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RE: Complexity of Code

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Please thank Peter Ehlen for allowing his letter to be published on the
List. I have grown pessimistic of any members ability to be heard by their
representatives. The proof is the lack of activities of the Policy makers
(i.e., Seismology Committee) in the last almost two years.

It is also obvious that those of use who have been most vocal have been
ostracized from SEA community for speaking critically of the code. We've
lost many already who are frustrated and feel ineffective when it comes to
being properly represented - including Bill Allen, Chuck Greenlaw, Frank
McClure and many others. What strikes me most is how patient and forgiving
(diplomatic) members have been when trying to be respectful so as to urge
their representatives to participate in discussions with the professional
community or to respond with specific issues without having to rewrite the
questions and submit them to a formal board of inquiry where they fail to be
responded to.

I can't speak for Steel, Masonry or Concrete as these materials have
historically been designed to similar standards. Wood, on the other hand,
requires a greater degree of creativity and allowance for change - something
that a rigid code can not satisfy. Simply  consider how difficult it is to
track the load path of a rigid distribution / flexible - envelope solution
when a home is remodeled and the original  drawing and analysis are no
longer available. Maintaining work this far into the future, considering the
extent of liability cases filed against engineers by Homeowners associations
(see the last part of this letter) makes it unwise to maintain long term
records. Recreation of the load path is, at the very least, difficult and
costly - if not impractical as changes would inevitably lead to destruction
of the balanced system.

There is a business to structural engineering and the code writers have
failed to consider this. There is also a practicality as I mentioned above -
and again, code writers have lost track of this. It is irresponsible of the
professional community to substitute overly conservative design methods so
as to force construction quality to improve at the expense of the building
owner.  So far, no preliminary reports point to inadequacies in engineering,
but many point to construction defect.

Finally, I've tried to place a notice on this list which seems to get kicked
out each time I try. We should be concerned with the 12/4/00 decision of the
California Supreme Court which now makes it virtually impossible to sue a
contractor for shoddy work until actual damage or injury occurs. This was in
the decision of the California Superior Court ruling on the Appeal of "Aas
Et. Al. Vs. William Lyon, Company". There were numerous structural
deficiencies and code violations excluded as evidence from the original
court trial because the court felt that unless damage or injury had occurred
the case would provide an unfair advantage to Aas (the Home Owners
Association). Therefore, buildings were to be treated as products.
Deficiencies now fall under contract law and contractors may not be sued for
non-compliance to the building code or design drawings until which time that
damage does occur.

If you think about the implications of these provisions, the next step if
for the building industry to blast engineers as being overly conservative
when their goal should be to reduce standards to those more compliant with
Prescriptive Construction methods (section 2320 of the UBC).

While many of have been arguing on the facts that are coming out of CUREe
and other reports after the Northridge and other Earthquakes to raise the
baseline on conventional construction, the building industry has been
successful in turning around the mitigation programs in the state which are
intended to anticipate the damage and to provide correction before the first
life is lost. We now have to move the fight from liability courts to
contract law (based on the warranty provided to homeowners).

There is a coalition of homeowners called the HomeSafe Campaign, which is
meeting with legislators on February 21, 2001 in Sacramento to discuss the
problems resulting with the courts decision. Appeals of the decision are
expected to go as far as the Federal Supreme Court and it is in the best
interest of engineers to become involved in the issues.

I've posted links to the Ruling, as well as other documents and my own
interpretetations on the Structuralist.Net PUBLIC forum where all interested parties can
discuss the issues. On February 18th, the posted information will be
compiled and submitted in electronic format to the HomeSafe campaign people
to submit in Sacramento.

If you are a proponent of the decision, we are interested in understanding
your arguments. All sides are encouraged to be heard. Please participate as
this is not helping to create easier and more practical codes.

Dennis S. Wish, PE