Soil Testing Companies Background on soil testing companies

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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.

Alquist-Priolo Special Studies Zone Act (1972); 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 (Revised 1994), 34 p. The Fault Evaluation and Zoning Program is currently supervised by the California Geological Survey in Sacramento.

Establishment of ‘Structural Setbacks’ from active faults (1973)

In 1971-72 the Town of Portola Valley’s Ad Hoc Geologic Committee (described previously) lobbied the Town Council to establish structural setbacks from active fault traces being mapped within the Town Limits. This legislation was enacted by Town Ordinance 1973-119 (in 1973), the first city in California to establish its own fault setback requirements. The state-wide Alquist-Priolo Act became law in March 7, 1973. It required a structural setback of 50 feet from any mapped fault traces that were considered active.

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. By 1977 92% of the state’s building inspection departments enforced the excavation and grading statutes, but only 13% of these agencies had trained grading inspectors (see C.M. Scullin, 1983, Excavation and Grading Code Administration, Inspection & Enforcement, Prentice Hall).

Fault Map of California (1975); Near-Source Fault Zones Maps (1997); and Fault Activity Map of California (2010)

In 1975 the California Division of Mines & Geology published the first Fault Map of California, at a scale of 1:750,000, which included all of the then-known faults. This effort was superseded by a second edition, re-named the Fault Activity Map, which was released in 1993-94. The Fault Activity Map includes the assumed state-of-activity of each of the State’s mapped faults, which is useful for assessing risk.

In 1997 the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO) published a book of maps to be used in determining engineering factors for new construction in California, titled Maps of Known Active Fault Near-Source Zones in California and Adjacent Portions of Nevada (CDMG Product No. MAPS97). This was prepared by the California Division of Mines and Geology (DMG) in cooperation with the Structural Engineers Association of California’s (SEAOC) Seismology Committee. The near-source maps were developed specifically for use with the 1997 UBC and 1998 California Building Code (CBC) to define those areas where an additional factor should be used to reduce risk to life and property during an earthquake.

In 2010 the California geological Survey released a digital Fault Activity Map of California, which assigns state-of-activity of various segments of mapped faults in the Bay Area, including areas where the surface trace is concealed.

USGS-HUD San Mateo County demonstration projects (1975-92)

In the aftermath of the cooperative program with HUD between 1970-75, the USGS continued to explore new methods for preparing planning-related products into the 1980s. They used Sam Mateo County as a “demonstration area,” producing an impressive array of maps utilizing computerized Geographical Information Systems methods before these became commonplace. These products were follow-up to what the Survey had already prepared as part of the HUD study, which had included maps of faults, landslide susceptibility and distribution of late-Quaternary age deposits (Maps MF-355, 360, and 575). The new series of maps were released as Miscellaneous Investigation Series Maps, beginning in 1982. These included the Geologic Map of San Mateo County (USGS Map I-1257-A); Geologic, Scenic and Historic Points of Interest (Map I-1257-B, 1982); Dip of Sedimentary Rocks (Map I-1257-C, 1983); Engineering Materials & Description of their Engineering Character (Map I-1257-D, 1985); Seismic Slope Stability During Earthquakes (Map I-1257-E, 1985); Faults and Earthquake Epicenters (Map I-1257-F, 1986); Liquefaction Susceptibility (Map I-1257-G, 1987); Predicted Shaking Intensities for EQ Comparable to the 1906 SF EQ (Map I-1257-H, 1986); Slope Map (Map I-1257-J, 1988); Land Use and Land Use Cover (Map I-1257-L, 1992); and Debris Flow Probability (Map I-1257-M, 1992).

These map products have since been emulated by other jurisdictions in the preparation of county and city seismic safety elements, environmental impact reports, and other planning documents.
Berkeley Engineering Manuals for Slope Stability (1975) and Settlement (1976) Studies

In the early 1970s Berkeley Professor J. Michael Duncan, PE began collaborating with Albert L. Buchignani (BSCE ’57; MS ’68 Berkeley), who worked for Harding, Miller, Lawson & Associates in San Francisco. The first consultation involved field tests of a debris fill on Bay Mud south of Islais Creek, which came from dredging for a new deep water port facility just to the north of Islais Creek (described in Field Test of Debris Fill over Soft Soil, in ASCE Spec Conf Performance of Earth & Earth Supported Structures, Purdue, 1972). Shortly thereafter new problems arose when a subaqueous slope failure occurred nearby during excavation for a new LASH terminal (Failure of Underwater Slope in San Francisco Bay, in Journal of Soil Mech & Fdns Div v.99:SM9, Sept 1973). These assessments brought to light the need for simplified procedures to evaluate slope stability and settlement. Duncan and Buchignani prepared two manuals published by Berkeley’s Institute of Transportation & Traffic Engineering in the Department of Civil Engineering: An Engineering Manual for Slope Stability Studies (released in March 1975); and An Engineering Manual for Settlement Studies (released in June 1976). Professor Duncan re-published both manuals in October 1987, after he had moved to Virginia Tech. These manuals had a significant impact on the state-of-the-practice for geotechnical engineering in the SF Bay/Delta region for the next few decades, frequently being referenced in reports and cited as standards in peer reviews by governing agencies and boards.

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 ( was formed in 2001, to pool resources and disseminates GHAD-related documents, such as police best practices, white papers, 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 (

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.
USGS Landslide Hazard mapping in the S.F. Bay Area (1980-94)

During the 1980s and into the 90s the USGS Engineering Geology and Regional Geology Branches continued to prepare relevant products addressing landslide hazards in the S.F. Bay Area, some of these being published in the 1982 storms volume, Professional Paper 1434, while other articles have appeared in other Survey publications, such as D.K. Keefer and A.M. Johnson. 1983, Earth Flows: Morphology, Mobilization, and Movement: USGS Professional Paper 1264, 56 p. Other articles have appeared in GSA Reviews in Engineering Geology Volumes (discussed later) and occasionally, in Field Guides (W.M. Brown, III, ed., 1989, Landslides in Central California: 28th Int’l Geol Congress, Field Trip Guidebook T381, Washington, D.C., 98 p.). Other Survey efforts of these decade were focused on a establishing debris flow thresholds (S.H. Cannon and S. Ellen, 1985, Abundant Debris Avalanches: California Geology, v. 38:12 [December], p. 267-272); debris flow hazard warning program in the Santa Cruz Mountains (see D.K. Keefer, et al, 1987, Real-Time landslide warning During Heavy Rainfall: Science, v. 238 [Nov 13] p. 921-925); techniques for reducing landslides (W.J. Kockelman, Some Techniques for Reducing landslide hazards: AEG Bulletin, v. 23:1, p. 29-52); and long-term monitoring and instrumentation of a landslide test site established by USGS geological engineer Gerry Wieczorek in La Honda in 1975.

These reconnaissance-level map products contain information on a gross scale (usually 1” = 2000 feet) that can be useful in initial attempts to understand basic structure and stratigraphy sufficiently to model things like seismic site response. However, information taken from older publications should be cross-checked with the latest available information from sources such as the USGS, where new interpretations of gross structure have been revealed over the past few years, especially in regards to the cognizance of blind thrusting and construction of balanced structural geologic cross sections. For example, in 1994 Russ Graymer, Davey Jones, Earl Brabb and Ed Helley released a new edition of Preliminary Geologic Map of the Niles 7.5 minute Quadrangle as USGS OFR 94-132, on 3 sheets. This map is typical of the new generation of reconnaissance-level geologic maps, which include interpretations of geologic structure, blind thrusting and stratigraphic nomenclature not formerly recognized, that are quite different from the baseline products released in the 1970s.
Workmanship Guidelines – Contractors State License Board of California (1982)

In November 1982 the Contractor State License Board (CSLB) prepared a 35-page document titled “Workmanship Guidelines,”which may never have been officially adopted by the CSLB, but existed nevertheless. The “guideline provides suggestions for voluntary tolerance levels for construction work for the first year of ownership unless the contractor provides additional warranties.” The CSLB Workmanship Guidelines included sections pertaining to Excavation and Backfill, Site Drainage, Septic Tank Systems, Waterproofing, Concrete work, Gypsum Wall Board, Framing, Landscaping, Masonry, Stucco, Painting, Plumbing, Roofs, Weather Stripping and Seals, etc. These include acceptable tolerances for minimum slope to drain, out-of-levelness for floors, and plumbness of walls, etc. For each category the guidelines list “common deficiencies,” “acceptable tolerances,” and “contractor responsibility.” These tolerances have been cited in numerous construction claims in California.

Geotechnical Engineer title act (1986)

During the mid-1980s the Soil and Foundation Engineers Association (SAFEA) of California lobbied the State Legislature to enact the Geotechnical Engineer Title Act in 1986, sponsored by State Senator Leroy Green, SE, a licensed structural engineer. SAFEA’s aim was to bring geotechnical engineers up on par with structural engineers, by offering a specialty license. The ‘title act’ does not preclude professional engineers from practicing geotechnical engineering, only from calling themselves ‘geotechnical engineers.’ Geotechnical engineers are normally identified by the initials “GE” behind their name. During the first year (1986-87) 930 engineers received the GE title by grandfathering (GE numbers 001 thru 931). These individuals had to demonstrate that they had worked at least four years in geotechnical engineering after having received their professional engineering licenses, prior to October 1, 1986. The first 8-hour Geotechnical Engineer examination was administered in April 1987, and these GE registration numbers begin with GE #2000, going forward. The GE title remains the only legal recognition of geotechnical engineers in the United States.

California Building Code (1988)

The California Building Code (CBC) was approved and incorporated into the UBC in 1988. It was simply the UBC with the addition of California’s more stringent seismic design parameters, as determined by the California Building Standards Commission (CBSC). The CBSC reviews and approves building standards proposed and adopted by state agencies, Administers California's building code adoption processes, resolves conflict, duplication, and overlap in building standards. Almost every municipality in California uses the CBC, while a few entities use a more conservative version (e.g. San Francisco uses their own San Francisco Building Code).

California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) in 1991

The California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) was created executive order in 1991, following a "Big Green" initiative by Governor Pete Wilson, establishing a cabinet-level agency to oversee state environmental regulations and research. Following inter-agency reorganizations, it became a cabinet department in July 1991. Cal/EPA is composed of six departments, boards and offices responsible for environmental research, regulating and administering the state's environmental protection programs, and fulfilling hazardous waste cleanup. These departments include: California Air Resources Board; Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR); Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC); Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment; and the State Water Resources Control Board (WRCB); and California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), which replaced the California Integrated Waste Management Board in 2010.

Natural Resources & Conservation Service (1995)

In 1995 Congress reorganized the Department of Agriculture. The Soil Conservation Service was re-designated as the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and within each County the NRCS office was co-located with a Consolidated Farm Service Agency (formerly the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service) office. County soil survey reports are usually available at no charge from these offices, though many counties only offer poor quality machine copies. A comprehensive listing of soils reports was compiled by the California Geological Survey: An Index to Soil Surveys in California. This is available from the Department of Conservation and it lists every report of any length, by county, dating back to 1900.

International Building Code (1997)

The International Code Council (ICC) is based in falls Church, VA. It was formed in 1994 by combining the three model American building codes published by the Building Officials Code Administrators (BOCA), founded in 1915; the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), found in 1927; and the Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI), founded in 1940. The ICC produced the first edition of their International Building Code (IBC) in 1997, intended to be the new national standard for the United States. The 1997 IBC was based on the 1997 Uniform Building Code (UBC), but without the Chapter 33 Appendices for Excavation & Grading (these amendments are part of the California Building Code). Amendments to the new IBC were issued in 2000, 2003, 2006, and 2009. Forty-seven (47) states including Washington, DC, the U.S Department of Defense, and the National Park Service, had adopted the IBC or parts of it into government regulations by 2009. Local building code officials mainly regulate the enforcement of the IBC.

Increased funding for A-P Earthquake Fault Zone mapping (2014)

On June 30, 2014 Governor Jerry Brown approved $1.49 million for fault hazard zone mapping, with $1.3 million in annual dedicated funding for this same activity by the California Geological Survey (CGS). This increase came after the CGS witnessed its annual funding dropping from $9.1 million in 2001 to just $2.9 million in 2013. The legislation was sponsored by State Senator Ted Lieu of Torrance, concerned that the CGS was unable to complete ongoing studies of the Santa Monica and Hollywood faults, as well as portions of the Whittier and San Andreas faults. CGS’s inability to prepare such maps were impacting projects in those areas of west Los Angeles County. These funds represent a 30% increase in CGS’s annual budget and allowed them to hire three new engineering geologists to help prepare the A-P Zone hazard maps.

Notable boards and expert panels conveened in Northern California
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