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Quality Assurance - Californian Building Permit Process

Quality Assurance - Californian Building Permit Process

Quality Assurance - Californian Building Permit Process

Any California engineers out there?  I was wondering if someone could describe to me the process a structural engineer goes through to obtain a building permit in California.  It is my understanding that the Authority having Jurisdiction will complete an independant technical review of the drawings and the result of this review largely determines whether the permit will be issued.  It is also my understanding the Authority having Jurisdiction also requires that field review be performed by an independant party.  Are these provision across the board for all projects or are the specific to certain types of buildings (i.e. size or type of construction)?  What are the pros and cons of this system?

The reason for my query:  Here in Canada there is a considerable push towards licensing of Specialty Engineers.  In fact, in British Columbia, all structural engineers will have to pass the British I.Struct.E. technical exams plus a couple of other exams in order to practice structural engineering. It is my opinion that this is the wrong approach and that in fact, the problem with the our existing system is that quality control is a very passive (i.e. the code of conduct simply states that all work shall be checked by another engineer) and left entirely to the discretion of the company or engineer performing the work.  

I see the Californian process as an active process whereby one has to have an INDEPENDANT review prior to construction. This is the bottom line: forget about qualifications of individual engineers, if your design is not up to snuff, you can't build it.  If your behavior is viewed as unprofessional or negligent, it is quite likely you are going to get reported when your project is reviewed. If you produce poor quality designs that take to long to get through permit application stage, you are probably going to lose clients.

Seems straight forward to me.

N.B. It is important to note that Canadian engineers are licensed by a self governed association as opposed to a government body.


RE: Quality Assurance - Californian Building Permit Process

As far as limitations on size and usage in California projects goes, my experience has shown there are none. One of my clients is a manufacturer of modular outdoor toilet buildings, and we frequently go through multiple reviews for a 9' x 11' brick s***house!

RE: Quality Assurance - Californian Building Permit Process

I used to be a california engineer....i am not there any more. plan check is not as bad as I used to think... i miss it - here no one checks anything...BUT, to answer your question, you, or the prime designer on the design team must submit plans, specs and calculations to the building department. The building departmentofficial, (a licensed engineer for the specialty) will check them. they will check for code compliance with structural, plumbing,mechanical, fire/life safety, and ada compliance. if you are prime, you will have to respond to which ever of these checks are applicable (or your consultants will) for your project. As a structural, I often either submitted my plans myself or went to the building department to  meet wth the official to do a backcheck in person. For LA, the structural plan check correction list runs to five pages, small print, both sides, they mark the ones you must respond to. I used to get very annoyed with the system. I am now ...not in california. I have to say regretfully, that i have seen some excruciating examples of engineering by licensed engineers. The system is supposed to be self policing, and is supposed to depend on personal integrity, but i have seen little evidence of that...there is no requirement for building permits for any residential project, there is no building department inspection, no requirement for soils reports to be submitted that is ENFORCED, the contractors do not have to be licensed. I could rag on. I am used to being an integral part of the construction process, of being on site to ensure that the design I have done is built to at least some extent. I would gladly have a second set of eyes at least glance at my calculations. I always do a complete job, and a thorough one, but when there is no one else to check your work...even marginally...  A quick example. I recently reviewed another engineers' calcs as a consultant to an agency. they were wind calcs on an elevated structure. he forgot, i guess to check the shear...(15 kips), so he only checked the bolts for tension, not shear and tension. and then he said that he neglected the shear because it was trivial and that the rusted bolts and angles improved the capacity of the connection. another engineer told a client of mine that a truss bearing on a cmu wall produced an enormous thrust that had to be resisted by the wall since there was no center column under the truss. It had been modelled as a frame not a truss on a wall....I saw it because there is no requirement here for an engineer of record on projects, so I can designthe foundation and they can hire someone else to do the steel and someone else to do the wind analysis if they like,...as long as we all sign our own parts it is all ok. I sometimes think I would go back even if i did have to live in LA again...no I wouldn't

RE: Quality Assurance - Californian Building Permit Process

Our firm works in all areas of the state. Almost all projects(except for small one-story rectangular buildings) are reviewed by the governing jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions are more rigorous than others when checking the engineering. Most of our projects are checked in-house before they are released for plan check. I don't mind an independent review provided the reviewer sticks to code issues and also is knowlegable in engineering.  Occasionally, in smaller jurisdictions, a plan checker may be 3 years out of school and may not have the experience or knowledge to check the design.  School and hospital projects are checked by DSA(State agency) The reviewers are generally licensed structural enginneers and are extremely thourough in reviewing every aspect of the strucural design, every page of the calcs and every detail on the plans.
Californias system isn't perfect, but it seems to work fairly well.

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