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RE: Tangshen - Response to Frank Lew

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Frank, please see my comments embedded into yours:

-----Original Message-----
From: FLew98 [mailto:FLew98(--nospam--at)]
Sent: Monday, May 25, 1998 5:11 PM
To: seaoc(--nospam--at)
Subject: Re: Tangshen

Frank Lew:
There is no State law that mandates retrofit of UMBs, unless one has been
enacted in the last year or so, since my retirement (Fred Turner?). ....
[Dennis Responds]I may be wrong as to suggest that there is a mandatory
STATE measure to retrofit URM structures, however, you can not deny that
throughout the state including virtually all of Southern California - local
building officials have adopted mandatory measures for the retrofit of URM's
(or UMB's as you refer to them). Regardless of semantics, the requirements
in virtually all major cities throughout California have been to adopt
mandatory retrofit measures for URM buildings. The majority of UMB's exist
in jurisdictions with mandatory compliance measures.
Enforcing the measures is an entirely different thing. When financing is
difficult to obtain to comply with the code, local jurisdictions can not
enforce mandatory measures. However, let's be honest and admit that there
are mandatory measures which compel compliance to the UMB Mitigation
Frank Lew:
I don't know anyting about AB200.
However, I suspect you are again mistaken, for it sounds like you believe
there is a State statue that requires seismic retrofits for single family
dwellings in accordance with the Triple R report or UCBC Appendix Chapter
[Dennis Responds] No, Frank, you suspect wrongly. I never stated that there
was a mandatory retrofit program for residential construction, please reread
my comments.
What I stated was that Assembly Bill 200 became law before UCBC Appendix
Chapter 5 was completed. AB200 was a mandatory disclosure law - not a
mandatory retrofit law. AB200 required the seller of a home to disclose to a
buyer the deficiencies such as improperly anchored homes to their
foundations and unbraced cripple walls. It did not require correction (and I
never stated that it did).
While you seem to have deftly gotten around the point, let me state it
again - 1.3 million homes were identified as having potential structural
deficiencies. Regardless of whether or not anything other than disclosure
was done is not the point. My point was ecconomics - not life safety. Before
you jump on the "Code only protects life" bandwagon - I'm saying that this
is wrong and needs to be changed - period. We need to expand our preamble to
protect building owners from unnecessary financial devastation.
Frank Lew:
If indeed AB200 referenced UCBC Appendix Chapter 5, then multi-family
buildings could not be covered under the bill.  The appendix explicitly
its use to single family dwellings.  That's because homeowners or their
contractors can comply with these prescriptive standards without having to
obtain the services of design professionals.  That's consistent with the
exemption for design of  SFDs from BORPELS and CBAE jurisdictions.  In
contrast, for buildings that are required to have an AOR or EOR, the
should also be performed by professionals.
I drew no comparison between Appendix Chapter 5 and multi-unit residential.
However, I did clearly state that a same deficiency occured in higher risk
buildings such as appartments - and these higher risk structures where
purposly omitted from the disclosure act. You would need to dig back to the
drafts and notes prior to the final copy of AB200. AB200 started out to
identify all wood framed structures regardless of size. This changed.
Building Owner Associations across the state were outraged by this and
stonewalled the creation of AB200 until legislators were forced to omit
Apartment buildings from the disclosure act.

Rather than jumping to conclusions of what you think I meant, please ask me
to clarify any statment that I have not made clear. In this case I was
drawing attention to the provisions of disclosure - not a retrofit standard.
My issue was that lobbyiest were responsible from removing high density
appartments (such as the Northridge Meadows Apartments) from the provisions
of Assembly Bill 200. The byproduct of AB200 was that 1.3 or 1.4 million SFR
constructed before 1969 were targeted by disclosure laws. Insurance
companies pushed for retrofit before policies were renewed. The press
published the news throughout the state of California.
However, what happened to those high occupancy wood framed structures that
were exempted from AB200? We are not talking about a few apartment buildings
throughout the state, but possibly thousands.
Now let me ask you one question. We may have been able to avoided Northridge
Meaddows Aparment collapse had the provisions to AB200 not been removed as
was the original intent. Do you think that the loss of lives in Northridge
Meadows was statistically insignificant to instill change?
There is no law that I know of that prevents an apartment building owner
from providing voluntary strengthing techniques if he is aware of a
potential problem.
This is your third strike in this e-mail, and you're out.   Most deaths and
injuries caused by UMB failures have occurred when the masonry walls fall
*outward*, and rain debris on outside passers-by below, or through the lower
roofs of adjacent buildings.....
Third stike - maybe in your interpretation. Compliance to URM (or UMB
retrofit) is not just to protect passers-by. The code clearly states in UCBC
Sec. A101 "The purpose of this chapter is to promote public safety and
welfare by reducing the risk of death or injury that may result from the
effects of earthquakes on exisitng unreinforced masonry bearing wall
buildings." I believe the intention was to prevent structural collapse of
the diaphragms without stipulation as to who was more adversly affected.
Either way, you playing with my words again.
>  Even when life safety is the issue, codes are stonewalled from reaching
>  fruition because of the financial power coming from stronger lobbyist.
>  again, money rules over those without - even in life safety issues.

Your indictment, while harsh, has some merit with respect to building
and to many other facets of life and commerce as well.  But surely, as a
grandfather, you've enough life experiences by now to not be surprised by
[Dennis Responds] You have finally figured it out. I'm not saying I'm
surprised by this reality, I'm not ready to lie down and take it without a
It does not matter to me whether code ignores some buildngs and forces
compliance to others. What matters is that we are away of inadequate
construction or codes and we take no steps to correct it.
This started with Conventional framing. I drew this comparison because I
felt that the problem with CF is that the engineering community ran out
steam and decided to release a code that is admittedly deficient. The laws
protect those who abuse these codes, and we, as a professional community,
make no ethical effort to correct our mistake.
My comparison was to show how we skirted the issues with other known
deficiencies waiting to financially break a large number of people who are
otherwise statistically insignificant.
And you know what Frank, when I am ready to lie down, I'll have trained at
least two more activists to take over - and they'll train two members who in
turn will train two members and ad infinitum.

Regards from a weary engineer

Dennis Wish PE