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A USGS land survey bench mark in Southern California
Protecting Land Survey Monuments
Highlights:

+  The cost benefits of saving land survey monuments
+  How to protect survey monuments on your construction project
+  Understanding and staying in compliance with California state law
Why land survey monuments are important to protect

1. What is a land survey monument?
2. What do survey monuments look like?
3. Where does one find survey monuments?
4. Why are land survey monuments so important?

The essential role survey monuments play in California

5. What is the legal significance of a land survey monument?
6. Why is it important to protect "original monuments"?
7. Why is it so crucial to perpetuate monuments?

Destruction of survey monuments

8. How do survey monuments get destroyed?
9. What are the cost benefits of saving survey monuments?

How to protect survey monuments on your construction project

10. Preservation? Conservation? Perpetuation? Which is which?
11. How can I protect survey monuments?
12. Who can perpetuate monuments?
13. How does the process work?

Complying with California state law

14. What does the law say about survey monuments?
15. Who is responsible to protect survey monuments?
16. What documentation is required?
17. What does the State Board of Registration say?

Excerpts from California law relating to monument conservation

18. Business & Professions Code (Professional Land Surveyors Act)
     - §8725. Necessity of license 
     - §8771 Record of survey - monumentation
19. Penal Code §605
20. Government Code §27581


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Why land survey monuments are important to protect

1. What is a land survey monument?

A survey monument is a marker that defines a geographic position on the face of the earth. It is tangible evidence of the location of a boundary, corner or other survey point. The monument is a physical point upon the ground - something you can see and touch. A boundary survey monument is fixed permanently in land and referred to in a legal description or map identifying the land.


2. What do survey monuments look like?

Survey monuments come in all sizes and shapes and can have vastly different physical properties. Most don't look like the classic USGS brass cap depicted above. A monument can be a brass disc drilled into concrete, a spike & washer set in asphalt, an iron pipe buried vertically in the ground, an ancient wooden stake, a notched stone monument, a venerable oak bearing tree, even the vestiges of an ancient dilapidated fence that indicates long-standing occupation. There are many varieties. It takes the research skills, experience, and judgment of a Professional Land Surveyor to determine whether a point in the ground is a land survey monument that is protected by California state law.


3. Where does one find survey monuments?

Professional Land Surveyors have left their marks on the land at every place in California, including atop Mt. Whitney. Thousands of survey monuments are all around us, but they can be hard to spot. They may be buried underground, or hidden by existing improvements or vegetation. Many monuments are hidden beneath city streets; agency repaving projects have obscured thousands of critically important monuments over the decades. 


4. Why are land survey monuments so important?

Survey monuments define points and lines on the land that are essential to the orderly operation of society. All the structures that humans construct on the earth have a dimensional relationship to survey monuments:

   Real property rights
  • A property corner establishing real estate ownership between private land holdings
  • The centerline and sidelines of a street and highway right-of-ways
  • An angle point in an easement or other property right

   Infrastructure
  • The location of buried utilities (e.g. water lines, high pressure gas lines, oil lines, etc.)
  • The underground location of critical infrastructure (e.g. a flood control storm drain, etc.)
  • Positioning control for the construction of new facilities (e.g. buildings, highways, bridges, etc.)

   Measuring the earth
  • A benchmark of known vertical elevation (essential for determining areas subject to flooding)
  • A geodetic control monument having a precisely determined position of latitude and longitude
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The essential role survey monuments play in society

5. What is the legal significance of land survey monuments?

Survey monuments play a crucial role in land ownership and are fundamental in protecting real property rights.


6. Why is it important to protect "original monuments"?

In the United States, statutory law and case law have both embraced the precept of "following in the footsteps of the original surveyor", an elegant idea promoted by Thomas Jefferson and his contemporaries. Enlightened and forward-thinking, our third president established the policy that a monument placed in the ground during the establishment of the original public land survey system (the PLSS) would forever hold as paramount evidence of the property corner, regardless of subsequent refinements in measurement. It was eminently practical; an inspired concept that has served America well for over two hundred years. 

Since statehood in 1850, California's Professional Land Surveyors have worked diligently to leave a legacy of durable property monuments, landmarks that help to ensure that the people of our great state retain quiet enjoyment of their real property rights. It's a disappointing reflection of our times that modern society is so quick to destroy the fabric of cadastral infrastructure that our forefathers bequeathed to us.


7. Why is to so crucial to perpetuate monuments?

Survey monuments do more than simply act as place markers on the ground. They form a vital chain of evidence that licensed land surveyors rely on to determine the location of land owners' property lines. The historical pedigree of every land survey monument is critically important, because monuments in the ground are intricately linked to old maps of record, legal descriptions, title reports, plats, and field notes. Once that chain of evidence is broken, substantial additional costs and legal uncertainties are all but guaranteed. Here's how one famous author describes it:

In a lot and block description, subdivision monuments called for on the plat, or monuments set by others and know to perpetuate the position of the original monuments called for, if properly identified and undisturbed, control the position of the original lot lines [1].

[1] §12.10 Brown's Boundary Control and Legal Principals, Robillard, Wilson, 6th edition
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Destruction of survey monuments

8. How do survey monuments get destroyed?

Many monuments are destroyed by heavy equipment, often during construction projects:

  • Grading and earth moving for new development
  • Reconstruction, repaving and slurry-sealing of city streets
  • Excavations for utilities and pipelines in the public right of way

  • Repair and replacement of city sidewalks
  • Construction of ADA ramps
  • Digging of foundations for walls and fences


9. What are the cost benefits of saving survey monuments?

Taxpayer protection
Survey monuments defining public right-of-ways represent our tax dollars at work. Destruction of these critical points is inefficient and wasteful of public funds, which equals taxpayers' money. 

When an existing monument is destroyed, the cost to replace it increases dramatically. It costs much less to preserve a monument in place than it does to replace it after the fact. Replacing a monument after it is destroyed can cost 10 times the cost to protect it before it is destroyed (California Land Surveyors Association, 2011). The cost of that wanton destruction represents waste in government spending that is born by the taxpayer.

Protection of private property rights
Land owners make substantial investment in real estate when they pay to have the boundaries of their land surveyed. Destroying property survey monuments represents a taking of private property. Valuable evidence is lost forever. That cost is born by the private citizen.

Avoiding Liability
Survey monuments define property boundaries. Every government agency and contractor conducting construction has the legal obligation to protect all of the existing land survey monuments within the limits of their project. Public agencies, utility providers, contractors and others may be held liable for the consequences of destroying survey monuments. Mitigating this risk is easy - call a Professional Land Surveyor before you dig.
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How to protect survey monuments on your construction project

10. Preservation? Conservation? Perpetuation? Which is which?

There's some confusion regarding the terms associated with protecting land survey monuments. In the past, the idea of saving monuments from destruction was described as "survey monument preservation", and many land surveyors still refer to it as such. Section §8771 of the Professional Land Surveyors Act of the State of California Business & Professions Code uses the term "perpetuate".

In 2011, the California Land Surveyors Association published a brochure entitled Survey Monument Conservation - What Does It Mean to You? The brochure coined the term "survey monument conservation" to reflect a shift in thinking towards an ethos of conserving society's resources. 

A third term, "survey monument perpetuation", refers to the actual locating and referencing of survey monuments under the direction of a licensed land surveyor prior to the time of construction, and the resetting of new monuments after construction. See Section §8771of the PLS Act, below.

Finally, a highly regarded California land survey reference book, Evidence and Procedures for Boundary Location by Brown, Robillard & Wilson uses both the terms "preservation of evidence" and "perpetuation of evidence".

For the public, all of these terms refer to protecting land survey monuments, and they may be considered synonymous for most general purposes.


11. How can I protect survey monuments?

First and foremost, spend some time understanding your duties proscribed by state law. Read your project specifications carefully and have a frank conversation with the other project participants to determine who will assume responsibility for hiring the professional land surveyor. Make sure to hire an experienced, reputable surveyor - base your selection only after your careful evaluation of the surveyor's qualifications and expertise. 


12. Who can perpetuate monuments?

In California, survey monuments can only be referenced and reset by a Professional Land Surveyor or a civil engineer licensed prior to January 1, 1982, with a license number below C 33966. 


13. How does the process work?

A. The local agency, utility, or contractor hires a competent land surveyor prior to construction.

B. Prior to construction, the surveyor:
  • Researches all available maps and notes of record
  • Conducts a diligent search for all survey monuments within the project limits
  • References or "ties out" all monuments subject to disturbance or destruction
  • Prepares and files a Corner Record "A" with the County Surveyor's Office (or a Record of Survey, if required by law) depicting the location and character of the original found monuments before they were destroyed.

C. After construction, the surveyor:
  • Perpetuates the original monuments by setting new monuments in the newly built improvements
  • Prepares and files a Corner Record "B" depicting the location and character of the new monuments
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Complying with California state law

14. What does the law say about survey monuments?

California law [2] mandates that all land survey monuments be protected. Monument preservation must be conducted to perpetuate monuments in jeopardy of being destroyed due to planned construction on every public or private sector project. 

[2] State of California Business & Professions Code §8771 and §8725, Penal Code §605 and Government Code §27581


15. Who is responsible to protect Survey Monuments?

Under state law, governmental agencies and "those actually performing construction work" are jointly responsible to ensure that monuments are protected. Get out in front of the issues and ask questions about the survey monuments on your project before construction begins. 

If you are a contractor on a private or public project, speak up and ask whether the monuments in the construction limits have been perpetuated. If you are the project engineer with a governmental agency, you have the ethical and legal duty to ensure that adequate provisions for monument preservation have been addressed contractually and in the field.


16. What documentation is required?

A Corner Record or Record of Survey must be filed by a professional land surveyor in accordance with state law for each and every survey monument that has been impacted. 


17. What does the State Board of Registration say?

Monument preservation is currently a very hot topic of conversation in Sacramento. BPELS, the California State Board of Registration, is currently taking a hard look at the issues surrounding monument preservation.
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Excerpts from California laws relating to monument conservation

18. Professional Land Surveyors Act, State of California Business & Professions Code

§ 8771. Record of survey - monumentation 

...(b) When monuments exist that control the location of subdivisions, tracts, boundaries, roads, streets, or highways, or provide horizontal or vertical survey control, the monuments shall be located and referenced by or under the direction of a licensed land surveyor or registered civil engineer prior to the time when any streets, highways, other rights-of-way, or easements are improved, constructed, reconstructed, maintained, resurfaced, or relocated, and a corner record or record of survey of the references shall be filed with the county surveyor. They shall be reset in the surface of the new construction, a suitable monument box placed thereon, or permanent witness monuments set to perpetuate their location if any monument could be destroyed, damaged, covered, or otherwise obliterated, and a corner record or record of survey filed with the county surveyor prior to the recording of a certificate of completion for the project. Sufficient controlling monuments shall be retained or replaced in their original positions to enable property, right-of-way and easement lines, property corners, and subdivision and tract boundaries to be reestablished without devious surveys necessarily originating on monuments differing from those that currently control the area. It shall be the responsibility of the governmental agency or others performing construction work to provide for the monumentation required by this section. It shall be the duty of every land surveyor or civil engineer to cooperate with the governmental agency in matters of maps, field notes, and other pertinent records. Monuments set to mark the limiting lines of highways, roads, streets or right-of-way or easement lines shall not be deemed adequate for this purpose unless specifically noted on the corner record or record of survey of the improvement works with direct ties in bearing or azimuth and distance between these and other monuments of record. 


§8725. Necessity of license 

Any person practicing, or offering to practice, land surveying in this state shall submit evidence that he or she is qualified to practice and shall be licensed under this chapter. 

It is unlawful for any person to practice, offer to practice, or represent himself or herself, as a land surveyor in this state, or to set, reset, replace or remove any survey monument on land in which he or she has no legal interest, unless he or she has been licensed or specifically exempted from licensing under this chapter.


19. State of California Penal Code §605

Every person who either:
 1. Maliciously removes any monument erected for the purpose of designating any point in the boundary of any lot or tract of land, or a place where a subaqueous telegraph cable lies; or,
 2. Maliciously defaces or alters the marks upon any such monument; or,
 3. Maliciously cuts down or removes any tree upon which any such marks have been made for such purpose, with intent to destroy such marks; 
--Is guilty of a misdemeanor.


20. State of California Government Code §27581

All monuments located in public highways shall be placed with the top not less than 12 inches below the surface of the ground, but when not located in public highways, they shall be placed with the top six inches above the surface of the ground. If the top of the monument is placed above the ground and is of metal, it shall be not less than four feet long.
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Our Story
Our Clients
Selecting a Surveyor
Land Survey Info
When You Retain Us
Property Line Surveys

​About the Author:

Douglas Bell, PLS, is a Professional Land Surveyor licensed in four western states, and is a CFedS, a BLM Certified Federal Land Surveyor. He provides a range of property line, ALTA, boundary survey, topographic mapping, easement determination, encroachment investigation, and utility location services.

Mr. Bell provides land surveying services to engineers, architects, attorneys, and other land professionals in the private and public sectors in Southern California, primarily in Los Angeles County, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange County. He can be reached via email: AskDoug@Bell-Land-Surveying.com.

25 year member of the California Land Surveyors Association
Doug Bell is a CFedS - a Certified Federal Surveyor
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