State regulators have routinely failed to enforce California’s landmark earthquake safety law for public schools, allowing children and teachers to occupy buildings with structural flaws and potential safety hazards reported during construction.
Top management with the Division of the State Architect – the chief regulator of school construction – for years did nothing about nearly 1,100 building projects that its own supervisors had red-flagged. Safety defects were logged and then filed away without follow-up from the state.
California law requires the state architect’s office to enforce the Field Act – seismic regulations enacted nearly 80 years ago. The law is considered a gold standard of school construction. It requires state oversight to assure professional engineering and quality control from the early design phase to the first day of classes.
These regulators are granted “the police power of the state” over the construction of public schools.
But over the last two decades, enforcement of the Field Act has been plagued with bureaucratic chaos, a California Watch investigation has found. Tens of thousands of children attend schools without the required Field Act certification.
Documents show uncertified schools with missing wall anchors, dangerous lights poised above children, poor welding, slipshod emergency exits for disabled students and malfunctioning fire alarms. These problems were reported by district school inspectors and state field supervisors and then lost in a swamp of paperwork.