
>and sketches.
>     I have probably plan checked 3000 room additions, and these calcs were
>above average . I am shocked by what the BORPELS consultant recommends. If i
>did everything he is criticising i would have to charge $3500.00 plus another
>$2000.00 for a soil report and $750. for a concrete testing lab, all for a
>calc and sketch job on a 500 sq. ft. room addition!
>      Am i in left field or do others calc and sketch without a soil report (
>use 1000psf ), not visiting the site ( assume it was built to code ) , and
>forego structural observation on small room additions.
>     I would like to know what others include as minimum services for a
>residential room addition.
>     Thanks in advance.
>     Tom Harris , SE
>     Thousand Oaks, CA