REGISTRATION OF GEOLOGISTS IN CALIFORNIA
by Henry H. Neel, May 1979
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.