Fall 2014      |      Stephen P. Sands, Registrar      |      Edmund G. Brown Jr., Governor


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The End of an Era

CSLB Subject Matter Expert Contributed for 32 Years

Perhaps no California licensed contractor has played a greater role as a CSLB Subject Matter Expert (SME) than longtime San Andreas resident Keith Tallia. The 82-year-old Tallia has retired after a long career working in various segments of the oil industry, holding a “B” General Building and nine other license classifications, as well as a hazardous materials certification.


Keith Tallia, of San Andreas, spent many hours behind the
wheel of his excavator with his beloved Jack Russell terrier,

Unfortunately for CSLB and his fellow contractors, Tallia also has ended his service of more than three decades as a SME. He first began advising CSLB Testing personnel on various classification tests in 1983.

“I felt very honored to have been a part of the process over the years,” said Tallia, who received his first contractor's license in 1962, the same year he started his San Andreas contracting business, Oil Equipment Service. “The contractors and Testing division staff were the best group of people I've ever worked with—dedicated, hard-working, and knowledgeable.”

CSLB has 43 contractor classifications and two certifications, and the examinations for each are updated every five-to-seven years to reflect changing industry technology and techniques. Tallia's association with CSLB's test development process began after he and five fellow contractors were the first to take a newly drafted CSLB exam for a hazardous materials removal certification.

Already highly experienced in handling and disposing hazardous materials, the contractors were confident they would easily ace the test, Tallia recalled. But, to their shock, they barely squeaked by with a passing grade.

The six quickly sought out then-Registrar Dave Phillips. The exam, they complained, seemed geared to those seeking to be laboratory chemists and hardly touched on real-life qualifications for a hazardous materials certification.

“If you had a PhD from Harvard, you might have gotten a 75 on it,” said Tallia, who, by then, already had worked for several major oil companies in various contracting capacities, from helping rewire the electrical systems at Chevron's Bay Area refineries to environmental cleanup jobs.

Phillips listened to the group's complaints, and then had a suggestion. “OK, smart guys, you try to write it,” Tallia recounted of Phillips' reaction to the complaints.

And so they did. That first experience helping craft a new HAZ exam led to what would be Tallia's 32-year association with CSLB's examination development process.


Tallia was honored by the Board in 2009
for his contributions to the testing process.

Tallia has consulted on a diverse range of issues and current practices thanks to his knowledge of 10 different license classifications. Between 2003 and 2013, Tallia attended 112 two- to three-day workshops to help with examination development for five trades and one certification: “A” General Engineering, C-10 Electrical, C-12 Earthwork and Paving, C-21 Building Moving/Demolition, C-57 Well Drilling, and HAZ. (He also holds a C-20 Warm-Air Heating, Ventilating and Air-Conditioning license.) In addition, Tallia has been called to consult on other trades in which he has relevant knowledge.

His participation stands out even among the very active corps of SMEs that help CSLB with test development, said CSLB Testing Chief Wendi Balvanz. “No other Subject Matter Expert even comes close to Keith's record and I doubt they ever will,” said Balvanz. “Keith has been an unforgettable SME. He has given his time and experience and has been a role model for contractors wanting to give back to their profession.”

Not only did Tallia contribute many hours to CSLB test development, his knowledge about contracting subjects ran wide and deep, said Bob Lewis, a fellow SME who worked with Tallia for about 12 years during numerous test workshops.

“His broad knowledge of the various subjects we worked on was remarkable, as was his quest for the best questions and best correct answer,” said Lewis, who, like Tallia, holds multiple licenses. “If Keith didn't know the answer, he always seemed to know where to find it.”

Lewis, based in Novato, added that he appreciated Tallia's even-mannered approach during the workshops, calling him “one of the most considerate and gracious people I've ever met.”

Despite his good-natured demeanor, Tallia also wasn't afraid to challenge assertions on potential test material that he felt were in error, Lewis recalled. “He was also provocative if he didn't agree with a question or answer, especially mine,” Lewis said.

Tallia said he'll likewise miss the camaraderie of his colleagues, and the sense of helping contribute to his profession.

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