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Seismic Safety for University of California Buildings

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Drew A. Norman,              July  16, 1998

I agree with your comments in your recent email message "RE: Future of CA's
Field Act - Seismic Safety for Public Schools."

Concerning your item C. IN-HOUSE, after twenty years in private practice, in
1976, I went to work for the University of California, System Wide
Administration, in the Office of  Physical Planning, Construction and
Maintenance -or something named like that - as the "University Engineer."
When I first started to work there I was amazed at the large number of
building construction related lawsuits against the University of California,
which I attributed to poor construction drawings and specifications. 

At that time and I still believe it is the case today, the University of
California and California State Univeristy System are not required to get
"building permits" and I know are not under the State of California,
Structural Safety Division of the Department of the State Architect, "The
Field Act."

The serious fire hazards found in the University of California, Santa Cruz
buildings,  constructed without non-required local building department
permits, resulted in the University of California having to submit their
building construction drawings and specifications to the State of California,
State Fire Marshall for its approval. 

In my exit interview when I left the University of California System Wide
Adminstration, I told the then Vice President of Business and Finance, UC
System Wide Administration, that my best recommendation to improve the quality
of the seismic design and construction documents would be to put the
University of California under the Field Act.  Of course, the Regents of the
Unversity of California and the Chancellors at the various campuses would
never relinquish the University of California's autonomy, even in part, by
having their building construction under the Field Act.

When one hears about the $1.0 billion price tag for the correction of the
seismic defiiciencies on just the University of California, Berkeley campus,
involving some rather recent buildings, one wonders if the University of
California had been under the Field Act in the early days, whether much of
this $1.0 billion dollar tax-payer's bill would be necessary.

I am not sure now about the use of  an "outside (sub-contract) plan review
agency" by the University of California and California State University
System.  As University Engineer, I tried to implement a formal University wide
plan checking procedure using of the plan checking service of a well known
plan checking agency, but it was not successful.  The results were influenced
too much by the quality of the particular plan checker assigned to the project
and certainly was not as consistent as the Field Act plan checking.

I can recall that the seismic review on the University of California, Berkeley
campus consisted of a review of the "seismic criteria" only.   The use of
"Peer Review" has its draw-backs because Structural Engineer "A" performing
the "Peer Review" realizes that some day his designs will be subject to a
"Peer Review" by Structural Engineer  "B" whose design his/she is currently
reviewing.  I am not saying that there exists a "good old boys" club, but
almost!

The use of "Peer Review" only for the State of California, Department of the
State Architect, for the seismic design and construction of its own or other
State buildings, without "building permits", is certainly not the equivalent
of a DSA Field Act approval.

In closing, again, based on first hand experience, I agree with your comments
particularly, "Furthermore, I think it is self evident that this will always
be the case, as the polically independent reviewers will in the long run be
better able to do their jobs than those who are hamstrung by other concerns."

It is wonderful that others understand and express their opinions concerning
the basic problem in providing earthquake resistant construction.  "There is
no such thing as a free lunch."


Frank E. McClure    FEMCCLURE(--nospam--at)aol.com