Subject: Re: Seismic Upgrade ..... Appeal to those who created the code
From: Charles Greenlaw <cgreenlaw(--nospam--at)speedlink.com>
Date: Sat, 08 May 1999 22:46:09 -0700
Ah, here's a contribution that can be run with, without disagreement, and
then focused onto the woodframe applications that have been an underlying
issue in several threads:
At 11:47 AM 5/6/99 -0500, Christopher Wright P.E., wrote, replying to audra
>>As more and more people become discouraged, apathetic, and abrogate their
>>responsibilities in a 'representative' government, there will be more and
>>more regulations and 'laws' on the books addressing every nuance of our
>Here's another take on this, based on some experiences of mine. Laws and
>regulations are going to split hairs ever finer so long as a certain few
>people can get by not doing a scrap more than necessary to avoid jail.
>Whenever a code provision can be twisted to justify schlock, you can bet
>that some bottom feeder will do just that, whether or not he knows that
>nominal compliance is dangerous or imprudent. A vague code provision
>('reasonable compliance' 'suitable workmanship,' or 'appropriate
>strength') tells a hacker to design or build crap and claim otherwise
>because there's no criterion which says otherwise. Any engineer who
>hasn't run into this sort of thing just hasn't been paying attention.
>The same thing happens in business--there's a certain type of person who
>will cut corners, pass a half-lie as whole truth and sell poison because
>he can plead compliance with a loosely written law. We keep the
>not-quite-criminals in business by pretending it's none of our business,
>and they keep cutting corners.
Here's the essential premise that is easy to agree with:
"Laws and regulations are going to split hairs ever finer so long as a
certain few people can get by...[with] schlock."
This states a cause and effect relationship-- if the second part is the
case, then the first part results.
I submit that there will *always* be the certain few people who will
*always* try to "get by" with schlock. Does that mean that every other
person will always be faced with more and more hair-splitting regulations as
the inescapable result?
Not necessarily. There are other means to stop the schlock artist in his
attempts to "get by", and thereby break this apparent chain that inflicts
odious over-regulation on all of us.
Sorry if it startles to say so, but Dennis Wish has been out front more than
anyone on how this disagreeable code outcome can be avoided: stop the
schlock artist from getting by. Do it at the plan check counter and by
having effective field inspection, not by use of an insufferably overwrought
An undeniably effective example of that schlock-stopping means has been in
place since 1933 in California, in the form of the specially empowered
agency that plan checks and inspects (and more) Public School construction.
This agency uses the regular UBC with its own supplementary amendments. I
have my late grandfather's copy of their "Appendix A" code supplement, 1941
edition. It is a little handbook, 5"x 7-1/2"x 1/4" thick. It supplemented a
regular building code book that measures 5-1/2"x 8" and only 5/8" thick.
Both together total less than one inch thick.
School buildings built under that arrangement back then have performed
commendably in full-blown, modern earthquakes. It seems likely that
inscrutable overcomplexity was not what was being relied on, but rather two
other things were strong enough in simple ways: the agency's willingness to
stop schlock, and the school buildings as actually built to those thin codes.
Such a system definitely works, but like all human-run arrangements
including asylums, cannot be left unattended forever to be run by the
inmates. The problem as usual is human nature's other side producing
unintended consequences. While schlock artists reward themselves by
achieving schlock, agency gatekeepers of quality assurance become tempted to
excesses of zealotry and self importance. But then the same temptations act
on perennial volunteers on our code writing committees. That was the
accusation uncorked over the Ron Gallagher article a few days ago: The
committee is seen as carried away with itself and as unheeding of the
situation faced by its sponsor's rank and file engineer constituency, to the
point of disdain for that constituency's elected Boardmember representatives.
Whatever the emphasis chosen to get structural quality --whether firm,
expert enforcement that confidently exercises discretion, or pedantic
codewriting that precludes further use of discretion-- there is the
ever-recurring tendency of those in charge to go overboard and space out on
the high of being in control, or otherwise indulge in rewards to their inner
self, at the expense of holding fast at the reasonable and affordable
sufficiency others need.
For that matter, unless something stops such runaway excesses, we could have
BOTH hairsplitting regulations overcontrolling every nuance AND draconian
code enforcement that stops all schlock and a lot more.
I conclude that this engineering code and practice dilemma has its causes
almost totally in factors of human nature that we avoid recognizing, and
will defy resolution until enlightenment about such factors is sought and
understood, and accommodated or otherwise acted upon.
Charles O. Greenlaw, SE Sacramento CA