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



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First Engineering Geology Lab Manual (1965)

In 1965 Professor Arthur H. Brownlow of Boston University and consulting geologist Mahlon J. Reinhard of Wichita, Kansas co-authored Laboratory Manual - Geology for Engineers, published by W.C. Brown of Dubuque, Iowa. One of those who contributed significantly to the the manual’s review was Professor Thomas S. Beverage, Chairman of the geological engineering department at the Missouri School of Mines.


Dam Safety Legislation of September 17, 1965

In the in wake of the December 1963 failure of the Baldwin Hills Reservoir, on September 17, 1965 the state legislature passed an amendment to the State’s Dam Safety Act of 1929. Jurisdiction for State overview of dams was expanded to include off stream storage facilities, such as municipal reservoirs.

This included all non-federal dams more than 25 feet high which impound more than 15 acre-feet of water and non-federal dams more than 6 feet high which impound more than 50 acre-feet of water.
Completion of Geologic Atlas of California (1966)

In 1951 the State Mineralogist Dr. Olaf P. Jenkins initiated a program of preparing a new Geologic Atlas of California, aimed at filling in the unmapped regions on the 1938 State Geologic Map project he had previously compiled in the late 1930s (described above). In this effort the base map would be the new USGS 1:250,000 scale 1o latitude by 2o longitude topographic sheets, at double the scale of the 1938 map sheets (1:500,000). This began as something of an adhoc project, compiling information from all available sources, such as the published literature, mapping by students of the major universities, academic theses and dissertations, mapping by state and federal agencies, mapping by mining and petroleum firms, select mapping by the State Division of Mines, and the mapping of Thomas W. Dibblee, Jr, which eventually encompassed almost 20% of the state. The project was complicated by the fact that it sought to conjoin geologic mapping of divergent eras, with different scales, and with outdated stratigraphic nomenclature. In many cases, detailed geologic mapping was adjacent to poorly understood, incompletely mapped, or totally unmapped areas. A master legend of the state’s geologic units was included on the margins of each sheet. These include 79 geologic units designated by specific colors and/or patterns, and 39 additional units, distinguished by special symbols.

Eight preliminary black & white sheets were released in 1955. The first color map, the Death Valley Sheet, was released in 1958. When Dr. Ian Campbell succeeded Jenkins as the State Mineralogist/Geologist in January 1959, he kept thie state mapping program alive, under the direction of Charles W. Jennings. Campbell added a series of Bouguer Gravity Anomaly overlays on top of the State Geologic Map sheets. All 27 sheets of the State Geologic Atlas were completed in 1966, and in color print by 1969. These were labeled the “Olaf P. Jenkins Sheets,” in honor of Dr. Jenkens’ role in initiating the program (described in Jahns, R.H., 1961, Geologic Map of California, Olaf P. Jenkins edition: Economic Geology, 56:6, p. 1154-1156). Revision and periodic updates of these 1o x 2o map sheets continues to be a priority of the state survey.
Landslide Hazard Mapping by governmental agencies (1966-onward)

By the late 1960s serious landslide mapping by a number of public agencies was well under way. This included agencies such as the Division of Mines & Geology, U.S. Geological Survey, City of Los Angeles, Metropolitan Water District, and Whittier College under contract to the government (through Beach Leighton), covering most hillside areas then envisioned for urban development in Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and San Diego Counties (G.B. Cleveland, 1966, Current Regional Geologic Studies in Southern California, in Lung and Proctor’s Engineering Geology in Southern California, AEG, pp. 214-15). The heat of public pressure remained strong into the mid-1970s, spurred by occasional high visibility slides, especially along freeways, and roads periodically closed to travel, like the coast highway near Malibu, San Gabriel and Glendora Mountain Roads (see F.B. Leighton, 1977, Three major California freeway landslide areas: in D.R. Coates, ed., Landslides, Reviews in Engineering Geology, v. III, Geological Society of America, p. 225-232).

One of the first such studies to be published by the State Division of Mines & Geology (CDMG) was George Cleveland’s Natural Slope Stability as Related to Geology, San Clemente Area, Orange and San Diego Counties, CA, released in 1968. Studies within a given area were often expanded upon or followed up, such as occurred with the Capistrano formation in Orange County (Morton, Edgington and Fife, 1974, Geology and Engineering geologic Aspects of the San Juan Capistrano Quadrangle, Orange County, CA: CDMG Special Report 112, 64 p.). More regional studies, beginning with Doug Morton’s Preliminary Reconnaissance Map of Major Landslides, San Gabriel Mountains, CA, Map Sheet 15 published in 1969. In the 1970s CDMG and USGS began working cooperatively in joint-funded projects aimed at identifying geologic hazards in hillside regions, producing a series of regional maps (see G. B. Cleveland, 1971, Regional landslide prediction, CDMG Open File Report 72-73) .

The first County-wide maps were those prepared by Don Fife of CDMG for the entirety of Orange County, released in 1973 (CDMG Preliminary Report 15). These 1:48,000-scale geo-environmental maps included mapping of bedrock landslides over hundreds of square miles, and this work was a first in that it preceded actual development in that area. The concept of several maps in a single package, depicting various geohazards, such as bedrock geology, landslides, debris flows, and faults was a new planning concept that met with much success in the environment-conscious 1970s.


State Board of Registration for Geology & Geophysics (1968-2009)

After seven years of vociferous lobbying by AEG and the political support of State Geologist Dr. Ian Campbell, in 1968 the State Legislature and Governor Reagan approved legislation establishing the California Board of Registration for Geologists and Geophysicists (BRGG), which was sponsored by Assembyman Bill Ketchum of Bakersfield. It was the first geosciences professional registration board in the United States. The Act became law on November 13, 1968, and made it unlawful to practice geology without a license in California after December 31, 1969. The California State Board of Registration for Geologists was established on June 30, 1969.

Applicants that filed with the board after November 13, 1969 were required to take a written examination, while those who applied before this date and were approved by the board received their licenses through grandfathering. The first certificates were issued in September 1970. By 1972, 848 people re-registered themselves in California as Certified Engineering Geologists (CEGs). Of these, only 518 were California registrants, the remaining being individuals who grandfathered into the title, but maintained residences out-of-state or, out-of-country.

Two years were then expended evaluating the respective roles and responsibilities engineering geologists would have, as opposed to civil engineers. By June 1970 the stated purpose of the BRGG was to protect consumers by ensuring that people practicing geology and geophysics possessed sufficient education, experience, and knowledge to competently perform their duties, such as: geologic mapping of subsurface condition exposed during construction, geologic mapping, assessing presence and risk of landslippage, evaluating groundwater conditions, using remote sensing or aerial photos to investigate the geomorphic character and structure of an area, using geophysical methods to investigate the subsurface, logging boreholes, and assessing mineral deposits.

Geologists and geophysicists were licensed as separate disciplines, with the subspecialty certifications in engineering geology (from 1970), and hydrogeology (from 1995). This action came largely as a result of landslides, slope failures, and significant property damage, including the infamous Portuguese Bend and Abalone Cove Landslides on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in the 1960s.

With the passage of Senate Bill 1914 in the fall of 2004, the name for licensed geologists in the State of California changed from Registered Geologist (RG) to Professional Geologist (PG), effective January 1, 2005. In 2009 the BRGG was absorbed into the Board of Registration for Engineers and Land Surveyors (BORPELS), to save money. On January 1, 2011 the name was changed to the Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists.


Associated Soil & Foundation Engineers (1969-75); Association of Soil and Foundation Engineers (1975-88); ASFE/The Geoprofessional Business Association (1988-93); ASFE/The Association of Engineering Firms Practicing in the Geosciences (1993-2014); Geoprofessional Business Association [GBA] (2014-present)

The insurance situation for geotechnical practicioners worsened markedly in the wake of damaging storms of 1967-68 and 1968-69 in northern and southern California. These storms wrought so much property damage that geotechnical engineering firms suddenly found themselves unable to purchase liability insurance. The principals of ten consulting geotechnical engineering firms met in a Chicago airport hotel in December 1968 to resolve a common problem that threatened their companies: Professional-liability claims were at an all-time high and professional-liability insurers worldwide refused to cover them. In May 1969 the ten firms formally launched Associated Soil and Foundation Engineers, Inc. to identify the causes of professional liability claims and losses, and to develop programs and materials to help geoprofessionals reduce liability exposure in the future. These same firms also agreed to form Terra Insurance Corporation, based in Monterey, CA (ASFE headquarters was based in Silver Spring, MD).

Within a year of its formation, ASFE launched a new contract provision called “Limitation of Liability.” After 1970, ASFE member firms re-defined field activities to limit their scope to providing construction observation and testing services, eliminating the terms “inspection,” or any inference that they were “directing,” “overseeing,” or “approving” construction activities. The adoption of increasingly tighter Limitation of Liability (LOL) clauses, limiting their exposure to the sum total of the professional fees incurred by the geotechnical engineers, followed shortly thereafter.

In 1975 the organization changed its name to the Association of Soil and Foundation Engineers. In 1977, ASFE initiated Organizational Peer Reviews of member firms seeking to be insured by Terra Insurance, and helped the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) develop programs based on ASFE’s model. Through Peer Review, firms enhance the quality of their performance by having their methods and materials reviewed and critiqued by experienced peers.



ASFE-member firms underwent a transformation in the mid-1980s, as they expanded their staffs and service mixes to provide expertise to the then-emerging field of hazardous waste remediation and attendant geoenvironmental assessments and remediation services. These roles and markets have continued to evolve, and today provide geotechnical, geologic, environmental, construction materials engineering and testing, and related geoprofessional services.

In 1985 the organization abandoned “Association of Soil and Foundation Engineers,” changing its name to ASFE: The Geoprofessional Business Association. In 1993 the organization’s name was changed again, to ASFE/The Association of Engineering Firms Practicing in the Geosciences to better reflect the expansion into geoenvironmental and geohydrology disciplines. In July 2014 the member forms voted to drop the ASFE acronym and replaced it with “Geoprofessional Business Association (GBA), which the membership felt describes the organization and its purpose.







National Environmental Policy Act (1969) and regulation of solid waste disposal

In 1969 Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in response to increasing societal attention environmental degradation triggered by anthropogenic activities. As a result of NEPA, the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) was created and activated on 1 January, 1970, and the related Federal agency programs were considerably re-shuffled. As defined by the Federal government, solid waste encompasses wastes of municipal origin (residential and commercial, as opposed to industrial). Prior to the creation of USEPA in 1970, California acted under the Federal Solid Waste Management Law, which required that each County create and submit its own Solid Waste Management Plan by 1 Jan, 1974. As a result of the follow-up Congressional legislation (see RCRA in 1976, below) the common forms of wastes and of air pollution were established and then integrated into California’s regulatory agencies. California established a State Solid Waste Management Board in 1972, which was renamed the California Waste Management Board in 1982. This was incorporated into the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) established in 1989, one of six agencies subsequently absorbed into the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) when it was formed in 1991 (see below).


[California] State Seismic Safety Act of 1971

In the wake of the 1971 San Fernando earthquake, the California Legislature enacted a more comprehensive Seismic Safety Act in 1971, which required local municipalities to assemble seismic safety elements by 1975. These municipalities could contract with the California Geological Survey to help prepare geologic databases, and many did, including Orange County. CGS’s Preliminary Report 15 (Geo-environmental maps of Orange County, California), prepared by Don Fife and released in 1973, presented 1:48,000 scale geo-environmental maps of Orange County. These included four types of maps: bedrock geology, landslides, debris flows, and faults. This was a new planning concept that met with much success in the environment-conscious 1970s and the effort preceded most of the development in Orange County.

During the early years of the Seismic Safety Act, the California Geological Survey also produced quadrangle-size geologic map sheets, such as George Cleveland’s Geology of the Northeast part of the Palos Verdes Hills, Los Angeles County, California, released as Map Sheet 27 in 1976.

A similar pattern was followed for southwestern San Bernardino County, again with CGS’s Don Fife and others, in cooperation with Doug Morton of the U.S. Geological Survey. In 1976, CGS released Special Report 113 titled Geologic Hazards in Southwestern San Bernardino County, CA. This volume was accompanied by thirteen 1:48,000 scale map sheets prepared by Morton delineating potential geologic hazards such as faults, landslides, flooding and depicting basic bedrock geology and geophysical information. These became seminal documents in the planning process accompanying urban development in this area in the years following its release.


Soil and Foundation Engineers Association (SAFEA) (1971-87); California Geotechnical Engineers Association (1987-2009); CalGeo (2009 - present)

In February 1970, a group of soil and foundation engineers from Southern California met to discuss the status of the profession, and to assess if there was a need to form an organization to represent the unique needs of California’s private-practice geotechnical engineering consultants. In May 1971, the Soil and Foundation Engineers Association (SAFEA) was established with a goal unlike other engineering associations. Rather than focus only on technical research and social events, SAFEA tries to address the key business and legislative issues necessary to advance the profession of private-practice geotechnical engineering. They formed a Government Practices Committee to encourage local agencies to adopt state-of-the-practice excavation and grading ordinances (often in concert with the Building & Safety Advisory Committee of the Los Angeles Section of ASCE). In the mid-1980s SAFEA successfully lobbied for a Geotechnical Engineer title act by the State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. From 1987 onward the professional title “geotechnical engineer” can only be used by those who are duly registered, similar to “structural engineer.” In 1987 the organization changed its name to the California Geotechnical Engineers Association, and this was shortened to CalGeo in 2009. The organization continues to meet and discuss various issues that impact California’s private-practice geotechnical professionals.


Alquist-Priolo Special Studies Zone Act (1972-94); A-P Earthquake Fault Zoning Act (1994)

The February 1971 San Fernando earthquake triggered the Alquist-Priolo Special Studies Zone Act of 1972, which has been amended on 10 occasions up through 1993. Since 1994 this has been termed the A-P Earthquake Fault Zoning Act. An excellent write up on the history of the program with map index is contained in E.W. Hart, 1994, Fault-Rupture Hazard Zones in California: CDMG Special Publication 42 (Rev 1994), 34 p. The Fault Evaluation and Zoning Program is currently supervised by the California Geological Survey in Sacramento.


Statewide Adoption of Appendix Chapter 70 - Excavation & Grading of the Uniform Building Code (1974)

In the second session of the California legislature in 1973, the State of California passed Section 17958, Division 13, part 1.5 of the Health & Safety Code, requiring that all cities and counties in the State of California would enforce Appendix Chapter 70 – Excavation & Grading, of the 1973 Uniform Building Code, or its equivalent, no later than March 7, 1974. The California Commission on Housing & Community Development adopted the same mandate in their Section 1090 of Title 25 of the California Administrative Code. These statutes were not always effectively applied or enforced, especially in the State’s more rural counties. According to Scullin (1983), by 1977 92% of the state’s building inspection departments enforced the excavation and grading statutes, but only 13% of these agencies has trained grading inspectors).


Resource Conservation and Reclamation Act (RCRA) of 1976

In 1976 the U.S. Congress enacted the Resource Conservation and Reclamation Act (RCRA) of 1976, to be regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This was fully implemented by November 1978, under a regulatory grace program. Each state was given the privilege of administering the entire compliance program under the Primacy provision of RCRA, and California was awarded interim primacy in 1991 and continues to respond to additional Federal requirements for its authorization program, consistent with changes promulgated by USEPA. The latest such authorization was granted in 2012 (77 FR 65313, 26Oct).

RCRA defines Special Waste as the use and discharge of chemical elements and compounds, in solid or liquid form, as created by such industrial activities as do not produce hazardous wastes, by definition. The Federally mandated program of special waste management represents a generally high-volume, low toxicity assemblage of industrial wastes that cannot otherwise be controlled without serious implications to the national economy. As is the case with solid waste, this large waste stream is controlled under the provisions of RCRA of 1976 (as amended) and administered by the California EPA under its primacy agreement with U.S. EPA.

Hazardous Waste is defined under RCRA for purposes of the control of toxic industrial waste streams that have been generated since the passage of the act in 1976. In terms of geologic impact, the resulting Federal and State provisions for licensure and compliance of newly-generated toxic elements and compounds in more-or-less limited to the application of standard permits written by CalEPA for each site of generation, and by standard site selection conditions and engineered design and construction requirements, and, as such, the regulatory conditions are made similar for all RCRA sites.
Geologic Hazard Abatement Districts (1979)

In 1979 State Senator Bob Beverly of Rancho Palos Verdes sponsored legislation allowing the establishment of special “Geological Hazard Abatement Districts,” or GHADs (1979 Cal Stat 118, codified as Cal PRC 26500-26601). GHADs are intended to serve as special assessment districts formed to abate actual or threatened geohazards, such as landslides, land subsidence, soil erosion, or other natural or unnatural movements of land (see Robert B. Olshansky’s article “Geological Hazard Abatement Districts” in the July 1986 issue of California Geology).

The first GHADs formed in California were the Abalone Cove and Klondike Canyon Landslides adjacent to the Portuguese Bend Landslide in Rancho Palos Verdes. Abalone Cove includes 25 homes on a creeping 80-acre landslide and more than 75 residences uphill of the active slide, which could be threatened by it. This district was established on July 19, 1985. Petition for GHADs require signatures from owners of at least 10% of the real property involved, or by resolution of the local legislative body. The application is accompanied by a formal “Plan of Control” written by a Certified Engineering Geologist (CEG). If more than 50% of assessed valuation of the proposed district objects to district formation, the process is abandoned.

GHADs have also been employed to provide for preventative maintenance for new or recently-constructed developments, such as those at Canyon Lakes in San Ramon and Blackhawk in Danville, formed in 1985. These GHADs were initially funded by the developers. In other instances, the formation of GHADs can be used as a condition of approval by local governing agencies (an example would be the Castlegate GHAD formed in Orinda in 1996, before any of the homes were occupied). These Bay Area GHADs are principally focused on operations and maintenance of drainage improvements, as well as aging effects, such as slope creep, surficial erosion, and expansive soils.

A California Association of GHADs (www.ghad.org) was formed in 2001, to pool resources and disseminates GHAD-related documents, such as policie best practices, white vpapers, legal opinions, and press releases. There are currently 37 GHADs operating in California. GHADs have also been discussed as a possible mechanism for operation and maintenance of flood protection systems, such as levees.
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980; the Superfund Amendments & Reauthorization Act (SARA) of 1990; and the establishment of SUPERFUND sites

In 1980 hazardous substances were recognized and defined under the provisions of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), which was amended in 1990 by the Superfund Amendments & Reauthorization Act (SARA). It is within the realm of CERCLA (aka Superfund) that the particular geologic conditions of California become of critical concern to Cal/EPA in its role of conducting the Federal regulatory program for remediation of uncontrolled hazardous substances within California.

Undocumented hazardous waste sites in California, like any USEPA primacy state, comes into line for entry into the CERCLA system, and receives a unique CERCLIS (CERCLA List) identification number and site name, and becomes subject to evaluation as to the seriousness and immediacy of its assessed threat to the public. The process calls, in order, for evaluation through a non-invasive Preliminary Assessment (PA), from which the HRS (Hazard Ranking Score; maximum of 100 points) is prepared and, in due time, a contractor visits the site and undertakes limited subsurface sampling. At this point, the HRS is again revisited and scores greater than 28.5 are subject for elevation to the USEPA SUPERFUND National Priority List (NPL) and to receive action funding for continued progress, which may include efforts to identify a financially solvent Potential Responsible Party (PRP). Sites for which the SIA yields scores less than 28.5 generally are given NFRAP ("NiFrap" = No Further Remedial Action Planned), which removes them from eligibility for consideration to be added to the NPL. NPL sites for Missouri require processing by, or through Region VII of the USEPA to become Proposed for the NPL and a final Listing requires considerable action at HQUSEPA.

Concurrently, Cal/EPA compiles its own Registry of Confirmed Abandoned or Uncontrolled Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites in California, in compliance with State law. Even though USEPA has produced, within this century, an admirable on-line pdf repository of relevant waste management reports, neither it, or Cal/EPA has the on-line capability for citizens to recover, manage and tally such physical sites. Once one is aware of the actual presence of a toxic waste site, remediated or unremediated, recovery of background documents is functional (www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/cursites/index.htm).

SUPERFUND remediation efforts have far outstripped available funds to undertake costly litigation with PRPs, in order to force them to become named RPs (Responsible Parties), so that most States have opted for some form of the Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP). These voluntary programs were initiated by USEPA in 1994, in which the PRP becomes an RP, but is left in charge of the time scheduling under which meaningful remedial action actually take place. VCP nationally shows a very poor record of compliance progress; with start-to-closure of remediation taking as long as twenty years.

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