Geotech Peer Review: Start Early or Face Delays

Geotech review

At the outset of any new construction, addition, alteration or retrofit of an existing structure, the design team should identify whether the project is in soft soil and/or liquefaction zones, as defined by the California Seismic Hazard Zone Map; or in another zone requiring additional review such as the Slope Protection Zone or Maher Zone. These projects can be subject to “peer review” even when the project is designed to the prescriptive provisions of the San Francisco Building Code (SFBC). Review may include one or more of the following disciplines: Structural Engineering; Geotechnical Engineering; Site-Specific Seismic Hazard Assessment; Earthquake Ground Motion Selection and Scaling.

For a Project incorporating exceptions to the prescriptive provisions of the SFBC, the review also includes advising the plan check Supervisor whether the design aspects in the scope of the review satisfy the requirements of SFBC 2016 Section 104.11 (“Alternative materials, design and methods”) or other requirements or criteria identified in the scope of the review.

Each third party reviewer shall be selected by SFDBI based on their qualifications as applicable to the project and considering availability relative to the project schedule. SFDBI may consult with the Project Sponsor, the Engineer of Record, or others before selecting the reviewer(s), however the final selection is from a pre-approved list and is the sole discretion of SFDBI.  Thus it is critical that the engineering team schedule a pre-application meeting as early in the design process as possible specifically to discuss and identify who the Department will select as the reviewer; and for how many disciplines. 

When the process is running smoothly, contracts take two – three months to be issued so that review can begin; currently the annual budget for this program has been exceeded, thus the City finance department is experiencing an additional unanticipated delay in issuing new contracts until the City works through the process of allocating funding to the budget for this program. Although the cost is ultimately handled as a pass through to the project sponsor, the finance department is unable to issue a contract until the budget allocation (currently under review by the Union and City Attorney) is approved. 

For more in-depth details on this program and the project characteristics considered by SFDBI for determination of whether a review is required, please review AB-082 Guidelines and Procedures for Structural, Geotechnical, and Seismic Hazard Engineering Design Review; as well as AB-083 which outlines the Requirements and Guidelines for the Seismic Design of New Tall Buildings using Non-Prescriptive Seismic-Design Procedures. These administrative bulletins can be found at

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP  Permit Consulting Manager, Gillian Allen

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient. Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein. Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm. We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law. We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.