Geotechnical Consulting Board Threadlines of Geotechnical and Engineering Geology firms in the Greater Los Angeles Metro-Southern California Area

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Roy Moore left to become Senior Vice President of AGRA Earth & Environmental, Inc., and then started Moore Consulting. In June 2000 he joined U.S. Laboratories as Executive Vice President responsible for the company's national geotechnical and environmental operations. Moore then joined MACTEC in Lawrenceville, GA, around 2004 (MACTEC was acquired by AMEC in 2011). Moore retired in Oct 2012. Frank Moreland, C.E.G. (BA Geol ’77 UCSB) is senior geologist at the San Diego office.

Opterra, Inc (1989-present)

Founded in 1989 by Daniel K. Steussy, GE (BSCE ’78; MS ’80 Texas-Austin), after having worked for Nekton, Inc and Owen Geotechnical. They were originally located in San Diego, and later moved to Poway. Chad Davis, PE was a project engineer in the early 2000s. They often used William J. “Bill” Elliott, CEG of Solana Beach as their consulting engineering geologist.

Regulatory Geoengineers and Geologists
City of Los Angeles

Between January 13-18, 1952 two back-to-back storms dropped 7.5 inches of rain on downtown Los Angeles (and much more on the adjacent elevated uplands), following a series of subnormal rainfall years. About 250,000 cubic yards of earthen debris was washed onto public streets and rights-of-way, which had to be cleared by City crews, at considerable cost to the taxpayers. More than 300 homes were affected, causing $5 million in structural damage and $2.5 million exterior damage to buildings and grounds. Most of the property damage occurred in hillside areas that had been developed during the residential housing boom that followed the Second World War (1945-51).

In the wake of the 1952 storm the City of Los Angeles developed the nation’s first grading and excavation ordinance and established a new Grading Section under W.E. (Bill) Milburn, within the Department of Building & Safety, supervised by Gilbert E. Morris. Milburn’s senior staff included engineer Glenn Martin (who later succeeded Milburn) and long-time Chief Soils Technician Mel Bliss. This ordinance was based on engineering principles then being employed by the State Division of Highways and various public works agencies, and it limited cut slopes to no steeper than 1:1 (45 degrees) and fill slopes to no steeper than 1.5:1 (33.6 degrees) [horizontal to vertical].

At some point in this regulatory process, the City also began requiring professional civil engineers practicing soil mechanics and foundation engineering within the City of Los Angeles to have their soil testing laboratories certified by the City. The City established a committee that reviewed such applications and developed a process for certification of said laboratories. The precise timing of the establishment of these committees and the soils lab certifications still needs to be explored and documented.

On January 25-26, 1956 a winter storm dropped 8 inches of rain on downtown Los Angeles, damaging 35 homes, spilling 40,000 cubic yards of earthen debris into city streets, and causing $575,000 in damages. The City responded to this by toughening their grading statutes to include engineering geologic reports before issuing grading permits. In order to do this they established an Engineering Geologist Qualifications Board of the City’s Board of Building & Safety Commissioners in February 1958. Geologists desiring to sign reports in the City of Los Angeles had to present themselves to the board for an oral examination, four times per year. The qualifications board was initially chaired by Caltech Geology Professor Richard H. Jahns (1913-83). Approved candidates were then issued a certificate (example below) and their names placed on a List of Approved Engineering Geologists,” who could sign and submit reports to the Department of Building & Safety.

The 1956 storm also reactivated the Portuguese Bend Landslide in the Palos Verdes peninsula, which subsequently impacted 150 homes and embroiled Los Angeles County in costly litigation. The County adopted their own version of the city’s grading and excavation code a few months later. Los Angeles County followed the City’s example and began certifying engineering geologists in 1961, initially accepting anyone the City had already qualified. Orange County followed suit a year later (1962), issuing their own certifications. The City of Los Angeles also drafted a new erosion control ordinance that was adopted by resolution of the City Council in 1961.

Between February 7-12, 1962 storms dropped another 8 inches of rain on downtown Los Angeles. These storms damaged 50 homes, spilled 15,000 cubic yards of debris into city streets, and amassed $900,000 in damages. On In 1962 the City’s Bureau of Standards began preparing geologic maps of 75 square miles of the Santa Monica Mountains, through compilation of existing data and new field work. Many exposures were made available by the grading then occurring across the range. This decision was influenced by several high-visibility slope failures suffered by District 7 of the State Division of Highways in the early 1960s, during grading of the San Diego Freeway (I-405). One of these was a bedding plane failure in the large cut adjacent to the Lower Van Norman Reservoir in the northern San Fernando Valley. A much larger problem erupted along the freeway alignment where it crossed the summit of the Santa Monica Mountains, which necessitated significant design changes during construction (the highway cut was intended to be 70 ft deeper than actually built, because of slope stability problems).

The damages caused by the February 1962 storms led to substantial amendment of the City’s Grading & Excavation Ordinance, which were developed over the following year and codified in March 1963. The 1963 grading ordinance required engineering geologic input by those geologists who met specific qualifications established by the City (until state-wide engineering geology registration came about in 1970). The new ordinance required more stringent engineering geologic evaluation of prior slope instability, much deeper subsurface exploration, and as-built engineering geologic mapping of all graded areas, signed by the project’s engineering geologist and soils engineer. Milburn authored an excellent overview of the evolution of the city’s grading codes in 1965, supplemented by Jahns’s article in the 1969 State Office of Emergency Management conference on Geologic Hazards and Public Problems in Santa Rosa.

The City’s much improved grading and excavation statues became the model ordinance for all others that followed, including the Orange County, which promptly adopted a similar ordinance a few months later (also in 1963) and the Chapter 70 Appendix – Excavation and Grading, adopted by the International Conference of Building Officials in the 1964 Edition of their Uniform Building Code (UBC). In January and February 1969 the southland experienced back-to-back storms of 100-year and 75-year recurrence frequency. These storms dropped 13 inches of rain on downtown Los Angeles and considerably more on the elevated ranges abutting the Los Angeles Basin, causing unprecedented levels of flooding. Much of the flood debris was caught in the County’s 93 storm detention basins, including 11 million cubic yards alone within the San Gabriel Reservoir. Within the City of Los Angeles more than 300 homes were significantly damaged or destroyed, causing $5.5 million in damages. These 1970 UBC was updated based on experience with the Jan-Feb 1969 storm sequence, and it mandated that no cut or fill slopes should be allowed at inclinations greater than 2:1 (horizontal to vertical), unless deemed appropriate by the building official, after careful consideration.

The 1973 Edition of the UBC was subsequently adopted by the State of California on March 7, 1974, requiring every municipality in the state to employ the UBC as its minimum standards. By 1977 about 90% of California’s local building and inspection departments were enforcing the Ch. 70 Excavation and Grading statutes, although only 13% of these agencies felt that they had qualified personnel to evaluate geotechnical and engineering geologic reports (Scullin, 1983).

Key LA City personnel

Gilbert E. Morris, PE was Superintendent of Building & Safety for the City of Los Angeles in 1952 when the nation’s first grading and excavation ordinance was adopted by that city. This ordinance was soon emulated by Beverly Hills (1952), Pasadena (1953), Glendale (1954), Burbank (1954), San Francisco (1956), San Diego (1960), and by the Counties of Los Angeles (1957) and Orange (1962).

W .E. (Bill) Milburn, PE. (BSCE ‘38 Caltech) oversaw the nation’s first regulatory agency inspecting and approving geotechnical grading and excavation activities. Bill Milburn headed up the Grading Section (later Division) within the Dept of Building & Safety for the City of Los Angeles, from its inception in 1952 until he retired, around ~1976. During his tenure the City evolved new standards for soils and geology reports, which culminated in their adoption of a more comprehensive “modern grading ordinance” in April 1963, following the disastrous storms of Feb 1962. Ivan Tkatch and George Stolt in the 1970s.

Charles A. (Chuck) Yelverton, CEG came over from the LA County Engineer’s office (and prior to that, with CA Dept of Water Resources) to become the first geologist in the City’s Department of Building & Safety, from early 1966 until about 1972 (he then worked for the Risk Analysis & Research Corporation in Pasadena [early 1970s], Headlands Properties in Pacific Palisades [late 1970s], before becoming an independent forensic consultant [early 1980s]). Philip Waisgerber, C. Arnold Richards, and Elmer Reese were engineering geologists employed by the City’s Bureau of Standards, with the Department of Public Works in the 1960s and 70s. Richards was widely regarded for his expertise associated with the geotechnical aspects of petroleum withdrawal in the Los Angeles Basin (see C. A. Richards, “Engineering Geology Aspects of Petroleum in the Urban Environment,” which appeared in AEG’s Geology, Seismicity, and Environmental Impact volume in 1973).

Joe Cobarrubias CEG (MS ’61 Geol USC) began working an engineering geologist for Los Angeles Dept of Building & Safety around 1967, succeeding Yelverton as the senior geologist in 1972, and continuing into the early 1990s. He was assisted by James S. Jackson, Russ Bingley and John A. Fitton, among others.

David T. Hsu, GE (BSCE ‘66 Taiwan Univ; MSCE ‘69, SFSU) became the Chief of the Grading Section of the Los Angeles Department of Building & Safety, around 1984, after having worked as an independent geotechnical consultant with Mike Scullin and for Lee & Praesker in San Francisco.
Los Angeles County

Los Angeles County adopted their first grading ordinance in 1957, after the Portuguese Bend landslide reactivated in the Palos Verdes Peninsula (in January 1956), which eventually destroyed or damaged 130 homes and brought the County into a lawsuit that it lost, in 1961. Following storm damage in February 1962 the County adopted a more stringent grading ordinance in September 1962 (ahead of the City of Los Angeles, which adopted their new code in March 1963). This new code emanated from a report titled “Recommended Practices for Hillside Grading and Development” released in the summer of 1962 by the Committee on Building Codes and Related matters of the California Association of Engineering Geologists (which became AEG in January 1963). This report recommended engineering geologic input before issuance of a grading permit and geologic mapping of all excavations and embankment fills during actual grading operations, with the preparation of as-built engineering geologic maps.

About 10 years later Los Angeles and Orange Counties re-organized themselves and shifted to a super-agency concept (Orange County in 1978 and Los Angeles County in 1985). In 1985 Los Angeles County combined the County Flood Control District (LACFCD), Road Department, and County Engineer’s office into the Department of Public Works. The individual departments became divisions within DPW, such as the “Building & Safety Division.” This shift allowed the County Board of Supervisors to dispense LACFCD fees as they saw fit each year, instead of these ad valorem tax proceeds being restricted to flood control work (this caused some ill feeling between former LACFCD personnel and personnel from the former Road Department and County Engineer). This is in stark contrast to how these County agencies operated independently during the record storm events in January and February 1969, when the County Flood Control Agency maintained control of their own maintenance funds, and engaged in emergency mucking of debris basins that had been filled in January, before the next storm sequence arrived.

Key LA County personnel

Douglas R. Brown, PE, CEG was the first engineering geologist hired by the Los Angeles County Engineer’s Office in early 1958, to assess landslide problems in Palos Verdes. In November 1959 he was joined by Dennis A. Evans, PE, CEG (BS GeoE ‘58 Colorado Mines), both men working under County Engineer John A. Lambie. Three more geologists were hired in 1962-63, including Chuck Yelverton, Allen Tamura, James R. Trotter (from Dames & Moore and DWR), and Howard A. “Buzz” Spellman (from Bechtel). From 1964-66 they were joined by Allen W. Hazard, James Paddick, and Allen E. Seward (Hazard worked as a consultant out of his home in Whittier in the late 1960s). Spellman left in the fall of 1963 to join Converse, while Evans departed in the spring of 1965 to join Geotechnical Consultants in their Orange County office. In the summer of 1965 Chuck Yelverton took a similar position with the City of Los Angeles.

Doug Brown came to the County Engineer’s Office after working for the LA Co Flood Control District (he became a registered engineer in 1959, and CEG in 1972). Brown was chairman of the committee drawn from the California Association of Engineering Geologists that prepared “Recommended Practices for Hillside Grading and Development” in 1962, which became the seminal document for modern grading and excavation ordinances, nation-wide. Doug Brown’s tenure was cut short by a heart attack and he departed in December 1962 to accept a position with Moore & Taber in Orange County because he lived in Fullerton, close to their office. According to Beach Leighton, Brown played a pivotal role in encouraging good engineering geology practice standards in the early 1960s, when the model grading and excavation codes were being developed, which were the first to require engineering geologic input.

Unlike other agencies, Los Angeles County placed its engineering geologists in an Engineering Geology Section of the Department of the County Engineer, who would assist the Division of Building & Safety, as requested by the latter, whenever needs arose. In this way, the county geologists assisted the County Engineer in day-to-day design, maintenance, and new construction issues, as well as regulatory duties associated with building and grading permits for the Department of Building & Safety. This gave their geologists considerable exposure to professional practice and standard-of-care issues.

Arthur G. Keene, CEG (BS Geol ‘50 UCLA; MS, ’65 USC) began his southern CA career with the LA County Flood Control District, around ~1958. He transferred to the County Engineer’s office in the spring of 1965 to augment the expanding engineering geology staff. Keene served as the senior County Geologist (although there was never an official “County Geologist”) for many years, until his retirement in ~1992.

By 1976 the Geology Section of the County Engineer’s office included the following personnel, working under Art Keene: Richard Ramirez, CEG  (left at Prop 13 time to form California Geo Systems; Robert Smith, CEG (CSM grad; retired to AZ); Allen E. Seward, CEG  (formed Alan E. Seward Engineering Geology, described elsewhere); James Paddick, CEG (B& S reviewer for Malibu & Agoura areas); David Poppler, CEG (East County B&S; later worked for Leighton, then returned and retired from LACo); David Saltzman, CEG (capital projects); Brian A. Robinson, CEG (left to form Robinson & Associates); Raymond Walbaum, CEG  (retired to Sonoma); Zora Lee (husband was prof at UCR).

In 1970, Charles G. Sudduth, GE (BSCE ’57; MS ‘59 USC; MPA USC) assumed leadership of the County’s Soils Engineering Section, assisted by James Trotter, CEG, GE (BS Geol ’50 Northwestern; MSCE ’77 CSULB), who worked as a County engineering geologist from 1963-70, and then became County soils engineer, from 1970 onward. Other soils engineers included Vince Kan, PE; and sometime later, O. P. Malhotra, GE. Sudduth retired around 1995.

In the 1980s the Geology Section was joined by: James Shuttleworth, CEG (BA Geol ‘69 CSULA; hired 1982, retired in 2008), Jim Trotter, CEG, Don Kowalewsky, CEG, Mike Montgomery, CEG Jeff Weldon, CEG (now with LADWP), Rob Larson, CEG, Lidia Lustig, CEG (now retired), Charles Nestle, CEG, Robert Thomas, CEG, John Ege, PhD CEG (formerly with USGS, now retired), Steve Lipshie, PhD, CEG (1990-2010), Ger Mathisen (hired in 2002), Gerald Goodman, CEG  (BS Geol UCLA,  MSGE ASU; hired in 1994 and stood up the Co DPW Environmental Group), Noli Lasao, CEG, PE (hired in 1994), Clay Masters, CEG (hired in 2001), Karen Berger (hired in 2004), and Linda Bell, CEG, CHG (hired in 2005).

  In the mid-1970s Brian Robinson and Ray Walbaum developed the first Study Guide for the RG and CEG exams in cooperation with the AEG LA Section, which was published in 1976 and again, in 1979. Jim Shuttleworth developed a revised version, but the Board became afraid of it so passed legislation to outlaw it (the document got to the board from Shuttleworth to Jim Krohn, then onto Jim Slosson, thence to the BRGG).

After the merger that formed the County Department of Public Works, Mike Johnson, who started with LACFCD in 1959, became the chief geologist. Art Keene continued to head the Development Review Section until he retired in 1992. Johnson retired in 2001 and was succeeded as chief geologist by Mike Montgomery.

A number of ex-LA County geologists have started their own consulting firms or worked as principals in other firms. Some of these include: California Geo Systems; Allen E. Seward Engineer and Geology; Brian A. Robinson & Associates; Triad Engineering in City of Industry owned by Frank Stillman, GE.  Bill Uhl worked for Triad for many years. Robert Sousa, CEG left the FCD to form Sousa and Associates (most of these are described elsewhere).
Peer review services provided by Los Angeles County

By 1998 Los Angeles County provided geotechnical peer review and plan checking of grading and excavation applications for the following municipalities within Los Angeles County: Artesia, La Mirada, Bradbury, La Puente, Carson, Lawndale, Cerritos, Lomita, Commerce, Rolling Hills, Duarte, Rolling Hills Estates, Industry, Santa Fe Springs, Irwindale, Temple City, La Canada Flintridge, Westlake Village and Lakewood.

LA County Flood Control District

Edward J. Zielbauer, CEG (1908-99) (BA Geol 1931 Stanford) joined the Los Angeles County Flood Control District as their first staff geologist in 1946, after working for MWD on the Colorado River Aqueduct from 1931-39 (he then taught school for six years). He became Chief Engineering Geologist of the district in 1959, and continued in this capacity until his retirement in 1972. Zielbauer was assisted by Douglas R. Brown, CEG, Harry A. Kues, CEG (from USBR), Josef C. Callison, CEG (BA Geol ’56 Missouri; from CA DWR), John N. Roth, CEG, Art Keene, CEG, Howard A.Buzz” Spellman, CEG (in 1962-64), Norm Bradley, RG, Mike Johnson, CEG and Edgar W. Lundeen, CEG in the early to mid-1960s, when they were constructing saltwater intrusion barriers. One of the enormous responsibilities this group shouldered was the investigation, design, and construction of the numerous coastal groundwater barriers installed in the 1960s, to retard saltwater intrusion of the coastal aquifers.

In 1985 the Los Angeles County Flood Control District was absorbed into the County’s Department of Public Works, in one central location in Alhambra. At this time the County’s Geology Section was joined by a number of geologists who came in from the merger with flood control: Michael Johnson, CEG, was named head of Geology Section after the merger, Joe Callison, Wayne Worden (retired, lives in Orange County), John Roth, CEG (retired, lives in SF Valley), Craig Stewart, Jim O'Tousa, CEG, and Robert Sousa, CEG.

Contract Regulatory Geologists in Los Angeles County

From the 1960s through the 1990s Dr. James Slosson, CEG served as the reviewing engineering geologist for the cities of Moorpark, Calabasas, Corona, Monterey Park, and Agoura Hills.

Orange County

Orange County established an Engineering Geologist Qualifications Board in June 1962, similar to those previously established by the City of Los Angeles (1958) and Los Angeles County (1960). The first Orange County Grading Code was adopted in August 1962, following the massive revisions made to the Los Angeles Grading and Excavation Code in the wake of the Feb ‘62 storms. The new grading statutes were administered by the Orange County Dept. of Building & Safety in the Engineering Division of the Department of Public Works and they issued their first grading permit in Dec 1962.

In January1963 they hired C. Michael Scullin, CEG (1932-95) (BS Geol ’58 Arizona State) as the county’s first full-time geologist, and he remained through the fall of 1968. For much of that time Scullin was engaged in developing, revising, and expanding Orange County’s excavation and grading code. These efforts resulted in two seminal documents: the Orange County Grading & Excavation Code, and the much larger Grading Manual; basically a compendium of recommended ‘best practices,’ which more or less established the standard-of-practice for such activities the region. In 1983 Scullin published a textbook titled “Excavation and Grading Code Administration, Inspection, and Enforcement,” published by Prentice-Hall, and reprinted twice by the International Conference of Building Officials in the 1990s.

William “Bill” R. Munson, Jr. succeeded Mike Scullin as Orange County Geologist during the mid to late 1970s. An associate engineering geologist in the early 1970s was Larry Redinger (BS Geol ’68 CSULB; MS ’70 NAU), who left the County to teach geology at Mt San Antonio College in 1975. Bob Sydnor, CEG, CHG (BA Geol ’69 Whittier; MS ’75 UCR) was Associate Engineering Geologist at the South County office in Laguna Niguel, between 1977-79 (he joined CDMG/CGS in 1979 to review hospital and school reports, retiring in 2007). William J. Edgington, CEG came from CDMG to serve as the County Engineering Geologist in the 1980s and early 1990s. He had previously mapped much of the Laguna Beach, Dana Point, and San Clemente areas for CDMG in the 1970s.

In the mid-1970s, Orange County changed its government structure to a super-agency, becoming the Orange County Environmental Management Agency (EMA), which combined the control of government operations under one Director, H. George Osborn, PE.  EMA was divided into three main branches: EMA Regulation (the old Building and Safety), EMA Planning (for massive tracts of new homes, thousands per month were zoned), and EMA Facilities, which maintained the county’s engineering infrastructure. All of the county statutes became “EMA Regulations.” Osborn was a very practical engineer (RCE 7188) and a respected manager, who held vast control over the whole agency. He reported directly to the County Board of Supervisors.

Ventura County

Around 1963 Ventura County set up an Engineering Geologists Qualifications Board similar to that established by the City and County of Los Angeles and Orange County. This was disbanded when statewide geology registration was enacted in 1969. Blase A. Cilweck, CEG (MSCE ’64 UNR) was Senior Engineering Geologist for Ventura County Public Works Dept. in the late 1960s (he moved onto McClelland Engineers). Al Echarren was plan checker for grading in 1960s-70s, and later became Manager of the County’s Development & Inspection Services (1989-2002). In 1979 Joe Hanna, CEG (BA Geol ’78 UCSB) became the Ventura “County Geologist,” while working in the Public Works Department. He remained with the county until June 1991. From the late 1970s onward many of the cities in Ventura County (like Ventura, Oxnard, Camarillo, and Ojai) often used Fugro-McClellan, Staal, Gardner & Dunne, FugroWest, or Bing Yen & Associates as their geotechnical and engineering geologic peer reviewers on contract, on a project-by-project basis. Jim O’Tousa, CEG (profiled above) served as the County Geologist on contract after Hanna’s departure in mid-1991, and continued in this capacity until being brought aboard as a full-time county employee in mid-2005. O’Toousa went onto become the Engineering Manager, supervising grading inspectors, civil engineers, regional planners, and engineering technicians with responsibilities to oversee a public counter. Since 2009, Kathleen Ehlig Reidel, CEG has served as the County’s Planning Geologist.

Santa Barbara County
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