I think you misunderstood my point. I used the example of Prescriptive
construction only from the position that the building official has no choice
but to allow it as it is considered an acceptable design methodology in the
I have been hired to perform contract plan check services (structural) for a
local engineer who has or had the contract with three or four cities in this
area. The other three cities use Esgil, Gouvis or Wildan for plan check
services. Lately, I've been told by one client that non-engineers are doing
the structural plan check in one of their city to avoid the cost of sending
the project out.
We happen to be within 10km of the San Andreas Fault (on the west side of
the fault line) and some areas closer to 2km.
One of the problems that pop's up that did not occur as often in previous
codes is the allowance for only the non-conforming section of the home to be
designed independent of the rest of the building. In other words, the home
complies to prescriptive methods with the exception of one or two portions
of the home. The building official can consider the irregularity of the home
as non-compliant and force the home to be designed to full-compliance OR the
building official can allow the designer to hire an architect or engineer to
deal with the non-compliant portion of the building only.
The politics enters into play when the building official decides to require
full compliance and the developer takes the issue to the City Council. The
issue is no longer what is in the best interest of the homeowner, but what
is in the best interest of the city. If the builder threatens to move his
ten homes to another city, this city loses revenue, school fees, sewer fee's
and much more. If the same thing happens with four or five developers (small
developers) who are building one to three homes at a time, the City Council
will put pressure on the Building Official to allow the design by
prescriptive method and as the code allows, to hire an engineer or architect
to deal with the non-compliant section only.
At the 1999 SEAOC Convention - specifically the Table Discussion on the 97
UBC provisions, Andy Adelmann (City of Los Angeles) stood up and spoke out
against prescriptive (conventional) construction. Unfortunately, unless the
building official has the "clout" with the city council, if the home is on
the fringe of full-compliance the issue generally becomes one of economics
rather than performance or preservation of the occupants of the building.
My point is simply that politics do not always consider the best interest of
the homeowner or buyer of a home, but rather focus on how the loss of even a
small developer can affect the revenue from fee's paid that the developer
brings to the city. This will often put the council at odds with the
building official and generally the city council will win the argument.
While I would agree that most of the tracts designed here are designed to
full compliance, the majority of single family starter homes in non-tract
area's are typically prescriptively built. I believe strongly that many of
the tract homes are borderline to complying with conventional construction
provisions, but the developer has used good sense in the past to hire
engineers (or Architects) to design their projects. However, with the recent
Supreme Court Decision in California on "Aas verses William Lyons Company"
combined with more restrictive building codes and rising material and labor
costs, I believe that we are creating an incentive (more today than ever
before) to remove minor irregularities and to design more intermediate homes
(middle income) to conformance with prescriptive methods. If the
irregularity is minor or can be removed, the homes will still sell and the
developer pockets the additional profit. In this case, I think that we will
see more challenges to the building officials desires as builders seek the
least cost product at the highest sale price - and these developers will be
happy to advertise full code compliance and the highest building standards
even though we as engineers know these homes will not perform nearly as well
as a full-compliance home.
I think the building official in most cases has less power than you give him
or her credit for. I really hope I am wrong, but I know that is not the case
here in my are of California.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Sid Danandeh [mailto:sdanandeh(--nospam--at)cityofpalmdale.org]
> Sent: Thursday, March 29, 2001 2:04 PM
> To: 'seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org'
> Subject: RE: FW PE Vs.txt
> Hi Dennis
> You wrote " As long as there are provisions for the prescriptive
> As you know very rarely a building will fit the prescriptive
> requirement of
> the conventional framing construction. Now the code identifies cantilever
> etc. as being the reason to declare the building as non
> conventional framing
> hence requiring an engineer to design it.
> All of our tracts homes are engineered. All our developers hire engineers
> for all tract housing .
> No one builds a square box with shear walls at 25 feet o.c. any more. So
> almost all buildings are engineered buildings.
> The problem is that if we ask engineering questions as part of the plan
> check the contractor complaints that he/she build the same
> building in some
> other city and no one asked this question or required this structural
> engineering item to be complied with. So as you said if vast number of
> cities do not check plans for seismic design in a proper manor the first
> city that tries to do that will be subject to resentment by the applicant.
> On the second issue it seems that the areas that had a seismic
> occurrence in
> the past usually have a fully cooperating administration. Engineers that
> work in areas affected with Northridge or other earthquake have
> told me that
> their council or board of supervisors fully supported them. This
> is because
> the administration had a first hand knowledge of how destructive the
> earthquake can be as it happened to their constituents.
> I assume the city of Seattle or cities in India or Turkey or Greece will
> support all efforts to enhance the quality of structural
> engineering without
> any argument now that the possibility of serious seismic damage has been
> brought into their attention.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Structuralist [mailto:dennis.wish(--nospam--at)gte.net]
> Sent: Wednesday, March 28, 2001 3:11 PM
> To: seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org
> Subject: RE: FW PE Vs.txt
> In your text you wrote the following. Please see my comments after:
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: Sid Danandeh [mailto:sdanandeh(--nospam--at)cityofpalmdale.org]
> > Sent: Wednesday, March 28, 2001 1:55 PM
> > To: 'seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org'
> > Subject: FW PE Vs.txt
> >If the building dept. chose to educate their city council regarding the
> >seismic hazards the council will surely allocate the budget for
> an engineer
> >plan check staff. Often times the pay difference for non licensed plan
> >checkers v the licensed one will not make a small dent in a
> cities general
> This has been a problem in our city of La Quinta. Fortunately, while they
> don't hire engineers to work the counters, they do hire an engineering
> office to provide plan check on structural issues.
> I have had similar discussions with the building official and
> others in the
> department on the issue of hiring professionals in-house. In the Palm
> Springs area from Palm Springs to Indio I can't think of one city that has
> an engineer in-house.
> We see the city council in our town as an adversary rather than supportive
> of protecting the community. They support any developer who can generate
> fees and revenue by building in the town. As long as there is a
> provision in
> the code that allows, say prescriptive construction, they will
> not enforce a
> hirer standard because they fear losing the developers revenue.
> This creates
> a great deal of frustration for the building official who understands the
> concerns for quality of construction but can do very little to enforce a
> standard higher than what can be interpreted in the code.
> The pressure works the other way - the developer will take his
> complaint to
> the city council who will then pressure the building official to
> justify his
> position or give in to the developer. They are, with one exception, not
> professionals in the building industry - they are politicians whose job it
> is to create growth and revenue from development in their city.
> The building
> official in La Quinta has nowhere near the respect and power than Andy
> Adelmann has in the City of Los Angeles. If they can't reach a solution
> satisfying the developer, the city council is more likely to suggest
> replacing the building official.