Data from the 1971 San Fernando, California, earthquake provided the opportunity to study the variation of ground motions on a local scale. The uncertainty in ground motion was analyzed by studying the residuals about a regression with distance and by utilizing the network of strong-motion instruments in three local geographic regions in the Los Angeles area. Our objectives were to compare the uncertainty in the peak ground acceleration (PGA) and root mean square acceleration (RMSa) about regressions on distance, and to isolate components of the variance. We find that the RMSa has only a slightly lower logarithmic standard deviation than the PGA and conclude that the RMSa does not provide a more stable measure of ground motion than does the PGA (as is commonly assumed). By conducting an analysis of the residuals, we have estimated contributions to the scatter in high-frequency ground motion due to phenomena local to the recording station, building effects defined by the depth of instrument embedment, and propagation-path effects. We observe a systematic decrease in both PGA and RMSa with increasing embedment depth. After removing this effect, we still find a significant variation (a standard deviation equivalent to a factor of up to 1.3) in the ground motions within small regions (circles of 0.5 km radius). We conclude that detailed studies which account for local site effects, including building effects, could reduce the uncertainty in ground motion predictions (as much as a factor of 1.3) attributable to these components. However, an irreducible component of the scatter in attenuation remains due to the randomness of stress release along faults during earthquakes. In a recent paper, Joyner and Boore (1981) estimate that the standard deviation associated with intra-earthquake variability corresponds to a factor of 1.35.