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Future of CA's Field Act - Seismic Safety for Public Schools

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A hearing was held yesterday in the State Capitol on the Future of the Field
Act. Approved minutes will be available after September 14th.

Below are some highlights from yesterday's hearings. These are not complete or
official minutes and are subject to change and different interpretations. 

The Division of the State Architect announced that it has no authority to
enforce parts of the Ca. Building Standards Code for architectural, mechanical
and electrical systems. At this time, some of these systems are not plan
checked per se, but they are inspected. DSA recommended that DSA be given stop
work authority to improve enforcement of minor violations of the Field Act,
and red tag authority for post earthquake safety evaluations. DSA also
recommends that a survey of hazardous K-14 schools be undertaken. 

The California Building Officials state that they can enforce the Field Act
just as well if not better than DSA. Many local governments are turning to
private plan check firms to take on all size projects. CALBO was represented
yesterday by a private, for-profit consultant which is a growing trend in the
code enforcement industry. Times have changed since 1933 when the Field Act
was passed. The UBC is much closer to Field Act standards now. While CALBO
advocates the use of model codes. However, if the industry recognizes a
shortcoming in the codes, CALBO now advocates that the industry work together
to amend the model codes through the California Building Standards Commission.

The American Institute of Architects, Ca. Council said that where local
funding is the sole source of funds, local building departments should be
allowed to enforce the Field Act.

The Ca. State Parent Teachers Association supports the Field Act, but more
should be done to regulate nonstructural and building contents risks. 

SEAOC said that the single most critical need is to maintain appropriate
staffing and expertise. SEAOC supports DSA's request for red tagging and the
need to evaluate collapse-risk older buildings. 

EERI suggests that voluntary nonstructural risk reduction is a successful

The Ca. Building Industry Association recommends that a bill be introduced
next year to allow local governments to enforce the Field Act provided local
government personnel meet DSA qualifications and supervision oversight. 

The Associated General Contractors mentioned their recent paper on school cost
containment. They recommended that DSA review and modify outdated codes and
standards including common nails, low moisture content in lumber, malleable
iron washers, and redundance in inspection such as continuous batch plant
inspection, and tagging of rebar.

The State's Superintendent of Public School Instruction stated they support
the Field Act since continuous site inspection is critical. Unfortunately many
school board members are ill-informed about the benefits of the Field Act.
More attention is needed on plumbing, mechanical, electrical and bathroom
adequacy. With the increase in portables, many schools have not seen a
commensurate increase in bathrooms. Eastin's office supports the concept of a
DSA-approved local government plan check process for public schools. Her
office is concerned about life safety from small modifications to school
buildings that fall under the $25000 exemption that go unchecked and
uninspected. Her office is also concerned about small districts not being able
to manage construction and ensure adequate inspection. Her office offered to
disseminate helpful Field Act information to school districts. 

The Department of General Services is open to allowing locals to plan check
schools provided the integrity of the Field Act is retained. 

The Legislature's Joint Committee on School Facilities states that repeal of
the Field Act won't save appreciable funds - its a small cost with
considerable benefits since the Act works. Uniformity of enforcement is
important and local government plan checks are not going to ensure this
uniformity. Perhaps School Districts should cost-share with FEMA and OES since
public schools typically become disaster relief centers. Incentives need to be
established to encourage school districts to reduce nonstructural and building
contents risk. The Committee supports setasides for retrofits in all future
bond acts even if it is not totally utilized.

Six Issues were Identified by Commissioner Shapiro at the close of the

1. Is there a difference in earthquake performance between private and public

2. What should be the extent of plan reviews for
architectural/mechanical/electrical public school systems?

3. If local governments are to be engaged to enforce the Field Act, what
stipulations would be needed to ensure adequate qualifications and

4. Are local governments really seeking to do this work?

5. Is Field Act conservatism justified?

6. So-called outdated Field Act standards. 

7. Field Act "stop work" and "red tag" authority.

A followup effort to address these issues yet to be determined is anticipated
by the Commission and others by perhaps the end of this year. FYI.

Fred Turner
Staff Structural Engineer
Ca. Seismic Safety Commission
1900 K St. #100 Sacramento, CA 95814
916-327-1606 916-322-9476 Fax