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Re: California contract law BORPELS

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I am posting this on the SEAINT list because you bring up many good points that might add to the confusion. So let me take it point by point and add my answers after yours:

S. Gordin wrote:

1) According to the law, _ANY_ person can legally design most of single-family homes and other residential structures So, strictly speaking, ANY unlicensed guy - including the one you were writing about ("UG") - is formally qualified to design anything within the "conventional" limits. The "conventional" stuff (CBC Chapter 23 Div. IV) covers, I would say, not less than 95% of all residential construction.

This is a given - my argument is not that this section exists and that it allows unlicensed people to design homes per the "Presciptive" menthods of section 2320. However, you esitmate of the homes that are designed to this conventional standard is way off for today's home construction industry. When I moved into La Quinta, 95% of the homes constructed were "starter homes" for the low income and low middle income first time home buyer. The area was not walled in or gated and it was not considered a tract development - developers were allowed to build homes to prescriptive method as long as the home contained no irregularity that required an engineer to design. In other areas where non-tract homes where designed as two stories, the CBC 2320 guidlines for what lay inside the geometry for load and shear transfer does not exceed the irregularity test, then the home could be designed prescriptively, I've thought about moving out of the state - maximizing the profit of my home at todays peak, looking for a larger piece of land in another state and building a new home at least of equal size and use the additional money to buffer our retirement years. We visited the Sierra Vista Arizona area which is 70 miles southeast of Tucson and is basically a town supported by the local Army base. However, the major tract developers have already subdivided all of the land throughout the city and are planning developments to increase the 40,000 population by three or four fold. Developers are designing a majority of new homes, not the minority and the point is that I know of no developer of tract housing that does not have their plans engineered. This places the Conventional or Prescriptively built home in the minority - probably even less than 40% of all homes constructed in California. In most states - even those of low risk use engineers because their plan does not fit into the concept of "regularity" where gravity and shear is transfered in stacked or in-plane lines of load and shear. The other reason is because tract communities with homeowners associations are notorious for filing law suits against all parties involved in the project and many large home tract developers feel that having a licensed engineer design the plan will help reduce the number of suits and add protection to the project (and also add another E&O carrier). So, I feel that considering most new homes are not custom homes or homes designed by small developers who do 8 or 10 homes a year are engineered and this is the issue I am discussing.

2) If the UG submits something other than "conventional" design, the building official needs to require plans to be prepared, stamped, and sealed by a PE. In your case, the UG routinely asks some PE to stamp and sign his plans. If the PE does that, he formally breaks our law; the UG does not (IMO).

I'm sorry - I forgot what UG stands for but I'll assume you mean the Unlicensed Designer (UD). In this case, yes, he is designing tracts and homes that do not fall into the category of conventional structures. There are irregularities that take this out of the Prescriptive guidelines and it is the Building Official or Plan Technician who identifies this and requires the design be "coordinated" with a licensed PE or Architect who is activly involved in the design project and is not used simply to obtain permit. Furthermore, this UD is advertising his firm as a structural design consultant in the local yellow pages and under the category of Structural Engineer.

3) As we know, many (if not most) of the single-family residential structures in California had not been designed per, and/or do not comply with, the current provisions of the code. As we know, these structures did not sustain notable damage even after considerable earthquakes. This can only happen because of the high extent of the inherent redundancy of these structures.

Carefull, you are stating observations that are not necessarily facts or which are acted upon by other variables that may have saved them from damage. Some of these include; orientation to the epicenter of the earthquake, local soil conditions on the site of where the home was damaged, distance from the epicenter and I would add workmanship as many prescriptive homes are constructed with various degrees of quality. The NAHB-RC report issued after the Northridge earthquake concluded that homes performed as expected. Their study after the earthquake was to isolate homes that were not damaged rather than look at homes that were damaged. They arbitrarily took homes on streets in the area that were on cul-de-sacs (which brings up the point of orientation to the epicenter) but where not damaged. We can "guess" that redundancy has something to do with performance and I would agree with you - but so far there has been not testing to substantiate the theory. In fact, if you recall, the Existing Buildings Code for Unreinforced Masonry Buildings assumed that interior walls (which were called crosswalls and not shearwalls) acted as dampers. When this was first written, the City of Los Angeles RGA 1-91 allowed all interior partitions to be considered as dampers and absorbed energy that would be distributed to the URM walls. When the UCBC Appendix Chaper 1 was published, the amount of interior crosswalls acting as a damper were reduced considerably over what Los Angeles allowed. I've always felt (IMO) that we should be considering the design of multistory light-framed buildings using a method similar to the Special Procedure of the Existing Building Code. The same section identifies the General Procedure which is a tributary distribution and where redundancy of the walls are ignored and lines of shear are only considered from roof to foundation. I think your statement is correct if you only consider life safety concerns. Unfortunately, we have to look at performance simply because the value of these prescriptively designed homes escallate as the area becomes more desireable. The cost of repair or replacement of a damaged home have driven families in the San Fernando Valley from their homes (permanently) and from their debt (which we can no longer do since the bankruptsy provisions in the law have been revoked).

4) IMO, the considerations per Item 3 explain the permissiveness of the law per Item 1. These considerations also make me not too concerned with the situation per Item 2. Without condoning it, I generally don't worry too much about it. IMO, this situation is not wide spread (most engineers wouldn't do that), and is very unlikely to result in a life-threatening condition, especially, given the fact that your UG is, apparently, quite experienced.

IMO, I have to disagree with you; first on the grounds that most homes are engineered or the engineering provisions are wet sealed by the architect. Yes, where there is an empty lot for sale, the developer who buys the property will in most cases try to design by prescriptive methods - but the majority of homes in California today are developed in tracts. Look at Orange County, Ventura County and the areas around the Antelop Valley as well as the majority of construction by Puelty, Sunrise, Landmark, Kauffman and Broad etc. These developers hire engineers and pay the "typical" fee for the first design and then a "re-use" fee for each home constructed by the same plan. I agree that even a home constructed using the 180 year old standard of platform and balloon construction will perform in a manner to save lives. My point goes way beyond life safety as you can easily destroy a family by removing their assets and making it impossible for them to recover. The homeowners in the Gulf Coast areas may have lost their homes. Most did not have flood insurance because the homes were paid for and it is my understanding from searching on this subject that you could only get flood insurance on homes in the Gulf Coast states if you had a mortgage. It was to protect the lender rather than the homeowner. There are tens of thousands of families who lost their homes and had no savings and could not afford to rebuild - but they are alive. If this happened to me and all the work I've done in my 55 years went down the drain with Katrina - I doubt that I would have the courage that many of these people have to rebuild or to relocate and start over. Not to be long winded (which I am), my grandfather lost everything he had because of the 1929 Stock Market Crash that set off the great Depression. As intelligent as the man was, he took work as a tax accountant for people who were barely abel to pay him. He lost his apartment building and his home and later he moved into a cheap one bedroom apartment for three of them (my aunt was Downes Syndrome) and my grandfather refused handouts and because of his age made a modest living selling cars. Later, he moved into a low income senior housing (refusing any help from my mother and father) and at 65 years old he looked for and found a job with the state in the Unemployment office where he worked until his 80's when he died from cancer. My point is that people tend to feel between a rock and hard place. Those who have a home in California and have had it for nearly 10 years, they can and do liquidate their assets (before the damage hits) to buy larger homes in other states where you can get much more for the money. Once a large earthquake hits California and the devastation occurs, people will survive - but they will be left as indentured servants to those who will bulldoze their homes and pay little for the land. Rebuild? Most won't be able to afford to repair or rebuild and this opens the doors to developers to take over and offer to buy at low prices. Performance is important now. Poor performance is the reason why the insurance industry left California after Loma Prieta and Northridge - the earthquake coverage is state run and the deductible is based on the replacement cost (or how much you insured your home for) - 15% of the insured value.

5) When I first came to this country, I went to DMV to get my driver's license (believe it or not, they asked me if I wanted the license with or without a photo; the eve of innocence). After passing the test, I asked a police officer - why would any extent of drinking be even allowed by the driver's book? Characteristically for a FOB person, I explained that in my old country any drinking while driving was prohibited in the strictest way possible. Today, 16 years later, I vividly remember him just looking at me and asking: "Well, it didn't stop them from drinking and driving, did it?" AND IT DID NOT!

This is a complacency that I do understand. We are comparing Apples to Oranges here. First, the public is not informed and there is no disclosure as to the different methods of design. Next, the building department plan review technician has the ability to check up front for problems - this should be their responsibility and Third the building inspector in the field should be trained to make the connection between code, the drawing details and the actual quality of labor used. As engineers we work to mitigate or prevent failure or major structural damage before it occurs. Architects are governed differently - theay are the "Well, it didn't stop them from...." attitude. But once the bystander or homeowner is injured or the home experiences major structural damage - how likely will the state plan be able to pay back those that can afford the 15% deductible and rebuild? With the state of California today, there will not be enough money in the pot to cover the price that the Gulf Coast will have to pay to compensate those homeowners.

6) People break the law in any country; IMO, in this country they break it generally less than anywhere else in the world (I suspect that that happens not because the people here are different (better), but because the system - as it is - appears to support the best in them). My point is - is the issue at hand really urgent?

*Yeah! IMO It is!*

I am sending this only to you; feel free to respond to this on the list or privately. Have a good Sunday. Steve

Steve, your comments represent the opinions of most who don't concern themselves with residential construction and performance. People knew beforehand that the levee's would not hold and they practiced an evacuation plan - but the plan didn't work and now it is a political matter. I would not want my neighbors homes (or my own) to be caught up in a political run-around that ends up arguing on public forums but not moving to help people get back to their lives. Sure, it is a big deal.

Here is one thing that drives me - I remember all of the grief in the faces of the families I worked for to fix their homes. I can empathize with them and I can project. My projection may be as wrong or as right as the projection of Bird Flu in the U.S., but after deiling with Northridge I strongly feel that we have to revisit our design methologies and put aside the politices that existed before I even entered this field to work for the performance and safety of family homes.


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