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RE: Architects Doing Engineering -Enough!

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While lamenting how difficult it is to cause change, don't overlook how much
change in the direction of seismic-resistive stringency has already been

Bob Bossi and others have explained how the Uniform Building Code (affecting
the west half of the U.S.) has been evolving to delineate the exempt
woodframe provisions, to empower the local building official to demand
engineering at his discretion regardless of state licensing laws and other
provisions of code, and most recently, to resolve confusion over the
"unusual size and shape" disqualifier that mandates engineered lateral design.

The California legislature has not quite been a graveyard of earthquake
safety either. Compare the Professional Engineer's Act in 1957 to that of
1986 and later, with respect to dwelling exemptions.

In 1957 the legislature relocated and revised an existing exemption from
section 6731 into a new section 6737.1 as follows:
        "This chapter [the PE Act] does not prohibit the preparation of
plans, drawings, specifications, estimates, or instruments of service by any
person not registered as a professional (civil) engineer for:
(a) Single or multiple dwellings not more than two stories and basement in
(b) Garages or other structures appurtenant to buildings described under
subdivision (a) of this section.
(c) Farm or ranch buildings.
(d) Any one-story building where the span between bearing walls does not
exceed twenty-five (25) feet; provided, however, that the exemption in this
subdivision does not apply to a steel frame or concrete building."

Note the the absence of limitations based on materials of construction for
subdivisions (a) (b) and (c), and the lack of restriction by occupancy in (d).

The PE Board perceived a possible conflict between subdivisions (a) and (d)
and asked the Attorney General for an interpretive opinion. The A.G. replied
in Opinion No. 59-253 on January 8, 1960, in Vol 35 of AG Opinions, and
found no conflict. In discussing section 6737.1 the Attorney Gereral remarked,

        "The purpose of section 6737.1 would seem to be the exception of
certain kinds of structures where engineering skills and ability are
not generally required."

In July of 1974, Attorney General Opinion No. CV 74-82 interpreted section
6737.1 with respect to concrete masonry dwelling plans and concluded, 
        "Plans for the construction of residences do not require the
signature          of a registered engineer regardless of the materials used
in their             construction."

This 1957 version of section 6737.1 survived the 1971 San Fernando
earthquake, the 7.2 Humboldt County earthquake of 1980, and the 1983
Coalinga earthquake. 
But an unexpected major legislative revision to existing exemptions was
quietly amended into an innocuous bill that had until then only addressed
details of membership on the Board of Architectural Examiners. This occurred
in the summer of 1985 in SB790 carried by Sen. John Seymour, and the
governor's signature quickly followed. The effect is to limit the
residential exemption to woodframe, and the size of multiple dwellings to
four-unit buildings. Garages and farm buildings likewise are exempt only if
woodframe. The other occupancies of one-story and 25-foot span in the former
subdivision (d) lost their exemption completely. And those woodframe
portions not in "substantial compliance" with the building code's
conventional framing requirements would have to be designed by "a licensed
architect or registered engineer". These provisions remain in effect today.

One may wonder how that exemption-tightening came to pass. The four member
sections of SEAOC each held membership in a multi-discipline lobbying group
called California Legislative Council of Professional Engineers. Among the
SE delegates then were Pat Campbell, Russ Fudge, David Narver Jr, and Ben
Schmid. I was an alternate to Pat C. We had no role in this legislation;
didn't even know it was brewing. Later, then-SEAOC president-elect Gene Cole
told me it was the work of the Architects and Engineers Conference, which is
something of an ad-hoc summit conference of the heads of AIA and all the
major engineering societies in California, including SEAOC. In this
instance, AIA's Sacramento office was in the lead position. 

The somewhat covert promotion of this enduring enactment, combined with the
collaboration of all interested parties among the design professions,
suggests that almost extraordinary efforts are required to effect
substantial change, especially as here, where the proponents stand to
enhance their business opportunities as a result.  To think that the SE's
can unilaterally get the legislature to dump architects and non-SE civil
engineers, and disallow house contractors from driving any nails not
designed and detailed by a SE, well...

In other actions, the legislature has established  standing advisory and
advocacy bodies in the form of the Building Standards Commission and the
Seismic Safety Commission. The legislature added provisions to the Health
and Safety Code that allow local jurisdictions to adopt more restrictive
amendments to building code than are state-mandated. (See H&SC sec.17958) At
least two appellate court decisions have upheld such adoptions that were
challenged by builder interests; both of those adoptions cited seismic
conditions as part of the necessity for local amendment.

Between the lines in some of the contributions to this thread is something
resembling a whine: "Our earthquake safety expertise isn't desired or
appreciated; we don't get no respect."  True enough. Earthquakes are a
nuisance and building to hopefully withstand one if it ever happens is also
a nuisance. And engineers like us who see life through earthquake-colored
glasses can make pests of ourselves to those who come to us when they can't
go around us. How popular need we be?  We're still better liked than
undertakers and income tax auditors.

Charles O. Greenlaw, SE    Sacramento CA