of the

by Henry H. Neel, May 1979

(Reprinted with permission of Executive Secretary,
California State Board of Geologists and Geophysicists)

The first registration act which indirectly affected geologists in California was the Civil Engineer's Act of 1929. This was enacted in a wake of disastrous failure of the San Francisquito Dam in 1928. The definition of "Civil Engineering" in the Act includes "...the investigation of the laws, phenomena and forces of nature". This in itself is a pretty good definition of geology; and is the basis for some of the conflicts existing between engineers and geologists because the wording is such that many civil engineers have accepted it to mean that they are privileged to practice geology as well as civil engineering.

In 1947 the Civil Engineers and Land Surveyors Registration Act was enlarged to include "Civil and Professional Engineers". This included several other engineering disciplines besides civil engineering. Of particular interest to the geologists was the inclusion of Petroleum Engineering. Unfortunately, the definition of petroleum engineering included among other things "the use and interpretation of electric logs and the construction of subsurface contour maps". Although this was a "title" act which would only restrict geologists from using the title of Petroleum Engineer but not restrict their practice of petroleum engineering, it still placed a cloud over the status of the geologist. Many oil companies were concerned that without registration the testimony of geologists would not be accepted in court. For this reason they requested that their geologists seek registration as Petroleum Engineers so their legal status would not be jeopardized. Fortunately because of a rather lenient grandfather clause, most Petroleum Geologists, who used electric logs and constructed subsurface contour maps as a matter of course, had little or no difficulty in obtaining registration as Petroleum Engineers.

The history of geologists' registration in California had its basis in the very heavy rainfall winter of 1951-52 which caused many disastrous landslides and mudslides in Southern California and particularly within the City of Los Angeles. These slides were the result of extensive excavation which had been done for housing developments in hilly areas, Principally of the Santa Monica mountains, during the post-war housing boom. The City wisely recognized that there was not an adequate ordinance in the City of Los Angeles, or anywhere else for that matter, to control the practices of excavation and grading, particularly for housing development. It therefore wrote a grading ordinance, which was adopted in 1952, aimed at the regulation of these practices. This ordinance was probably the first such ordinance written in the United States, if not in the world. Among other things, it required that a geologic opinion must be obtained in the event that the City Building and Safety Department felt that the area presented any sort of geologic hazard. This was one of the first, if not the first, legal recognition of the role which geologists should play in any sort of activity involving geologic phenomena. Prior to this time the problem of geologic hazards had been handled principally by civil engineers, with a few notable exceptions where geologists were given the responsibility for landslide and other slope problems. In even rarer instances were the geologists given authority in such matters, since usually they worked under the direction of and frequently at the whim of civil engineers.

The sudden demand for engineering geologists created by the Los Angeles building ordinance of 1952 unfortunately produced quite a few "geologists" who were unqualified for the work. Some of these were qualified petroleum, mining or groundwater geologists who, although they had excellent training in their fields, had no training or experience in regard to engineering problems. Even worse were those civil engineers and others who had a smattering of geologic education and very shallow experience and could write a reasonable sounding report and sign it as a geologist.

This situation brought forth the realization that although the requirement for geological opinions on all questionable grading projects was far better than had existed prior to the passage of the ordinance, it still left a good deal to be desired. It was recognized that some method must be adopted to assure that geological opinions were expressed by qualified people rather than incompetents. For this reason an Engineering Geologists Qualification Board was established by the City of Los Angeles in 1957. The purpose of this Board was to review the qualifications of those geologists practising engineering geology in the City of Los Angeles and to establish a list of those whose reports would be accepted by the City Department of Building and Safety.

The City of Los Angeles Engineering Geologists Qualification Board did a very creditable job of establishing qualifications and giving both written and oral examinations to those geologists desiring to practice engineering geology in the City. This served satisfactorily for the City of Los Angeles but did not provide for outlying areas and other governmental entities. As a result, the County of Los Angeles followed suit and established its own grading ordinance and Geologists Qualification Board in 1959. An interesting note as to the relative position of civil engineers and geologists can be seen in the makeup of the Los Angeles County Engineering Geologist Qualification Board which, as late as 1965, consisted of four civil engineers and only three geologists. This condition was due in part, to the fact that the profession of Civil Engineering was recognized by the State of California and civil engineers had proper legal status, whereas the profession of geology was not recognized by the State and geologists had little or no recognition or status either in the courts or elsewhere. As an example, in 1964 the writer had his testimony as a geologist challenged in a court case involving purely petroleum exploration matters and was only able to get said testimony accepted after producing evidence of registration as a Petroleum Engineer.

The result of the City of Los Angeles and the County of Los Angeles each having its own Geologists Qualification Board led to the absurd circumstance where some geologists were authorized to practice within the City and not in the County of Los Angeles and others could practice in the County but not in the City.

Following the establishment of the ordinances requiring geological input in Los Angeles City and County, there was a proliferation of similar ordinances and boards in other parts of the state. In all, approximately 20 or more local geologist qualification boards were established in California.

Some of the other political entities were in favour of regulating geological practices but were not sufficiently energetic about it to establish their own qualification boards. They elected to accept some other city or county list of geologists to determine who could practice in their own county. The ultimate in absurdity arose when a prominent consultant in Santa Barbara could not practice in his own county because he was not included on the Los Angeles County list of qualified engineering geologists. The examination given by the Los Angeles county Engineering Geologists Qualification Board very properly required a knowledge of the geology of Los Angeles County but not of Santa Barbara County. The geologist in question was thoroughly qualified in his own county where he wished to practice but was not sufficiently knowledgeable about the details of Los Angeles County geology to be accepted on the Los Angeles County list.

In the late 1950's and early 1960's engineering geologists became disturbed by the salary and job status inequities between themselves and Civil Engineers with whom they closely worked; by the growing number of county and city ordinances regarding engineering geologists; and the lack of legal standing of geologists in general.

Through the California Association of Engineering Geologists which was formed in 1958 (later to become nationwide as the A.E.G.) these engineering geologists introduced Senate Bill No. 1349 (Rodda) in April of 1963. This was a "practice" bill aimed at the registering of engineering geologists under the Civil and Professional Engineers Board. The definition of engineering geology was broadly drawn and among other things included groundwater and underwater fluids, so that many geologists other than engineering geologists would be affected. Since it was a practice act rather than a "title" act, it would not only have prevented Petroleum Geologists from calling themselves Engineering Geologists but it would have prevented them from working at their own profession involving underground fluids. The registration requirements, including the grandfather clause, was so written as to exclude all except experienced engineering geologists. It took seven months for the rest of the profession to awaken, to what was going on but the Sacramento Petroleum Association finally sounded a warning to its membership and other societies in November, 1963.

The San Joaquin Geological Society studied the bill and in December of 1963 recommended that S.B. 1349 be opposed. It also daringly recommended that a bill to register all geologists be prepared, and suggested that an inter-society committee be formed to prepare a bill; and further suggested that the American Institute of Professional Geologists, which at that time was only three weeks old, be consulted on the matter and possibly take on the task of coordination. As a result of further study by A.I.P.G. and the S.J.G.S., the original bill was amended and presented to the Senate Business and Professional Study Committee along with statements from various societies. As a result, S.B. 1349 was tabled.

On March 29th, 1965 Senator Short, Chairman of the Senate Business and Professions Committee, introduced S.B. 871 with Senator Rodda as co-author. This was a crude attempt to broaden S.B. 1349 (1963) to register all geologists under their own board. While the scope was expanded, the other parts of the bill remain almost identical to those in the earlier bill and in this form it was unworkable. Over the next several weeks of prodigious effort on the part of S.J.G.S., A.I.P.G. and others, the bill was drastically amended and delivered to Senator Short on May 10th, 1965. Senator Short accepted the amendments in their entirety and 871 became an A.I.P.G. bill.

S.B. 871 passed the Senate but was later amended in the Assembly to give the Director of Professional Vocational Standards nearly dictatorial control over registration. This could not be accepted by A.I.P.G., A.A.P.G., A.E.G., and S.J.G.S. and they successfully opposed the bill.

During 1966 a bill was drawn to establish an "Institute of California Geologists" patterned after the Engineering and Related Professions Act of Alberta and other similar acts under which the profession would be chartered or incorporated to regulate itself. This attained its final form December 16th, 1966 as a joint A.I.P.G. - A.E.G. model bill. This was a good bill but that is as far as it ever got.

It was known in the early fall of 1966 that both the City and County of Los Angeles were getting fed up with being in the geologists registration business and were going to work for a statewide geologists regulation bill in 1967. One of the recommendations of the "Committee on the Geological Environment in the City of Los Angeles", August 25th, 1966, which was established at the request of Mayor Sam Yorty, appointed by National A.I.P.G. President Martin Van Couvering and chaired by Richard H. Jahns of Stanford University, was that "The Engineering Geologist Qualification Board should be dissolved..." and that "If this recommendation were translated into action the City of Los Angeles would no longer be assuming local responsibility for registering, qualifying, or certifying geologists in a field that is extraordinarily difficult to define. In our view, regulation of some kind is highly desirable for professional geologists as a whole, and such regulation should be introduced at state level. We recommend, therefore, that the City's 1967 legislative program encourage introduction of a bill in the State Legislature (preferably the Assembly) that would provide for the chartering of geologists on a professionalized basis. Chartering of geologists as a public corporation is the preferred alternative to a program of direct registration, which in 1963 and 1965 failed to win the legislature's approval."

This led to high hopes that we might be able to establish a chartering bill. However, in late January, February and March of 1967, a subcommittee of the Los Angeles City Council conducted hearings which, among other things, dealt with state wide regulation of geologists. Although incorporation or chartering was supported by most organizations, it was opposed vocally by a very small number of Los Angeles area engineering geologists, and as a result the Los Angeles City Council Committee voted on March 16th, 1967 to submit and support a statewide geologists registration bill.

A draft registration bill was prepared by A.I.P.G. based on S.B. 871 (1965) revised, and incorporating many features from the defunct "Institute of California Geologists Act", (December 1966). This draft with minor revisions became S.B. 1493 (1967) (Rodda). When introduced April 11th, 1967 this bill was supported by A.A.P.G., A.I.P.G. and A.E.G. It was pushed by those organizations and the Los Angeles City lobby. It was passed in the Senate but in the Assembly it was amended at the last minute to place the geologist registration under the Board of Civil and Professional Engineers. A.E.G. and the City of Los Angeles continued to support the bill in this form. However, A.I.P.G. and A.A.P.G. opposed it strenuously and effectively prevented its passage on August 6th, 1967.

On January 13th, 1968 Assemblyman Bill Ketchum volunteered to introduce an updated version of S.B. 1493 providing for registration under a Board of Geologists. This information was sent to the legislative committee chairman of A.A.P.G., S.J.G.S., A.E.G. and to A.I.P.G.

S.B. 1943 (1967) was updated and introduced as AB 600 (1968) (Ketchum) on February 19th, 1968. This bill was subsequently passed and, other than for minor revisions to perfect the bill, it is that in effect today.

At the insistence of the A.E.G. and the City of Los Angeles, the bill includes specialty certification of engineering geologists. Specialty certification was not requested or desired by any other geological specialties.

Toward the end of the campaign a very interesting but alarming development underlined the necessity for regulation to eliminate the rascals from the profession. A flood of telegrams, letters and telephone calls began to come in to several legislators on committees or in other positions which could influence the fate of the bill.

These were all signed by fictitious names, in many instances cleverly contrived by using the first name of one well known geologist combined with the last name of another. As the scheme progressed the perpetrators became more desperate and started using the first and last names of actual geologists with a different middle initial. The ultimate came when they actually forged in its entirety the name of one of the top officials in the California Division of Mines and Geology.

At the same time telephone calls were received from people purporting to represent governmental bodies and in at least one instance the call was actually charged to the telephone number of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

There was a liberal use of organization names which were so close to actual names as to indicate they were intentionally misleading, as for example The American Geological Society.

This prompted some of the National Societies to join forces and retain a well known firm of private investigators to try to apprehend the perpetrators. Our investigation, although it produced some very interesting results, did not develop evidence sufficient for criminal prosecution. Before it ended it became obvious that there were a significant number of unqualified charlatans who were so fearful of regulation that they were willing to perform outright criminal acts in order to defeat the bill.

In the end this fracas was probably all to the good. It certainly convinced those geologists and legislators who harbored any doubts as to whether or not such regulatory legislation was needed. And it so incensed many of the legislators to think that anyone could take them for such fools that they swung to the side of regulation immediately.

Subsequently the geophysicists who had declined to associate with the geologists in seeking registration from the outset, actively sought and with the aid of the geologists, were successful in amending the code to include geophysicists in registration.