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Seismology Aug 13 Meeting: comments

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We have seen plenty of calls by design practitioners for keeping woodframe
design code simple and easy to use, especially for residential structures.
There is some skepticism however that this sentiment amounts to more than
mere unwillingness to change with the times.  

Two separate opinions from OUTSIDE the design community are offered here;
each advocates simplicity in code content and design protocols for other

First, several list members openly wished that former list participant Frank
Lew could be at the meeting in person. Frank is a clear-thinking and
expressive SE who is retired as chief building official of both the City of
San Francisco and County of Contra Costa, and is remembered for his "where
are the bodies?" challenge to those who would make code more difficult. On
May 24 of this year he sent me a private message as a result of Frank
McClure having shared with him my e-mail on the FEMA 273 vs DOE Seismic
Safety Guide thread on retrofit codes. Here is the part of Frank Lew's
message that should concern Seismology Committee, if enforceability of
seismic codes in general by building officials and their staffs is of interest:

>Frank McClure forwarded a copy of your missive.  I concur with your 
>sentiments on the mindless trend towards complexity and psuedo-
>precision.  The vast majority of building officials and plan check 
>engineers are being left behind in their ability to judge and 
>understand whether a submitted retrofit design meets performance 
>and/or code requirements.  Most will invoke the mantra "the 
>engineer is responsible, not the building department", cross their 
>fingers, and approve the plans.  That's a disservice to the applicants 
>who are paying for, and should receive, a competent and informed 
>plan check.
>Frank Lew

On Aug 11, as part of a very informative post, Michael Valley ventured the
following explanation:

>UBC code writers have continued to drag their feet for two reasons: 
>1) the big numbers are "scary" and 2) they generally don't believe 
>that practicing engineers are capable of anything that isn't dirt 

The second part caught my eye, and there's plenty of truth in the hyperbole.
It's true of myself in large measure and I'm not ashamed of it.

For the second opinion on simplicity from outside the design community I
will quote from the July 6, 1998 Decision of The Honorable Richard J. Lopez,
Administrative Law Judge in the California Office of Administrative
Hearings. He was the hearing officer for the attempted license revocation of
a civil engineer in the case posted on this list by Tom Harris SE, on Sep
11, 1997, as "BORPELS and residential room additions."  (Tom's posting, and
mine, and those of many others may be read in the Archives for that time
frame on the Seaint Website.) Later I served as a testifying expert for the
defense, as did Tom and another SE. The judge ultimately dismissed all the
Board's charges, but it cost the engineer years of disruption and around
$50,000 to clear himself.

The PE board used a distinguished old-time SE to advise and guide their
whole prosecution, as well as to testify at the hearing. His position was
that the accused engineer was negligent in the extreme for not calculating
everything in great detail and accuracy, and for not showing every
construction feature as though it was a public school job under the Field
Act regulations. The judge however was persuaded by the third defense SE
expert whom he quoted as follows: 

"Complainant [PE Board] relies on an engineering style which is very precise
and accurate... Respondent [civil engineer's] style for this project is
conservative and approximate... both styles have their place in the
profession.  ...Respondent's original calculations started off with loads
that are very heavy and well above actual minimum loads... respondent's
final calculation recommendations do not meet code allowable stresses based
on this conservative loading. We have shown by our own calculations ... that
with a more exact loading and analysis, respondent's structural requirements
... are adequate."

Judge Lopez also wrote the following "supplemental finding", on his own
initiative, into his Decision: 

"The subject project and any other construction project involves the
application of mechanics and should involve a basic tenet of the famed
Scottish engineer, inventor, builder (and mechanic) James Watt: 'of all
things but proverbially so in mechanics, the supreme excellence is simplicity.'"

Charles O. Greenlaw SE    Sacramento CA