Subject: Re: Seismic Upgrade ..... Appeal to those who created the code
From: Charles Greenlaw <cgreenlaw(--nospam--at)speedlink.com>
Date: Mon, 03 May 1999 01:25:23 -0700
At 02:11 PM 5/2/99 EDT,
Dennis S. Wish PE, seaintonln(--nospam--at)aol.com, wrote on the 97 UBC, as adopted and
now being found ill-crafted and vexatious to those compelled to learn and
>I'm kind of at a loss and frustrated as well.
>Remember who changed these codes - our fellow professionals. We may not agree
>with the direction that these committees took and possibly they did not work
>out all of the potential details and problems associated with these changes.
>Now that their work has been published, it becomes code and we are forced to
>A bad code is still a bad code, but is protected as long as there is no
>opposition to it.
>There have been many who voiced their opinions of the problems created by
>Let me be clear that I don't specifically blame any of the engineers on the
>committees who deveoped this code because I believe that they felt justified
>in their work. I believe that they did not see the whole picture ...
>I'm frustrated that we, as a unified professional community, sit back and
>take whatever is thrown at us without consideration for our clients.
>Someone has to take a stand and this is as good a time as any.
Then, Rick Ranous, raranous(--nospam--at)pacbell.net, replied with a calm and knowing
description of the code adoption process, beginning with a revision's
origins in SEAOC's Seismology Committee. Rick's account no doubt is correct;
he urges more participation, and he identifies no person, procedure or other
factor at fault anywhere in the code change process.
Now, how in the world do we reconcile these two well-stated views? The
process is said to be exhaustively inclusive of everyone with an interest,
yet the results in use are said to suck.
First, my support for Dennis in his call (in effect) for vigorous, pointed,
ungrateful, and divisive protest. This form of "code change reversal"
campaigning came of age in my generation in dealing with the Vietnam War,
after an earlier generation brought down the US Constitution's Prohibition
of alcoholic beverages. Let the Seismology Committee and ICBO take some
heat for their own policy-making's outcomes, like their counterparts in the
Next, the giant flaw in the code process that Rick's account reveals: It is
a political power game. (Go ahead and read it again. If you deleted it, look
it up in the website's archives.) It is about advancing YOUR BABY all the
way to a gold medal, having encountered and overcome all the hurdles along
the way. Rick's call for more participation is a call to join in on the
gaming, to make it yet more satisfying a challenge. Complaining later
however is regarded in these circles much like a low blow after the bell is
Think back to the history of Prohibition in the first third of this century:
Demon Rum, Carrie Nation, and the Women's Christian Temperance Union.
Thoroughly debated in private groups, and from pulpits everywhere, and in
the papers, opposition was heard at every juncture. But protection of the
public was at stake. (sound familiar?) Congress approved the ban on
drinking; so did three quarters of the state legislatures. It became the law
of the land. Universally agreed with and obeyed, right? And respect for law
was taken seriously back then.
Prohibition was an expression of high standards that didn't agree with
everyone's personal preference. It didn't agree with hardly anyone's. So we
had a decade of scofflaw citizenry, corrupt officials, and hypocritical
politicians, plus G-men vs. The Untouchables. --Just like is beginning to
happen in residential woodframe construction. Quick: who's the Elliot Ness
of crusading Structural Engineers? Who's the Al Capone of homebuilders?
Who's the little old homebuyer who wants to buy cheaper in a community where
the chief inspector looks the other way when the engineer's plans come
through? Who are all those engineers working furtively behind doors with
little peepholes in them? And who forgot history when they wrote the utopian
code that gives this result, and who beat back all the participating
Who told us last year a little about what's real? Frank Lew. Sure,"Where
are the bodies?" was a bit of dramatic license, but his point was that the
public is not interested in gold-plated engineering content in their homes.
But our code (ours, not theirs) now demands exactly that. Frank was a chief
building official in some prominent California cities and counties, and an
SE as well. He told us what wouldn't fly, codewise. I guess we'll have to
see it all unfold like when bootleggers were in demand.
Where SEAOC failed us is in not seeing to balance in codewriting committees,
and in not valuing and protecting dissent. More on this is in my April 1995
article on building code direction, which Dennis reprinted in the no.1
edition of SEAINT Online, now on the Seaint Website. (SEAINT Online is
listed under the map of the USA on the home page.) An example given in that
account was the highly charged debate on revisions to residential
"conventional construction" provisions, revisions that got into 1994 UBC and
are continuing into the 2000 IBC, in a way that goes from the frying pan
into the fire. Rick and I were on opposite sides over those provisions, and
I got a big dose of politics in the gaming at play then. Opposition to your
code proposal is fine, you see, as long as it doesn't win.
Another player of residential code change hardball back then has since moved
on to NEHRP and on to the CalTech/CUREe project direction. This person's
presence there is in my mind cause for lack of confidence in the objectivity
of that entire program, sorry to say. And SEAOC need not bother any longer;
what dissent did happen was enough for the real action to be taken out of
range and into other outfits even further removed from actual residential
You know, if you want to regulate drinking, have a teetotaler and her
friends in charge and only let a token drinker in. Then there will be plenty
of rebelliousness and disobedience in the future, which in turn will prove
how important your effort was in the first place. You win if it doesn't
work, and you win if it does. Never mind what happens to all who lose.
Charles O. Greenlaw SE Sacramento CA