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Letters-October 2007

October 1, 2007
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Technology Benchmark
June 2007

I have read your article and have sympathy for the engineers and surveyors who lose business because of new practices by construction companies. I have been involved with takeoffs and/or modeling since the late ‘80s; I started on the grading contractor side as a grade checker and have worked on the engineering/surveying side as a designer draftsman and survey party chief. I currently work as an estimator/PM for a grading contractor in southern California. I have had an LSIT since 1994 and been formally educated through a surveying program at a local college.

One of my duties here is to ensure quality control of models for GPS grade checking and machine control. We have an LS/PE on staff for oversight, and do believe it is a necessary practice when the quality of engineering does not exist and if civil interpretation is needed, or if control is needed that is not being provided due to the lack of cooperation from the site surveyor or engineer.

As far as a professional service that offers models to be prepared for contractors, oversight should be with someone licensed if done out of house. However, GPS is nothing more than technology. Would this apply to the use of a scale on a set of plans and a laser? The means and methods of each contractor vary as well as each software package. A generic model of the site may not be what a contractor wants at all. Models based on activities of work and confinements/restrictions based on a contract between the owner and the contractor play a part in how a model is derived. I really don’t believe an LS who builds a model for construction will relieve the risk and liability of a contractor who uses that model. Most models will undergo manipulation in the field to be useful.

Some sort of standard needs to be implemented that will meet the needs of each project. Many engineers produce CAD drawings in which the linework should not be considered engineered and is very ambiguous and subject to interpretation. Perhaps we need an ANSI standard that certifies points and methods passed from engineer to surveyor to contractor, and monitored by the owner or anyone responsible for the contract or for quality control of the project.

As technology moves forward and more machines become integrated as a single entity working together on the site, surveyors and out-of-house data prep services will be used less and in-house management will be necessary. An onsite tech who knows how to model as well as implement GPS will be needed. Some sort of structure will be needed so that work practices and methods done by a contractor will be acceptable to the surveyor of record, and vice versa.

Jon Neville
California

I couldn’t agree more that engineers and surveyors [who] want to work in data prep should have construction experience. Individuals [who] don’t understand earthwork and grading have no business preparing DTMs for projects. I do think that requiring a licensed person to supervise preparation of the models is absolutely necessary, to protect the client or project owner and the contractor. It’s unfortunate that many designers have no clue about the quality requirements of their site designs as construction tools.

In my business, I compete against many other engineers and contractors for design work. There are a number of good software packages that can create an excellent DTM; however, some firms don’t understand the power of the system and just draw contours using the computer the same as they did with a scale, calculator and pen.

The simple fact is that most owners buy design services based on price or reputation. They really don’t appreciate the work that goes into the translation of a “picture” into a project on the ground. Just like certain surveyors/engineers do not provide quality stakeout, they will not produce a quality DTM. As long as the contractor creates takeoffs and models as an overhead expense, the owner will never appreciate that preparing the data for construction costs him money. But, just being able to afford the software and manipulate the data doesn’t guarantee quality. I have 30-plus years of mixed experience in surveying, design and construction, but the marketplace governs my ability to get work, including data prep.

I say “yes” to requiring licenses, but perhaps a specialized license should be required. Keep provoking the discussion.

William W. Witman, PE
Pennsylvania

Editor’s Note:

Jeff Lucas’ August column “Jousting at windmills--again” has received some lengthy responses. In an effort to recognize these perspectives while not occupying our entire Letters section, we have placed these responses exclusively on our Web site. Also read the September “Letters” section for a note from Jeff Lucas about “unpublished” cases like the one cited in August, Knerr v. Mauldin.

Traversing the Law
August 2007

The column in the August 2007 issue of POB, “Traversing the Law - Jousting at windmills-again,” by Jeffery Lucas, reviewed an unpublished 2006 California Appellate Court case, Knerr v Mauldin (Knerr). The California Land Surveyors Association (CLSA) hopes to provide the following pertinent information in the proper context for your readers’ clarification.

CLSA AMICUS CURIÆ BRIEF - CLSA understands that the rhetorical question of whether CLSA …”never read this case?” - or any other case cited in its brief – is drama, certainly useful in a court of law or for increasing readership. CLSA did not, as was suggested in the column, leave it “up to their attorneys.” Be assured that CLSA’s participation in Knerr was well thought out and certainly not an incredible jump into the fray. Nor did CLSA categorically support the “…methodology employed by Knerr’s surveyor….” As described, CLSA did in fact submit an amicus curiæ brief on behalf of the plaintiff. It was with some trepidation that CLSA weighed in on anyone’s behalf (plaintiff/appellant OR defendant/respondent). As the column clearly demonstrates, an amicus brief is likely perceived as wholly in support of the arguments, positions and actions of the parties for whom the brief is filed. But the opportunity to file an “unaffiliated” brief was unavailable. Here, in Knerr, it was one core issue that CLSA deemed important enough to have the courts understand and for which it felt the effort of an amicus brief was warranted. After a lengthy review of all the transcripts, all the exhibits, all the related maps and understanding the nuances such boundary disputes contain (as fully as is possible) by many surveyors licensed in California, CLSA drafted the amicus curiæ brief and chose the supporting references. Only then was the brief reviewed for form and completeness by lawyers experienced in appellate and supreme court case work.

THE CORE ISSUE - The premise that CLSA felt was important to have the courts understand was that recovered, verified, original monuments that control the exterior boundary of a protracted subdivision of land (that is, no original interior monuments were ever set), should supersede non-original monuments set at the corners of the interior lots by later surveys. There was not even the benefit of a record showing how some of these subsequent interior lot monuments were ever set. The only claim to legitimacy made for these markers was that they bore the tag of a land surveyor who performed work in the area in the 1960’s.

To be sure, the other two issues that the CLSA amicus addressed to the Appellate Court were not relevant to this response or Mr. Lucas’ column. THOMPSON CITE – Mr. Lucas’ cite from State of California v Thompson (22 Cal.App.3d 368, 1971) would be relevant only if the “established monuments” are original. After he actually reads Thompson, he will find that the court referred to reestablishing section lines and that “A survey from the nearest established corner is least liable to error” (emphasis added). In Thompson, the nearest established corner was accepted unequivocally by both parties as an original corner of the government survey. Not so in Knerr. Those monuments had no ties to the original survey and had no credible record of how they were established.

In Knerr, some of the older existing interior monuments within the Chatsworth Lake View Annex (Chatsworth) subdivision were set, possibly in the late 1960’s, without benefit of a map showing how they were set or the relationship they bore to the exterior of the tract. Subsequent surveys relied on them simply because they have been there for years. While such non-original monuments may be the reason a particular lot is located in a particular place and speak to issues of occupation or possession, they may or may not truly represent the original title lines as described on the Chatsworth map. It was this issue that CLSA needed the courts to understand. Apparently, neither the Trial Court nor the Appellate Court actually did. The courts seized upon the premise of a nearby “established” monument controlling local surveys, without qualification as to how that nearby monument was “established.”

ORIGINAL SURVEYOR– Mr. Lucas confuses public lands, surveyed at the direction of the Surveyor General, with creation of a private subdivision. True, the first surveyor to lay out a township may be followed by other original surveyors who subdivide, either in whole or in part, the township and/or specific sections.

To suggest that the “original” surveyor for the (protracted) Chatsworth lots is he who first sets monuments is novel. Perhaps there could be 781 “original” surveyors for each of the 781 lots.

In Knerr, there was indeed an original surveyor: T.S. Davy, an engineer, who, in 1926, surveyed only the exterior of the boundary of the Chatsworth property, and then protracted (drew) the interior lots on the map, a lamentably common custom during that era. The exterior boundary of Chatsworth was tied to a marker (S-10) on a county line at an angle on the boundary of a rancho (a Spanish land grant similar to those in Mr. Lucas’ licensure state of Alabama), and was clearly labeled on the map. This was not “…apparently a quarter section or section corner…” as stated in the article. The S-10 marker was one of the few monuments used to control the entire boundary of the Chatsworth subdivision! Location of this, and other supportable monuments would be mandatory as part of the reestablishment and retracement of the Chatsworth exterior boundary.

SUMMARY - To condense the many issues in this case relevant to the CLSA brief, almost to the point of oversimplification, consider the question: When performing a land survey to determine title location of a client’s lot, would you use the nearest found, unrecorded, unjustified, non-original marker(s) without ties to the exterior of the tract to control the lot’s location, OR would you first reestablish the exterior of the tract as shown on the original map, then reestablish the lot location within that tract and then mark the lot’s location on the ground and show that location vis-à-vis occupation, possession or other conflicting issues?

CLSA finds some relief that the Knerr case was not certified for publication. The “grab a pipe and go” approach to boundary resolution is becoming far too common, and publication of Knerr would have given an authority for such practice. As Mr. Lucas posits, it is important to see the forest, but the approach of cutting down all the trees until one finds the tree that suits one’s purposes, CLSA feels is a mistake.

Steven Shambeck, PLS
2007 President, CLSA

The ideas and opinions expressed by our readers do not necessarily reflect those of POB. Send your thoughts to the editor at hohnerl@bnpmedia.com.  

I am the land surveyor who is the subject of Mr. Jeffery Lucas’ article entitled “Traversing the Law-Jousting at windmills-again” that appeared in POB’s August 2007 magazine. I’m quite sure he has never seen my surveys regarding this matter. Mr. Lucas said in his article about court opinions that: “such opinions often lack in detail leaving much to the imagination.” I would like to give Mr. Lucas and your readers the surveying details of this case so they can judge for themselves.

In fairness to me, I certainly would appreciate POB informing its readers through its website and its September 2007 issue that Mr. Lucas and POB are going to review the surveys in the Knerr case and then address the Knerr case in a subsequent article. Please also tell your readers that I welcome a review of my surveys and I will be happy to cooperate. I think your readers will be most interested in how I arrived at my opinions about the location of the interior boundary lines in this 1926 tract map. I would like to have the opportunity to make lemonade out of the lemons handed to me.

Stephen M. Hughey, PLS, PhD

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