To: seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org, aec-residential(--nospam--at)polhemus.cc
Subject: Re: Exposure D Wind/ People in authority
From: Charles Greenlaw <cgreenlaw(--nospam--at)speedlink.com>
Date: Thu, 08 Jun 2000 15:34:39 -0700
Combining several perspectives:
 Christopher Wright notes, and I concur,
>Any design code is intended to be a brief, ideally
>unambiguous, summary of prudent engineering practice as reflected by
>And a building code which hasn't the force of law is pretty much useless.
 Fountain Conner had already said, and I concur,
>Many years ago (I can't believe I said that!), codes seemed to have had
>some relationship to the real world, and were written as an aid to the
>engineer. Current codes seem to be *Downright Hostile* to the engineer ,
>and tailored to the prosecuting attorney.
Both of the above views, from non-California PE's, point to the need for
codes to be founded in actual, practical, engineering practice, and also to
be non-hostile to the engineering practitioners themselves. "Unambiguous"
and "summary" (of prudent practice) are part of helping the engineer
practice efficiently and safely without making him/herself easy prey for the
And what might such prosecutions look like?
Twice in the last three years I have been a defense witness and defense
strategist for experienced civil engineers in woodframe residential building
engineering, whom the California PE Board energetically but naively sought
to revoke the licenses of, over simple residential remodeling jobs. Both
times there were vengeful "homeowners from hell" complaining, and both times
there were contractors to the homeowner who botched the project badly.
Both times, SEAOC members acting as well-paid code and practice experts to
the PE Board were relied on by the Board staff and by Deputy Attorney
General prosecutors. Both of those "experts" inexpertly but determinedly
applied the highest California Public School and other special occupancy
type building code provisions, and applied institutional building standards
of engineer's role and control, to ordinary residential consulting practice.
Those prosecution experts however didn't do residential work and weren't
familiar with residential-specific code provisions and practice roles which,
with the UBC's and State Legislature's clearly enacted blessings, are very,
Both times, sworn testimony of the local building official as to how the
codes applied in the case at hand effectively rebutted the Board's SEAOC
member PE expert and greatly helped the defendant engineer.
Both times the Administrative Law Judge hearng officer ultimately found 100
percent in favor of the engineer and dismissed all charges. Both times the
Calif. PE Board said nothing in its disciplinary action reports sent to all
PE licensees as to what deeds were non-negligent after all. (The Board only
touts its wins, not its losses)
Both times it cost the defendant small-scale sole-practitioner engineer some
$40,000 in attorney and witness fees, and untold time and worry over several
years, to save his license and livelihood.
At great expense and with skilled efforts, meritless prosecutions can be
Ambiguity both in code technicalities and in scope of applicability hurts.
It is a hostility to engineers. Complexity alone is a component of ambiguity.
Engineer practitioners do not have a clear grasp of the code's big-picture
framework, or even a sense that it matters, let alone mastery of all the
scattered mix of detailed technical and empirical provisions. This condition
plays into the aspirations of prosecutors.
Prosecutors are happy to take advantage of confusion among engineers and
turn it to satisfaction of their own ambitions and job fulfilment.
The above ill effects of codewriting go unheeded and uncatered to in
codewriting activities, which in turn are conducted far less prudently than
the office practices themselves that code should be reflective of.
We have again met the enemy, and he is us.
Charles O. Greenlaw SE Sacramento CA