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

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Responding to Tim McCormick's straw poll question, "how many of you believe
that local agencies are providing the same quality of [plan review and
quality control] service [for private schools] as DSA [is providing for
public counterparts]," chalk me up on the side of those who have pointed out
that quality of service provided by local agencies necessarily varies
depending on technical skill, economic resources and political will.

Rick Becker pointed out that, "private schools up to and including
university major structures must be approved by local agencies."  Those
following this thread should note that while this is true for PRIVATE
schools, it is NOT true for public.  The California State University System
and the University of California are INDEPENDENT state agencies charged with
building in compliance with the same state building code as DSA but NOT
under that agency's jurisdiction.  Plan review and code enforcement
responsibility for new school structures in California is thus generally
delegated to one of three TYPES of agencies as follows:

A.  INDEPENDENT -- the Structural Safety Division of the Department of the
State Architect is given authority under the Field Act over public primary
and secondary schools, including community colleges.  DSA's primary charge
is to enforce the code and it is free of any direct connection to those
seeking approval for designs (typically local school boards).

B.  SEMI-INDEPENDENT -- local building authorities have charge over
enforcement of the state building code for private school buildings, and
some have proposed that they also be given charge over public schools.  It
can be argued that local building authorities, with smaller and more
localized political constituencies, may be more vulnerable to local
political pressure to relax enforcement in order to reduce costs.

C.  IN-HOUSE -- other state agencies (notably the University of California
and the California State University System) have charge over buildings they
construct on state property, which they usually exercise through an outside
(sub-contract) plan review agency.  The costs of review, re-design,
inspection and correction are borne by the same organization that has review

I have personally designed structures for schools under all three
enforcement regimes.  IMHO, the quality and rigor of plan review and code
enforcement provided by DSA, while far from flawless, is an order of
magnitude better than that provided by most local building authorities or by
either of the two public university systems in the state.  Furthermore, I
think it self evident that this will always be the case, as the politically
independent reviewers will in the long run be better able to do their jobs
than those who are hamstrung by other concerns.

IMO, the INEVITABLE result of taking review authority over public schools
from a politically independent statewide agency and giving it to local
building authorities would be to lower review and enforcement costs for
increases in the levels of life safety risk to which children in public
schools are exposed.

Some may argue that the reduction in safety would be small, while the
savings in time and money would be great.  There is certainly a trade-off to
be made, and we as structural engineers should NOT argue for safety at any
cost.  We should however put the lie to any person attempting to argue that
no reduction in safety would result from stripping DSA of its review and
enforcement authority.  Although taxpayers may be eager to eat what is put
before them, it is our duty to remind them that there is no such thing as a
free lunch.

Drew Norman S.E.
Drew A. Norman and Associates