August 3, 2020

California count: public employees can’t ‘spike’ pensions Associated Press
California’s public employees can’t pad their pensions by working extra hours and cashing out unused vacation and sick leave just before retiring, the state Supreme Court said in a ruling Thursday that gives a victory to local governments trying to contain spiraling pension obligations.  The court did not, however, allow governments to undo the so-called “California Rule” that dates to court decisions beginning in 1947 and holds that retirement benefits, once promised, cannot be touched.  Californians for Retirement Security, a 1.6 million member coalition of public employee unions and retirees, said the decision “unequivocally upholds the California Rule” even as it allows local pension officials to change certain previously promised benefits.  The group’s chairman, Ted Toppin, in a statement called that part of the decision “unfair and unfortunate.”

California Supreme Court forbids pension spiking, but upholds other retirement protections – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
The California Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against Alameda County public employee unions that were trying to beat back part of former Gov. Jerry Brown’s pension overhaul law.  The court’s ruling prohibits so-called pension spiking, a strategy in which county public workers took extra shifts, worked odd hours at higher pay or cashed out accumulated leave at the end of their careers to inflate their pensions in retirement.  The state ended those strategies for California state employees many years ago.  The Alameda County Deputy Sheriff’s Association filed a lawsuit in 2012 over Brown’s law, the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act, known as PEPRA, to try to keep counting those types of pay as pensionable.

The state, first under Brown and then under Gov. Gavin Newsom, pressed for the court to use the occasion to broadly address the California rule, a set of legal precedents dating to the 1950s that have protected public pensions from reductions without new and equal benefits.  State attorneys argued governments need more flexibility to reduce future pensions for current workers in order to manage budgets during difficult economic times.  The court, in a unanimous ruling, rejected that approach, issuing a narrow ruling focused on a collection of county-run pension systems.  Ted Toppin, chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, said the court’s decision undermines promises made to the Alameda deputies but protects benefits for most California public workers.  “For the vast majority of public employees, having the California rule upheld is a good thing and comforting and ensures them that the retirement security they were counting on will be there,” Toppin said.

State Workers Got a Smaller Pay Cut Than Planned This Week Due to Payroll Mistake – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California state workers saw pay cuts in their checks this week, but the reduction wasn’t quite as big as it was supposed to be.  Most affected workers received up to $100 more than they should have as a result.  For more than half of those affected, the overpayment was less than $50.  That’s because the California State Controller’s Office, working on a tight turnaround, made a mistake in calculating workers’ retirement contributions, the office told employees Thursday.  The mistake affected everyone who was subject to the personal leave program Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature used to reduce state workers’ pay, Controller’s Office spokeswoman Jennifer Hanson said in an email.  The controller’s office plans to correct for the mistake in August’s paychecks.

Exclusive: California’s Clean Air Programs Take Hit in New Funding Squeeze – Capital Public Radio
Some of California’s key environmental programs for battling smog and climate change have lost nearly $105 million as the state grapples with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. Millions were scraped away from the 2019-20 budgets of projects that include incentives for purchasing vehicles that produce less greenhouse gases, cleaning up pollution in overburdened communities, tackling methane excreted by cows and reducing smoke during prescribed burns.

COVID-19 and the Future of Transportation in California – JD Supra
On July 23, 2020, the California Transportation Foundation convened a panel of transportation professionals for the webinar “Transportation Outlook: Moving Beyond COVID-19.”  The panelists discussed the impacts of the coronavirus and what the future holds for California’s transportation sector in the wake of the pandemic.  Key takeaways from the discussion: Telework could become a permanent feature of the post-pandemic economy.  State and local ordinances aimed at limiting transmission of the coronavirus will continue to negatively impact sales and use tax revenue, two of the primary funding sources for the state’s transportation projects.  The construction industry will face many of the sames challenges as those confronting public agencies.  But there are silver linings in the gloom, particularly the transportation sector’s resilience, its collaborative spirit, and the problem-solving mindset that has been essential to weathering the global crisis.

July 30, 2020

Court bans “abusive” spiking, but sticks with pension protections CalMatters
In a case filed by the Alameda County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, the California State Supreme Court found that the Alameda County’s pension board was within its rights to exclude certain forms of bonus pay and overtime when determining the future pension calculations of current employees.

But the court stopped short of out-and-out nixing “the California Rule,” a string of legal decisions that for nearly 70 years have been understood to protect against reducing pension benefits promised to public employees unless they are replaced with something of equal value.

High Speed Rail Regional Director leaves for a job at Caltrans – KSEE
The Central Valley Regional Director of California’s High-Speed Rail Authority is taking on a new role at Caltrans.  Diana Gomez was formerly responsible for ensuring California’s high-speed rail project in the Central Valley continued forward on the planned schedule and budget, according to a statement released by the Department of Transportation.  At Caltrans, Gomez will take up the position of District 6 Director.  She will be responsible for the state highway system in Fresno, Madera, Kings, Tulare, and Kern Counties.

California Has A New Plan To Protect Its Water Supply From Climate Change, But Some Say It’s Based On Old Thinking – Capital Public Radio
Gov. Gavin Newsom finalized a broad plan this week to help prevent future water challenges, but some Californians say it relies on old thinking and harmful water storage projects.

California’s Air Pollution Cops Are Eyeing Uber and Lyft – Wired
Since Uber and Lyft burst onto the scene a decade ago, the companies have established a reputation for dodging government regulations.  Now, California is working on first-of-their-kind rules to limit emissions from ride-hail vehicles, which could force the companies to get about one-third of their drivers into electric vehicles by the end of 2030.  To which the ride-hail companies say (with some qualifications): Bring it on.

PECG Media Briefing Archive

July 2020

July 27, 2020

CalPERS got 10,000 calls about retirement as California leaders talked about pay cuts The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
A surge of California public workers called CalPERS to check their retirement options as Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature talked about pay cuts last month, according to call data.  In June, 10,266 state and local government workers called the California Public Employees’ Retirement System with retirement questions, an increase of 66% from the month before, according to data kept by the system.  In each of the last two years, fewer than 6,000 people called about retirement in June, according to CalPERS data.

“When the state experiences budget problems and state employees share in that uncertainty, including reductions in pay, it’s not surprising that they would explore their retirement options,” said Ted Toppin, executive director of Professional Engineers in California Government.  But PECG retained longevity pay in its agreement, he said, which should help keep experienced engineers from leaving behind work related to climate change and other initiatives at departments like the Department of Water Resources, the Air Resources Board and Caltrans.  “That’s work that PECG members want to do and it’s challenging for them,” Toppin said, “so hopefully the longevity differential gives them some incentive to stick around.”

On average, state workers retire at age 60 with 24 years of service, according to CalPERS’ data.

Berry Corp. hires former top state oil regulator – Bakersfield Californian
Berry Corp., one of Kern County’s biggest oil producers, has a new director of strategic partnerships and alliances: Jason Marshall.  A former chief deputy director of the Department of Conservation, Marshall also had a leading role in enforcing and even helping draft rules for some of the state’s most contentious oilfield practices, including fracking and steam injections.

California had a plan to bring clean water to a million people. Then the pandemic hit. – / San Francisco Chronicle
CANTUA CREEK, Fresno County — The water is too contaminated to safely drink, but residents of this farmworker community in the Central Valley pay $74 a month just to be able to turn on the tap at home.  Their bills are even higher if they use more than 50 gallons a day, a fraction of daily water consumption for the average California household.  And when Fresno County completes a new well that has been planned for years, the price will increase again to cover the cost of treating manganese-laced water pumped from hundreds of feet below.  It’s a lot of money for families living on the minimum wage they earn in the nearby fields, and underscores just how difficult it will be for the state to reach its goal of bringing safe and affordable drinking water to all.

Vegas Train Approved for Record $4.2 Billion of Unrated Debt – Bloomberg
The sale of a record $4.2 billion in unrated municipal bonds to finance a passenger train to Las Vegas moved closer to happening with a key vote in Nevada, promising to test investor appetite for risk amid a coronavirus pandemic.  Nevada’s state board of finance Friday cleared the way for Virgin Trains USA to sell $950 million in tax-exempt private activity bonds for a high-speed rail line to the gambling hub from a southern California desert town.  The company, backed by Fortress Investment Group private equity funds, had already won the ability to sell $3.25 billion in such debt through a California state agency.

July 23, 2020

State workers trained as California contact tracers await assignment, even as counties struggle The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Most California state workers trained to be COVID-19 “contact tracers” still haven’t started tracking down people exposed to the coronavirus, even as many counties say they don’t have enough staff to do the work.  California Gov. Gavin Newsom has said state workers will be essential to the state’s contact tracing efforts, and touted the fact that the state met its goal of training 10,000 contact tracers by July 1, which includes a mix of county and state employees.  As of last week, however, just over a third of the 3,600 state workers who were trained had been assigned to do that work.

Strong evidence quake faults run through site of Hollywood skyscrapers, state says – Los Angeles Times (tiered subscriptions)
State geologists have concluded there is strong evidence that multiple earthquake faults run through the site of a controversial skyscraper development proposed for Hollywood, records obtained by The Times show.

California Settles Fight Over Hoarded Dam Water –Courthouse News Service
Resolving an environmental lawsuit hatched during the state’s recent historic drought, California regulators on Tuesday promised new actions intended to ease the demise of endangered salmon populations.

Freeway construction in South County San Diego unearths fossils from 16-28 million years ago – CBS 8
While construction was underway on State Route 11 and the Otay Mesa East Port of Entry project an incredible grouping of fossils was recently unearthed.  “They knew about this period in Baja California not in San Diego County,” said Mario Orso, a PECG member and the lead engineer for Caltrans and SANDAG for the SR-11 project.  “We were building the last stretch of State Route 11 up to the proposed port of entry. We found fossils in the middle of that stretch of State Route 11.”

July 20, 2020

Grand Jury Accuses California Toll Road Agency of Mismanagement
The agency in charge of several California toll roads exists primarily to perpetuate itself and enrich its management executives, an Orange County grand jury report released last month concluded.  Instead of funding road improvements, the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) tolls have bankrolled the constant need for new studies, plans and advertising campaigns for the toll road.  And many of its executives enjoy salaries higher than those in comparable positions at Caltrans.

California Dials Back Plan to Require Uber, Lyft Go Electric – KQED
California on Friday scaled back a proposal to mandate Lyft and Uber to use more electric vehicles on their platforms, with regulators acknowledging that demand for ride-hailing services has cratered during the coronavirus pandemic.

Work underway on $9 million project to fix historic Arroyo Grande bridge deemed ‘obsolete’ – The San Luis Obispo Tribune
Renovations on a 112-year-old bridge in Arroyo Grande are underway after months of preparation and years of discussion.  Located in the Village of Arroyo Grande, the Bridge Street Bridge was considered functionally obsolete by Caltrans because of its narrow width and three-ton weight limit.

California Transportation Foundation awards NCTD, SANDAG, Caltrans with Transit/Rail Project of the Year – Mass Transit Magazine
The California Transportation Foundation (CTF) has recognized the San Elijo Lagoon Double Track project as the Transit/Rail Project of the Year. Caltrans District 11, the North County Transit District the San Diego Association of Governments, HDR Engineering, Inc., and Flatiron-Skanska-Stacy-Witbeck collaborated on the project and receive the award, which recognizes excellence in California transportation for all modes, public and private sector, and from all regions of the state.

July 16, 2020

California Public Workers Hit By Pandemic Will Pay More For Health Care Financial Advisor Online
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System on Tuesday approved an increase in health care costs for state and local government employees as the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic batters tax collections.  Depending on the plan, the increased health maintenance organization premiums for state workers from the previous year will range from 1.62% to 9.37%, or an average of 4.44%.  For participating public agencies and schools, the HMO increase ranges from 0.82% to 11.96% depending on the region and plan.

15 States will follow California’s push to electrify trucks and buses – The Verge
Fifteen states and Washington, DC have announced that they will follow California’s lead in switching all heavy-duty trucks, vans, and buses over to running on electricity, in what could be one of the most significant efforts to reduce harmful diesel engine pollution in the United States.  California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) announced in late June that all commercial trucks and vans must be zero-emission by 2045, with milestones along the way.

Caltrans Completes Statewide Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment Reports –
Caltrans has finalized the last two of 12 district-based Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment Reports designed to provide the department with a comprehensive database that will help in evaluating, mitigating and adapting to the effects of increasing extreme weather events on the state transportation system.  The final two reports cover Caltrans’ coastal districts 1 (Eureka) and 5 (Salinas south to Santa Barbara).

Caltrans, UC Davis work to reduce accidents caused by wrong-way drivers – The Trucker
Caltrans and the UC Davis Advanced Highway Maintenance and Construction Technology (AHMCT) Research Center released reports Monday about methods that could prevent drivers from driving the wrong way.  One prevention method, two-way reflective markers, was so successful that Caltrans has already installed it on hundreds of miles of highways, UC Davis said.  Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin said in a news release that the markers “proved to be so effective that Caltrans has updated its statewide design standards” to deploy the markers.

July 13, 2020

Contact roundup: Here’s how California will cut pay under each union agreement The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration instituted pay reductions across state government in a six-week bargaining sprint that ended July 1 after bargaining agreements with all but one state-employee union.  Here’s a summary of each deal.

Caltrans bolsters walking, cycling options – Transportation Today
California Department of Transportation officials have committed $100 million to enhance statewide walking, bicycling, and transit options.  The funds, recently approved in the 2020 State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP), will pay for cycling and pedestrian improvements on the state’s highway system.

Suicide-barrier project for Coronado bridge moving forwarded – San Diego Union-Tribune
Caltrans is seeking public comments through July 14 on several options for a suicide barrier on the San Diego-Coronado Bridge.  More than 400 people have jumped off the 240-foot-high structure since it opened in 1969, and the agency is proposing to install vertical fences or a horizontal net to prevent them.  The whole process, which started about three years ago, can take up to a decade to complete, officials said at a recent meeting.

What happens when a drinking water system fails? Ask this small California town – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Access to clean, safe and affordable drinking water is a human right in California.  Yet, it hasn’t been consistent for years for the people of Earlimart, a predominantly Latino community where 40% of residents live below the poverty line.

July 9, 2020

California state firefighters accept 7.5% pay cut in deal with Newsom administration The Sacramento Bee (tiered-subscription)
California state firefighters are taking a 7.5% pay cut in exchange for two flexible days off every month under a one-year agreement with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration.  Most state unions negotiated variations on core terms of a 9.23% pay cut in exchange for two days of flexible time off per month under cost-saving deals with Newsom.  That compares to a take-home reduction of 7.23% for most state engineers.  Newsom mandated the reductions to help close a projected $54 billion budget deficit.  Several of the agreements reach the number partly by suspending various types of special pay, such as night differentials and holiday pay, to minimize the monthly impact to all workers’ paychecks.  State firefighters don’t have as many of those special types of pay as other groups of workers, so their union asked the state to cut their pay by less than 9.23%, said Tim Edwards, president of Cal Fire Local 2881.

State cuts pay for California Highway Patrol officers despite contract protections – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California Highway Patrol officers are taking a pay cut along with the rest of the state’s workforce despite special protections that were in their contract.  Highway Patrol officers’ base pay will be reduced by 4.62%, the equivalent of one day of work per month, under the agreement the California Association of Highway Patrolmen reached with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s bargaining team.  In exchange, officers will receive 9 hours of flexible time off under a personal leave program.  The officers were able to take a base pay cut equivalent to one day of work instead of two — the standard for most state workers — due to a quirk of their retirement health care contributions.  Despite the smaller hit to their base pay, the officers’ take-home pay will be reduced by about 5.6 percent, which is in the range of other groups of workers.  The state’s savings from all of the pay-cut agreements are within a few tenths of a percentage point of 9%.

Oil producers appeal for time to comply with regulations during pandemic – Bakersfield Californian
Bakersfield-area oil producers are having a hard time keeping up with their regulatory obligations during the pandemic.  Half a dozen companies in Kern County have responded to a state offer by applying for extra time to test oil field injection sites, plug wells, and perform other required health and safety tasks.

California could pave roads with recycled plastic – ABC 10 News San Diego
California could become the first state in the nation to use recycled plastic as part of its roads and freeways.  The state Senate unanimously passed SB 1238, which directs Caltrans to study the use of plastics in asphalt for construction or repair of a state highway or road.

July 6, 2020

California state worker furloughs save money now, add cost later The Sacramento Bee (tiered-subscription)
Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California State Legislature are cutting state workers’ pay in a way that could burden the state’s long-term finances for many years to come.

LA County Supervisors Approve Downsized Budget: No Department Is Spared From Cuts And Layoffs – LAist
Painful program cuts and job losses are on the way in a newly adopted L.A. County budget.  The Board of Supervisors approved a proposal from the county CEO on Monday that slashes more than 3,200 county positions and likely forces hundreds of layoffs this fall.

COMMUNITY VOICES: The state must mandate a new workweek given COVID-19’s lessons – Bakersfield Californian
At the state level, the California Air Resources Board should shift its enormous power on air pollution to change the work week.  Businesses should be incentivized to continue encouraging teleworking for their employees even as restrictions on shelter-in-place ease.

July 2, 2020

Just one California state union didn’t reach a pay-cut deal with Newsom by Tuesday deadline The Sacramento Bee (tiered-subscription)
All California state worker unions except for one reached pay-cut deals with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration by a Tuesday deadline, according to the Human Resources Department.  A group of about 1,000 workers who maintain the state’s heating, cooling and water systems, represented by the International Union of Operating Engineers, don’t have an agreement, CalHR spokesman Andrew LaMar said in an email.  Newsom and the Legislature imposed the deadline of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday to reach deals that would reduce state workers’ pay by roughly 10 percent to help close a projected $54 billion budget deficit.  Budget legislation included a provision to impose furloughs if agreements weren’t reached by the deadline.

Under the agreements that have been negotiated, including one with Professional Engineers in California Government, most state workers will see their pay reduced starting this month by 9.23 percent, the equivalent of two days of work per month.  In exchange, the workers receive two days of leave to use at their discretion.  The personal leave program days were available starting July 1, LaMar said in an email.  The negotiated agreements moderate the hit to pay by suspending workers’ contributions to their retirement health care plans, which for most workers is in the range of 2% to 4% of pay.

California state maintenance workers take one-year pay-cut deal in hope of better times ahead – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California workers who maintain the state’s buildings, roads and equipment would take a 9.23 percent pay cut in exchange for two flexible days off per month in a proposed contract agreement with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration.  The International Union of Operating Engineers, which represents more than 11,000 maintenance workers, has reached an agreement with terms similar to those reached by other state unions in the last two weeks.

Caltrans and XpressWest Complete Lease Agreement for high-speed rail service along I-15 – Victor Valley News
California workers who maintain the state’s buildings, roads and equipment would take a 9.23 percent pay cut in exchange for two flexible days off per month in a proposed contract agreement with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration.  The International Union of Operating Engineers, which represents more than 11,000 maintenance workers, has reached an agreement with terms similar to those reached by other state unions in the last two weeks.

Temperance Flat Dam Put on the Shelf Indefinitely – GV Wire
An investment analysis that looked at how much it would cost water users to build and operate the proposed Temperance Flat Dam northeast of Fresno without government funding was finished earlier this year and quietly passed among water districts, which just as quietly asked the federal government to shelve work on the project.

ASCE Report: COVID-19 Compounds Infrastructure Woes – Transport Topics
An investment analysis that looked at how much it would cost water users to build and operate the proposed Temperance Flat Dam northeast of Fresno without government funding was finished earlier this year and quietly passed among water districts, which just as quietly asked the federal government to shelve work on the project.

June 2020

June 29, 2020

California Legislature Sends Budget Compromise To Gov. Newsom’s Desk Capital Public Radio
California lawmakers approved a spending plan to plug a $54 billion deficit Friday, sending it to Gov. Gavin Newsom.  Unlike a previous version passed on their June 15 deadline, this plan reflects an agreement between legislative leaders and Newsom.

$1.8 Billion Investment Will Repair Roads, Improve Pedestrian, Bicycle and Mass Transit – The Calaveras Pine Tree/Associated Press
The California Transportation Commission last week approved more than $1.8 billion to repair highways and bridges and improve the state’s growing network of pedestrian, bicycle and mass transit routes.  The approved funding is from federal and state gas revenues, including $800 million from SB 1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.

Fewer miles driven during pandemic contributed to improved air quality in the valley – Bakersfield Californian
If there’s a silver lining to the coronavirus pandemic — and the state-ordered lockdown that followed — it may be the marked improvement in air quality residents enjoyed in the San Joaquin Valley.

June 25, 2020

Two unpaid days for state engineers The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California state engineers would take a pay cut in exchange for flexible time off under a new contract agreement their union reached with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration.  “The agreement is reflective of our time and circumstances,” said Ted Toppin, the union’s executive director.  “The PECG bargaining team takes no pleasure in being forced to negotiate pay reductions for our members.  But those were the circumstances, given the budget deficit and the recession it caused and the ongoing pandemic.”

California poised to adopt nation’s first rules requiring electric big rigs – Woodland Daily Democrat/Bay Area News Group
Today, the powerful California Air Resources Board is scheduled to vote on a first-in-the-nation rule that would require manufacturers to produce tens of thousands of trucks in the coming decade — from large pickup trucks to neighborhood delivery vans to 18-wheel semis — that run only on electricity and emit no tailpipe pollution.

Three African Americans Step Into Top California Leadership Roles – Black Voice News
On Monday, the California State Senate confirmed the appointments of two African-Americans, including Caltrans Director Adetokunbo “Toks” Omishakin, who have already stepped into top jobs at departments critical to the smooth operation of the state.  In Santa Clara County, another African- American, assumed the top post of the region’s water utility last month.

Italy Completes New Genoa Bridge After 2018 Deadly Disaster – Forbes
On Monday, Italy inaugurated the new bridge in Genoa, which was rebuilt in record time after the previous structure, known as “Ponte Morandi” (Morandi bridge), tragically collapsed on 14 August, 2018, leaving 43 people dead.

June 22, 2020

California issues mask rules for state workers with warning: Leave enforcement to bosses The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
The Department of Public Health issued guidelines for state worker mask usage Thursday, including a warning to workers not to personally enforce the requirement.

Furloughs coming for largest state workers union as part of budget agreement – KCRA
Gov. Gavin Newsom has reached an agreement with California’s largest public employee union, SEIU Local 1000, as he works to get a budget in writing.

Safety problems increase calls for local highway work – Bakersfield Californian
A determination earlier this year that California has missed federal highway safety targets in recent years has renewed criticisms that Sacramento is prioritizing climate change policies over driver safety and jeopardizing completion of important transportation projects in Kern County.

Port of Long Beach’s New Desmond Replacement expected to open in August – American Journal of Transportation
The Port of Long Beach’s new bridge replacing the old Gerald Desmond is scheduled to be open for truck and commuter traffic by mid-August, according to a Port of Long Beach official.

CalSTRS joins CalPERS at studying remote work even after pandemic goes away – American Journal of Transportation
The California State Teachers’ Retirement System may consider continuing remote working after the pandemic is over, even as it is building a $300 million office building in West Sacramento.  The teachers’ pension fund may follow in the strategy of the Sacramento-based California Public Employees’ Retirement System, whose CEO said this week that she anticipates half of its employees will continue to work remotely after the pandemic goes away as a way to trim costs.

June 18, 2020

CalPERS health insurance prices to notch upward next year for state workers The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California state worker and retiree health insurance prices are going up 4.4% on average next year, according to preliminary rates CalPERS published Tuesday.

Under New Groundwater Plans, Report Estimates 12,000 Domestic Wells Could Run Dry – National Public Radio
The goal of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA, is to better regulate the state’s water reserves.  But as the law rolls out, a new study predicts at least 127,000 people will still lose their drinking water over the next 20 years.

VMT Law Could ‘Thwart’ Efforts to Finish Highway 99 Widening –
Future Central Valley highway projects — including the expansion of Highway 99 to six lanes — will be impeded if Caltrans follows a new state law, a large regional planning agency says.

California utilities, regulators aim to hasten microgrid deployment ahead of wildfire season – Utility Dive
The California Public Utilities Commission last week ordered large investor-owned utilities to engage in multiple planning exercises to accelerate microgrid deployments within their service areas.  Microgrids are the first step in a multifaceted approach to wildfire preparation, according to CPUC Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma.

June 15, 2020

First deal on California state worker pay cuts: What correctional officers give up, get  – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California correctional officers would take one furlough day per month and defer raises for two years under a proposed agreement their union has negotiated with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association’s two-year agreement appears to be the first deal a state union has reached with the administration over pay cuts Newsom proposed for all state workers to help address a projected $54 billion budget deficit.

The tentative agreement will require a vote from the union’s 26,000 members to pass and will need approval from the Legislature.  The agreement uses a personal leave program to reduce officers’ pay by 4.5% — roughly the equivalent of one day of work per month — for two years. In exchange, the officers receive 12 hours of paid leave per month, the equivalent of one and a half days of work.

A 3% raise the officers were scheduled to receive July 1 is deferred until July 1, 2022.

The agreement would reduce the state’s spending on correctional officers by 8.99%, or about $395 million, according to a cost summary of the agreement. Correctional officers make up a large share of the state’s general fund spending on its workforce, accounting for about a third of general fund payroll spending.

Newsom’s original proposal of two unpaid leave days would have reduced the state’s spending on the group by 9.53%, or about $419 million, according to the summary.

The agreement softens the impact of the cuts on correctional officers’ pocketbooks by suspending a paycheck deduction that funds the health care plans they’ll use in retirement. That change allows workers’ to keep 4% of their paycheck that had been going to future health care costs.

The state also would cover an increase to health insurance costs of .54 percent, according to the summary.

The deal would suspend holiday pay for seven of the 11 state holidays, eliminate one personal development day for the term of the agreement, suspend night and weekend differentials and make other tweaks to pay.

California Legislature Set to Meet Monday to Pass Budget, Without an Agreement with Gov. Newsom – KTLA
The California Legislature will meet Monday to pass a budget for these uncertain times, without knowing how much money they have to spend and without an agreement with Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose veto pen could force lawmakers to start over.

California Smog Agency Fines Retailer $1.93 Million Over “Uncertified” Parts – Road-Racing World & Motorcycle Technology
The California Air Resources Board today announced that Comoto Holdings, Inc. has agreed to pay $1,937,500 to resolve alleged violations related to the sale of non-exempted add-on or modified motorcycle parts in California.  CARB found that Comoto’s subsidiaries advertised, sold, and offered for sale, add-on or modified motorcycle parts without legal exemptions to California’s anti-tampering laws.  CARB also rejected the assertion—often made by parts manufacturers and retailers—that all the subject parts were sold for “race use” and therefore exempt from anti-tampering laws.

Beyond COVID and Social Unrest, Valley’s Big Problem Remains Declining Groundwater – The Fresno Bee (tiered subscription)
In these extraordinary times, managing groundwater for long-term sustainability may not seem like a top priority.  But in the San Joaquin Valley — where groundwater supplies have been declining for decades — excess pumping is a critical problem, with major implications for public health, jobs, the environment and local economies.

June 11, 2020

Top California lawmakers urge state unions to make deals with Gov. Newsom on pay cuts – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Legislative leaders are urging state unions to reach cost-saving agreements with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration by July 1 as they prepare to vote Monday on budget proposal.  Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, said in a Wednesday statement that their latest proposal counts on savings from collective bargaining but wouldn’t force pay cuts.  “We now explicitly anticipate budget savings achieved through the collective bargaining process in the event anticipated federal funds do not materialize,” Atkins and Rendon said in the statement.  Extending the target date to July 1 for bargaining cost savings adds nearly three weeks to Newsom’s Friday deadline for unions to reach agreements or have two-days-per-month furloughs imposed on the employees they represent.

Budget battle heats up at California Capitol – KCRA
The California Assembly did not vote on a state spending plan Wednesday — even though legislators are required to have a budget bill in writing by Friday.  The budget details are still a mystery to many lawmakers with the debate centered on how to close a $54 billion deficit. Proposed cuts include a potential 10% reduction in pay for state workers, which could save up to $2.8 billion, Finance Department spokesman H.D. Palmer said.

Groups urge federal officials to push nearly $50B to state DOTS – Transportation Today
In a letter to the Trump administration, more than 40 transportation industry groups urged the federal government to infuse state departments of transportation with $49.95 billion in funding.

Coastal Commission commits to sea level rise principles – The Log
The California Coastal Commission during its May meeting committed to six sea level rise principals to guide state policies: develop and utilize best available science, build coastal resilience partnerships, improve coastal resilience communications; support local leadership and address local conditions, strengthen alignment around coastal resilience, and implement and learn from coastal resilience projects.  The commissioners said the guidance will improve cooperation between state entities working on sea rise solutions, including the Natural Resources Agency, the Energy Commission, the Department of Water Resources, the State Coastal Conservancy, the State Lands Commission, and the State Water Resources Control Board, among others.

June 8, 2020

Make a deal on pay cuts or wait? California unions face choice as budget deadline nears – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Confronting a $54 billion state budget shortfall, Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed cutting state employees’ compensation by 10 percent and cancelling scheduled raises.  If the cuts are not bargained, Newsom wants the Legislature to approve two furlough days per month.  But lawmakers want the administration to keep negotiating with the unions over cuts, and their counter to Newsom’s plan wouldn’t force any salary reductions or raise cancellations.

One of the proposals, or a combination of the two, is going to be included in the final budget.  The uncertainty leaves unions to weigh two paths in bargaining talks scheduled for this week.  They can negotiate agreements that are better than Newsom’s two unpaid days off but would still involve some pain.  Or they can wait and see what happens and risk getting stuck with the two furlough days.

‘Mutually repugnant’: Gov. Newsom and lawmakers pursue budget compromise – CalMatters
Even with the process controlled entirely by Democrats, a certain degree of tension is wired into the annual ritual of crafting a state budget in Sacramento.  The spending plan, after all, is a powerful opportunity for the governor and each house of the Legislature to demonstrate their priorities in caring for 40 million Californians. So despite lots of common ground on the upcoming budget, some key disagreements have surfaced as legislative leaders and Gov. Gavin Newsom hammer out a final deal in advance of a June 15 deadline.

The proposal presumes no reductions to state worker pay, but allows that “any savings achieved through the collective bargaining process will increase the Senate version’s final reserve.”  Unlike Newsom’s proposal, the Senate proposal assumes the federal government will send California money.  If it doesn’t, the Senate plan includes “trigger solutions” that would go into effect to reduce spending by Oct. 1.  The Senate proposal doesn’t specify how trigger solutions would impact state worker pay.

As California Reopens, State Workers Urged Toward Telework – Government Technology
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration directed state leaders last week to start reopening state offices under new coronavirus protocols.  Many offices have been empty or nearly empty since mid-March, when the administration directed departments to use telework wherever possible.  The administration wants three-quarters of workers to telework in offices where it’s possible, either full time or part time.  Meanwhile, State worker unions have been urging departments to take a methodical, careful approach to reopening.  The Professional Engineers in California Government sent a letter to the administration in early May urging planners to reconsider the open floor plans and shared spaces that have been featured in recent plans to upgrade state government offices.  (Please click here to read the letter by PECG President Joe Mello.)

Here’s why the Golden Gate Bridge sings in San Francisco now – CNN
San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge is “singing” and its neighbors from up to three miles away can hear it.  The “musical tones” coming from the bridge are a result of a project “designed to make the bridge more aerodynamic under high wind conditions and is necessary to ensure the safety and structural integrity of the bridge for generations to come,” a Golden Gate Bridge district spokesperson told CNN.

June 4, 2020

California Assembly, Senate leaders say no to mandatory pay cuts for state workers – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Leaders from both houses of the Legislature have now rejected Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal to force state workers to take a pay cut this summer.  Assembly and Senate leaders announced a unified budget pact Wednesday that encourages the state’s unions to negotiate pay reductions to help address California’s projected $54 billion budget deficit, but does not require them to give concessions.

In general, the Legislature’s plan would depend on digging deeper into reserves and relying more heavily on borrowing than Newsom’s proposal does.  The Legislature and the governor face a June 15 deadline to reach agreement and pass a balanced budget. Newsom said that the differences between his proposal and the Senate’s and Assembly’s, including those related to state pay, are all part of the “give and take” of the budget process.

Thousands of aging dams need ‘urgent and extensive’ attention – AgriPulse
Last Sunday, as National Dam Safety Awareness Day came and went, few Americans pondered a possible disaster looming in an aging dam upstream from them.  In fact, the country’s reservoirs, large and small, pose an escalating threat of engulfing or damaging towns, homes, farmsteads, processing plants, livestock facilities, highways, bridges, and any other parts of rural America downstream from many of the nation’s 91,500 dams.  The near catastrophe at the Oroville Dam made that point clearly to the nation’s dam safety officials.

Legislators take long look at stripping down, scrapping Calif.’s high-speed rail – The Sun
High-speed rail is taking quite a tremendous hit due to the coronavirus pandemic.  Last week, California Asms. Vince Fong (R–Bakersfield) and Kevin Kiley (R–Rocklin) proposed a bill that would halt high-speed rail funding for two years.  The more than $3 billion in budget savings from high-speed rail spending would help the state manage its coronavirus-driven $54 billion deficit and counteract Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed cuts to K-12 education.

June 1, 2020

‘You just got a letter out of the blue’: California state workers surprised by reassignments – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration moved quickly to place California state employees in positions as coronavirus contact tracers after his call for volunteers failed to come up with enough of them.  Too quickly for some workers and their unions.

“Although we’ve been able to provide hundreds of employees to help the state recover, we still need many more,” Cabinet Secretary Ana Matosantos said in a letter to agency secretaries and department directors that was dated Thursday, May 21.

The letter cites scientists, engineers and attorneys as examples of those now eligible.

Seeing engineers on the list surprised Ted Toppin, the executive director of Professional Engineers in California Government.  “It would be nice to be noticed or even given a heads up about them offering up your members,” Toppin said.  He said the union supports the state’s contact tracing efforts, but that the union’s workers had very little time to make decisions about a potentially significant change in their work.

California state workers could get raises, avoid furloughs under Senate budget plan – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California state workers could avoid pay cuts or even get raises this year under a Senate budget proposal that rejects Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to reduce their pay.  Under the Senate plan, the state would dig deeper into reserves and borrow more to close a projected $54 billion deficit.

The proposal presumes no reductions to state worker pay, but allows that “any savings achieved through the collective bargaining process will increase the Senate version’s final reserve.”  Unlike Newsom’s proposal, the Senate proposal assumes the federal government will send California money.  If it doesn’t, the Senate plan includes “trigger solutions” that would go into effect to reduce spending by Oct. 1.  The Senate proposal doesn’t specify how trigger solutions would impact state worker pay.

California state government closing offices Monday because of protest – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Some California state government offices will be closed Monday due to protests, according to notices the state Human Resources Department sent out Sunday night.

“Please be advised that due to escalating conditions of protests, the Governor’s Office and CHP have advised that all offices to close tomorrow,” read a message sent to the Department of Consumer Affairs using a state emergency notification system.  A message to the Department of Motor Vehicles said offices with curfews, “including all of LA county, Santa Ana, San Jose, San Francisco and Walnut Creek,” would be closed.  The message from CalHr directed state workers to telework if possible.  The extent of the closures wasn’t immediately clear. Neither CalHR nor the Department of General Services immediately responded to emails Sunday night.

When Does it Make Sense to Undam a River? – Maritime Executive
Across the United States, dams generate hydroelectric power, store water for drinking and irrigation, control flooding and create recreational opportunities such as slack-water boating and waterskiing.  But dams can also threaten public safety, especially if they are old or poorly maintained.

May 2020

May 28, 2020

State Workers: Volunteer or Be Reassigned to Virus Response – Governing
California needs 10,000 workers to act as contact tracers, but it has only trained about 950.  On Tuesday, Gov. Newsom said if state workers don’t volunteer to be contact tracers, they might be temporarily reassigned to the job.  The administration has asked state departments to identify 5 percent of employees who could be redirected to contact tracing assignments, Newsom said Tuesday.  California employs about 230,000 state workers.

California High-Speed Rail Slashing Millions in Spending on Consultants as it Plows Ahead – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration plans to cut the equivalent of 88 full-time private consultants from California’s High-Speed Rail Authority, according to a budget document released this week.  The department would create new state jobs for 70 public employees. Net savings: about $16 million annually.  The change is “long overdue,” said Ted Toppin, executive director of Professional Engineers in California Government.  “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that high-speed rail has been a gravy train for engineering consultants.”

American Honda Motor Co., in Torrance, Agrees to Pay $1.9 Million in Clean-Air Settlement Daily Breeze/City News Service
The California Air Resources Board has reached a settlement with American Honda Motor Co. that will require the Torrance company to pay nearly $2 million to resolve allegations of clean-air violations related to the sale of small off-road engines.

May 26, 2020

California state unions have three weeks to negotiate pay cuts.  Can they avoid furoughs?The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California’s state worker unions are weighing furloughs against more creative ways to trim payroll in sped-up negotiations with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration.  The administration has given the unions a June 12 deadline to reach deals that will reduce state workers’ compensation by 10 percent, according to several of the unions.  That’s three days before the state’s deadline to pass a budget that will address a projected $54 billion deficit.

Status Check: Cloudy Days for Pensions?Comstock’s Magazine
Private-sector defined-benefit (DB) pensions were already becoming increasingly rare before the added investment stresses caused by the COVID-19 economy.  Meanwhile, Ted Toppin, chair of Californians for Retirement Security, says that two major government retirement organizations in the state, CalPERS and CalSTRS, were prepared for a crisis such as COVID-19.  While each incurred paper losses in March, both funds developed strategic plans after the Great Recession and can now take advantage of discount investment opportunities.  “They have been a calm voice,” Toppin says.  He’s irked by public-pension critics: “If you have a reasonable system that looks out for its sustainability, it can work in the public and private sector.  Folks should worry less about trying to take it away from public employees and spend a lot more time thinking about how to provide retirement security to public and private sector employees.”

Aging Dam Infrastructure Is A Billion-Dollar ProblemNational Public Radio
The dam failures that have inundated Midland, Mich. and surrounding communities with water are the latest examples in a growing national problem.

Even during pandemic, some Caltrans road projects accelerate to the finishFox 5
As with any time, road construction is a common sight in San Diego County.  But during the COVID-19 pandemic, officials at Caltrans say they are getting more work done with fewer cars on the roads.

May 21, 2020

Pay Cuts, Canceled Raises and More Telework: The Recession Reaches State WorkersThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Gov. Gavin Newsom last week proposed reducing state workers’ pay by 10 percent to help address a projected budget deficit of $54 billion.  Questions are swirling over the specifics.  Details have yet to be worked out. Here are five common questions and what we know so far.

Feds said mileage standards would make cars cheaper and safer; new documents raise doubtsLaredo Morning Times/The Washington Post
The Trump Administration has said a plan to weaken federal mileage standards would make cars cheaper and “substantially safer.”  But the administration’s own analysis suggests that it would cost consumers more than it would save them in the long run and would do little to make the nation’s roads safer.  The proposal would relax requirements put in place under the Obama administration to combat carbon emissions that fuel global warming.  Under the new plan, the nation’s fleet of cars and light trucks would reach an average mileage of 40.5 miles per gallon by model year 2026, compared with nearly 51 mpg in 2025 under current rules.

State Water Board Must Act to Protect the Bay-Delta and California’s Fishing IndustryCalMatters
A scientifically credible, negotiated agreement involving flow standards and habitat restoration for the Bay-Delta would be desirable.  Unfortunately, no such agreement is even on the horizon.  So the water board should exercise its undisputed regulatory authority to finalize and implement new Bay-Delta flow requirements.

What COVID-19 Has Taught Us About Our InfrastrcutureASCE News
COVID-19 is revealing how prepared our infrastructure is for making sense of rapidly changing conditions and adapting to meet these demands.  While power and water demand have likely changed by a manageable amount, personal mobility has plummeted and internet use (particularly videoconferencing and telework applications) is skyrocketing.  The agility and flexibility of our infrastructure systems in their response to COVID-19 have been laid bare, revealing our ability (or lack thereof) to adapt to shocks and complex hazards.

May 18, 2020

To Soften Blow of State Worker Pay Cuts, California Might Suspend Retiree Health DeductionsThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration could offer some relief from potential pay cuts for state workers by temporarily eliminating a deduction for retiree health benefits that workers pay each month, according to an Association of California State Supervisors web post.  Newsom last week proposed reducing state workers’ pay by 10 percent on Thursday in a budget that aims to reckon with a projected $54 billion deficit.

California Environmental Projects on Hold as Coronavirus Guts State BudgetThe Times of San Diego/CalMatters
Wide-ranging environmental programs announced with much fanfare in January have disappeared from California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s newest budget proposal, casualties of the global economic collapse during the pandemic.  For example, environmental enforcement in California’s oil regions may suffer, as CalGEM, the state’s oil and gas regulator, will not gain 120 new positions that it needed to bolster oilfield inspections.

California Transit, Road Work to Continue Despite $54B State Budget DeficitConstruction Dive
In what is good news for contractors that work on large public projects, the California budget proposal maintains current transit planning and engineering staffing levels so as to continue developing and designing previously programmed projects.  This is being done in anticipation of federal support for when stimulus funding becomes available, according to the Associated General Contractors of California.

May 14, 2020

State workers face 10 percent pay cut, possible furloughs, union leader says – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to reduce state worker pay by 10 percent as part of a cost-saving plan for state government, according to SEIU Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker.

California begins process of creating oil buffer zones – Bakersfield Californian
California’s primary oil-regulating agency has kicked off an effort to standardize buffer zones between oil facilities and sensitive receptors such as schools and homes.

CTC Approves SHOPP, Including Funding Specifically for Complete Streets – Streetsblog California
The California Transportation Commission today adopted the 2020 State Highway Operations and Protection Program. The $20 billion program will include a $100 million set-aside for Complete Streets elements on existing SHOPP projects. This is a major change in how SHOPP projects are usually funded. In addition to the unusual “reservation” for complete streets, this is the first SHOPP that is “entirely driven by performance measures,” according to Caltrans staff.

Court sides with California, blocking federal water diversion – The Hill
A judge on Monday temporarily blocked a plan President Trump announced with great fanfare that diverted much of California’s water to a growing agriculture industry in the southern part or the state.

May 11, 2020

State workers got furloughs before with a $40 billion budget hole. Now it’s $54 billionThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
The last time California faced a massive budget deficit, the governor soon started talking about furloughs.  Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed unpaid days off for state workers in 2008, when the state faced a roughly $40 billion deficit.  On Thursday, the Department of Finance projected a $54 billion deficit, raising questions about where the state will look to reduce spending this time around. Furloughs have not been mentioned publicly – yet.

Judge Throws Water on California Bid to Slow Delta PumpingCourthouse News Service
With a recent victory over environmentalists in tow, the Trump administration was back in federal court again Thursday arguing it could continue boosting water to California farmers without harming salmon despite the state careening toward another drought.  The Trump administration is defending guidelines passed in 2019 that gave it more leeway in deciding how much water it can safely take from California’s largest estuary and sell to farmers.

California contractor earns $8M bonus for early finish on San Francisco overpassKTVU
A California construction firm earned an $8 million bonus for early completion of a highway overpass project. Myers & Sons Construction LP was the prime contractor on a newly completed $37 million rebuild of the Alemany Boulevard overpass on Highway 101 in San Francisco.  The California Department of Transportation contract offered a bonus of $1 million for every day Myers finished ahead of the 18-day schedule, while Myers would pay back $1 million for each day the job went past the deadline.

Work on 23 scheduled through 2023Thousand Oaks Acorn
This week, Caltrans started a $91-million repaving project on an 8.2-mile stretch of the 23 extending from the 101 Freeway in the south to 118 Freeway in the north.  For the next three years, workers will replace the pavement on the outside lanes of the freeway in both directions to extend the road’s life for another 40 years.

May 7, 2020

California high court hears pension reform arguments – Pensions & Investments
The California Supreme Court is expected to issue an opinion re-examining the so-called “California Rule” for calculating public pension benefits, which has been adopted by nearly a dozen other states.  The virtual oral arguments held online Tuesday centered on whether pension benefits offered when a worker is hired become a vested right, leaving the state’s employers unable to change the way pension benefits are calculated.

Air researchers fear coronavirus effects on areas with low air quality, wildfires – Chico Enterprise-Record
Ongoing research suggests Butte County and other areas impacted by wildfire smoke could face higher rates of complications due respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19.  “We know there’s been a tremendous increase in organic chemicals (in California),” said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, the state Air Resources Board’s Health and Exposure Assessment Branch Chief.  “Wildfire smoke increases stress on the lungs. It can make our bodies more susceptible to infections and illnesses like COVID-19.”

California Eyes Alternatives for Albion River Bridge Project – Construction Equipment Guide
The California Department of Transportation is currently reviewing rehabilitation and replacement alternatives for the Albion River Bridge Project in California’s Mendocino County.  The 969-ft. long, 26-ft. wide timber bridge constructed in 1944 does not meet current safety standards and demands high maintenance costs.

Florida announces plan to replace bridge that fell, killed 6 – Associated Press
Florida officials on Wednesday announced plans to design and build a pedestrian bridge to replace one that collapsed and killed six people two years ago in Miami.  The Florida Department of Transportation said in a statement that it would manage and oversee all aspects of the project.  The National Transportation Safety Board last November issued a report that blamed both the design firm for miscalculating a load on a key section of the bridge, as well as the company hired to conduct an independent review for not catching the problems before the structure collapsed on March 15, 2018.

May 4, 2020

State Supreme Court to hear arguments in California pension caseThe Bond Buyer
The California Supreme Court will hold online oral arguments Tuesday in a public pension case that could challenge the so-called “California Rule.”  The state’s highest court will hear Alameda County Deputy Sheriff’s Association v. Alameda County Employees’ Retirement Association, one of several cases pending on the court’s docket that challenge certain aspects of the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013.  The cases have garnered broad attention in California and nationally, where laws similar to the California Rule have prevented significant changes to public pensions by states and municipalities.

Caltrans honors its fallen workers every year. How coronavirus changed its memorialThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
In a normal year, Caltrans creates a memorial at the state Capitol with a traffic cone to represent each worker who died on the job since 1921.  This drone view shows how it was set up Thursday, April 30, 2020, because of the coronavirus crisis.

Lawsuits Fly Amid State, Federal Changes in California Water Delivery and UseEngineering News-Record
Environmental groups in California on April 29 challenged in court the state Dept. of Water Resources decision to exclude a proposed 40-mile tunnel in a recent environmental assessment needed to reauthorize long-term operation of the State Water Project.

Covid-19 Spurs a Road Repair Bloom – and Threatens a BustWired
Across the country, DOTs are reaping the benefits of fixing road networks without worrying about road users.  Like most booms, this surge in road work will come with a bust.  Drivers may inconvenience those fixing up roads, but they also pay for that work.

April 2020

April 30, 2020

Will pensions be ‘on the chopping block’ in recession? California Supreme Court to hear caseThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Former Gov. Jerry Brown predicted two years ago that public pensions would be “on the chopping block” during the next economic downturn.  Next week, with state and local budgets teetering amid the coronavirus outbreak, the state Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that could determine in part whether Brown’s prediction will come true.

California Oil Producers Fighting Newsom Proposal for Stronger Industry OversightKQED
A leading energy industry group is calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration to hold off on efforts to strengthen oversight of oil and gas production in order to soften the pain fossil fuel companies are experiencing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Californians backed a gas tax to fix roads. What will coronavirus mean for highway projects?The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California voters two years ago emphatically endorsed a plan to speed highway and transportation projects when they supported at the ballot box a package of gas taxes and vehicles fees.  But the coronavirus outbreak looks likely to jeopardize those plans.

Alemany Project Nears Completion Ahead of ScheduleKCBS
Caltrans officials say the Alemany Interchange construction project is on track to finish early.  The big pour, which covers the new southbound bridge deck of Highway 101 near I-280, with concrete is already behind them.

Italian Bridge Passes MilestoneNew Civil Engineer
The final span of the new Polcevera Viaduct in Genoa, Italy has been lifted into place 19 months after the tragic collapse of the old structure which killed 43 people.  The milestone marks the end of the main construction phase, with the bridge scheduled to open to traffic later this year.

April 27, 2020

Light Traffic Prompts Caltrans to Fast-Track Highway 101 Work in SFNBC Bay Area
Caltrans is taking advantage of less-congested roadways to get an early start on a major highway project in San Francisco.  Crews on Friday began work on an 800-foot stretch of Highway 101 at the Interstate 280-Alemany interchange, a project that was scheduled to begin in July when traffic typically is lighter.  Caltrans spokesman Bart Ney says they moved up the $37 million project since people are sheltering at home right now.

Op-Ed: We Can Clearly See That Reduced Emissions Should be a California GoalCalMatters
Angelenos are collectively amazed with our new coastal vistas — Catalina Island to the south and Point Dume to the north.  My friends in Northern California report that they can even see the Point Reyes Peninsula from San Francisco’s coastline.  And while there’s no silver lining that could make the COVID-19 pandemic anything but a global nightmare, in a better world, I could get used to this beauty, along with spontaneous mid-morning games of backyard chase with my kids.

Op-Ed: This is Prime Time to Increase the Federal Gasoline TaxThe Hill
Based on last year’s volume, a hike of 25 cents per gallon would generate about $36 billion of new revenue for the Highway Trust Fund.  And the price of a gallon of gasoline would still remain well below its average cost over the past 10 years.

‘Extreme’ Drought Conditions Popping Up in Far Northern California ABC 10
California has now moved into a more severe level of drought for close to 5% of the state.  The US Drought Monitor update released last week lists far Northern California as the most impacted by a lackluster rain and snow season.  Some areas such as Eureka and Mount Shasta are down more than 15″ of rain from their averages for the season so far.

April 23, 2020

State workers could be retrained to ‘test and trace’ coronavirus cases, Gavin Newsom saysMSN/The Sacramento Bee
California state workers could get trained for an emerging workforce of 10,000 coronavirus trackers that Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state will need to reopen its economy and lift the stay-at-home order.  The administration is surveying state workers, Newsom said, to “see if they’re willing to do different work to support our tracing and tracking efforts.”

New Port of Long Beach bridge reaches
Almost exactly two years after construction began on the main span of the massive new bridge at the Port of Long Beach, crews on Tuesday placed the last major steel floor beam.  The $1.47 billion undertaking, California’s first cable-stayed bridge for vehicles, is a joint project between the port and Caltrans, with additional funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.  Officials say the bridge will open later this year.

Drought exposed California’s thirst for groundwater. Now, the state hopes to refill its aquifers Science
Groundwater science is taking on a new urgency as California and other regions worldwide face growing threats from drought — and are drilling more and deeper wells.  California is a case study in the challenges of protecting those resources.

Economic toll endangers key climate goal: cleaner carsEnvironment & Energy News
The economic downturn triggered by the novel coronavirus pandemic threatens to stall states’ goals to put more clean vehicles on the road.  California, for example, wants to get drivers into 5 million zero-emissions vehicles within a decade.  To meet the goal, the state has put in place mandates that automakers that sell in the state produce a certain percentage of ZEVs.  That percentage is designed to increase annually, but the expected recession and corresponding fall off in auto sales create a potential roadblock.

April 20, 2020

Pensions, furloughs and telework: What does a recession hold for California state workers?The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Many aspects of working for the State of California have changed.  Some of those changes could become permanent.  Five questions we’ll track in the months to come as the impact of COVID-19 on state law, policy and budgeting shakes out: Will there be furloughs?  Will telecommuting and virtual field offices become permanent?  Should government employees worry about CalPERS?  Will there be pay incentives for “front line” employees who go to work?  Will the state workforce shrink, or grow?

California water war re-ignitedCalMatters
The COVID-19 pandemic, we have been told, is transforming how we live, but one aspect of life in California appears immune to change: the state’s perennial war over water.

COVID-19 pandemic exposing America’s water infrastructure crisisThe Hill
The COVID-19 pandemic is revealing another humanitarian crisis that is afflicting millions of people across the United States — the lack of safe, affordable water.  The reasons vary.  A leading cause is persistent environmental degradation.  Toxic chemical pollution.  Farm runoff from fertilizer and animal waste.  Mining contaminants.  The list goes on.

Nevada bond approval last road block in high-speed rail projectLas Vegas Review-Journal
The Las Vegas to Southern California high-speed rail project many had given up on years ago has steadily gained momentum by achieving funding and permitting approvals necessary to get it on track.  Last week, California approved $600 million in tax-exempt bonds that Virgin Trains USA will use to market $2.4 billion in private equity bonds, marking the largest step.  The project is on pace to break ground by the end of 2020, with operations beginning in the fourth quarter of 2023, pending approval of $200 million of bonds in Nevada.

April 16, 2020

‘Beyond crazy’: Coronavirus turns California’s $20 billion budget reserves into red inkThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California lawmakers are cautiously optimistic they can avoid slashing tens of billions of dollars in spending from government services this year despite the economic hit of the coronavirus outbreak.  A prolonged recession could consume the state’s historic reserves and force deep cuts to programs.

Highway fund’s shortfall deepened by plunge in gas tax revenueRoll Call
While Congress has focused much of its coronavirus relief legislation on helping struggling airlines, state highway officials are worried about another crisis on the horizon: plummeting gas tax revenues as most Americans stay at home.

Largest dam removal project in US takes further step forwardInternational Water Power & Dam Construction
The Klamath River Renewal Corporation’s (KRRC) plans to remove four dams on the Klamath River in the US has taken a significant step forward with the issuance of key documents from the California State Water Board.  The plan – the largest dam removal project in the US – would re-open 360 miles of the Klamath River and its tributaries to salmon.

Report: Small reductions in deficient-bridge total but huge backlog remainsEngineering News-Record
State and local transportation agencies, with a big assist from federal funds, are continuing to achieve modest progress in trimming the nation’s still-daunting backlog of structurally deficient bridges, according to a new American Road & Transportation Builders Association report.  The study, based on Federal Highway Administration National Bridge Inventory data, found “The most traveled structurally deficient bridges are on parts of Route 101, Interstate 405 and Interstate 5 in California, where daily crossings are as high as 289,000 per day.”

April 13, 2020

Caltrans is speeding up highway projects while coronavirus keeps Californians off the roadThe San Luis Obispo Tribune
As state and local officials extend stay-at-home orders, road construction crews across California are taking advantage of reduced traffic to speed up projects.  Contractors said they are working during the day instead of at night, extending work hours and closing longer stretches of road at a time under temporary agreements with the state Department of Transportation and local agencies.

State DOTs are in need of help. Is Congress listening?Logistics Management
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials sent a letter to Congressional leadership on April 6, requesting an immediate emergency injection of $49.95 billion to offset an estimated 30% loss in state transportation revenues over the next 18 months.

Groups Ask California To Stay Course on Air Rules Amid VirusBloomberg
Twenty environmental, justice, and conservation groups are urging California to stay the course on air, public health, and climate regulations as industry groups push for delays, rollbacks, or weakening of rules during the coronavirus outbreak.  The requests are coming from business, agriculture, trucking, and shipping outlets and addressed to Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) or the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

Volkswagen loses dieselgate class lawsuit in the
Volkswagen faces the threat of a huge “dieselgate” payout in Britain following a court Monday ruled in favor of over 90,000 British drivers whose vehicles cheated emissions tests.  The ruling adds pressure on the company just after the automaker stated last month it was preparing to shutter majority of its European plants as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts supply chains and reduces demand.

California’s Winter Goes Down as One of the Driest, Thin Snowpack ShowsSan Francisco Chronicle/
When California snow surveyors trekked into the Sierra Nevada on Wednesday, they officially logged this past winter as one of the driest in state history.  Statewide snowpack measured 53% of average for the critical April 1 survey — the time when snow levels are typically at their peak, helping inform how much melt-off will pour into California’s many reservoirs.  The figure is the 11th lowest in 71 years of record-keeping.

April 9, 2020

Extra Pay for Essential Workers? California State Unions Press for Coronavirus IncentivesThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Unions, including the California Association of Psychiatric Technicians, are advocating for hazard pay or another incentive for employees whose jobs involve possible exposure to the virus that triggers COVID-19, said Coby Pizzotti, a lobbyist who represents the union.  “Our members are working side by side, they’re treating, they’re screening people that now have (COVID-19) cases,” Pizzotti said.  “We’re not on islands. We’re in the middle of it.”

Ford Will Stick with California Emissions StandardsThe News Wheel
Despite the rollback of Obama-era federal emissions rules, Ford says that it will continue to abide by California’s voluntary emissions standards moving forward.

What’s the Plan to End Groundwater Overdraft in the San Joaquin Valley?Public Policy Institute of California
In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, work on managing groundwater for long-term sustainability continues, as required by California’s landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).  In January, water users in 21 critically over drafted basins delivered their groundwater sustainability plans to the state Department of Water Resources.  Here’s how the plans propose to restore balance to the basins by expanding the supply of water to refill them and reducing the demand that drains them.

White House Touts Infrastructure Plan as Congress Eyes Expanded AidTransport Topics
Donald Trump has promoted a $2 trillion plan that would fix roads, bridges and other transportation systems through long-term, zero-interest borrowing.

April 6, 2020

California state unions were bargaining for raises. Then came the coronavirusThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Six weeks ago, things looked good for the unions representing 70,000 California state workers with expiring labor contracts.  A humming economy offered leverage to press Gov. Gavin Newsom for raises.  The state was shopping around creative new perks such as a health insurance stipend, and Newsom seemed willing to provide hefty pay bumps for hard-to-keep workers.  The outlook is dimming quickly as the state’s economy absorbs the shocks of the coronavirus.

Coronavirus relief law gives California state workers with children 12 weeks paid leaveThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
State workers with children stuck at home may take up to 12 weeks of paid leave under a federal law that went into effect April 1, according to the California Department of Human Resources.

California Issues First New Fracking Permits Since JulyKPBS/Associated Press
California issued 24 hydraulic fracturing permits on Friday, authorizing the first new oil wells in the state since July of last year and angering environmental groups who have been pressuring the state to ban the procedure known as fracking.

Sierra snowpack: What the survey found in what’s usually peak weekThe Mercury News
California’s Sierra Nevada snowpack is below normal for spring and the water content around the state is only about half the April average, as much of California struggles under persistent drought, authorities said.  A manual survey of snow last week at Echo Summit found the water contained in the snowpack was equal to 16½ inches, or about 66% of the April average for that location.

April 2, 2020

Editorial: To protect public safety during coronavirus, let government employees work from homeThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Government bureaucracies are not known for their ability to quickly or nimbly navigate change.  That’s still no excuse for lumbering response times and fuzzy decision-making in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

White House says another coronavirus stimulus should include up to $2 trillion for infrastructureUSA Today
Days after signing a record $2 trillion stimulus bill to curb the effects of coronavirus, President Donald Trump said Tuesday the next phase to revive the economy should include up to $2 trillion more for roads, bridges, and other forms of infrastructure.

California Moves Ahead With Water Plan Without Feds’ Guidance Courthouse News Service/SCV News
In the latest break with the federal government on environmental policy, California officials decided Tuesday to give the state unprecedented control over a water plan that delivers water to more than 27 million residents.

Volvo Cars in Talks to Reach Emissions Deal With CaliforniaThe New York Times (tiered subscriptions)
Swedish automaker Volvo Cars confirmed Tuesday it is in talks with California to reach a voluntary emissions agreement.  Mary Nichols, who heads the California Air Resources Board, disclosed earlier Volvo planned to join Ford Motor Co, Honda Motor Co, BMW AG and Volkswagen AG.  In July, the four struck an agreement with California to adopt emissions requirements that were more stringent than the Trump administration rewrite but looser than the Obama-era rules.

April 1, 2020

Unused vacation days give many California state workers a cushion amid coronavirusThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Workers with a decade of experience in California state government have been through tough times before.  The state instituted furloughs during the Great Recession that lasted five years, requiring workers to take off about three weeks per year without pay.  While the furloughs took a bite out of their incomes, the cost-saving measure added to workers’ banks of paid leave.  Now, as state offices stay open while the coronavirus spreads, some tenured employees may draw on weeks or months of accrued leave rather than going in to work.

Washington State Broadens Construction Shutdown OrderEngineering News-Record
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on March 25 clarified his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” proclamation from earlier in the week to further restrict construction activity in an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus in the hard-hit state.  Inslee’s order will also suspend most of the operations for the Washington State Dept. of Transportation, except for fish passage work and projects needed for safety issues.  WSDOT was originally planning to proceed with all projects, but Inslee stepped in to change that course.

High-Speed Rail Construction Continuers Under COVID-19Streetsblog
More than 3,500 people are working on more than 100 miles of high-speed rail right now, as the project’s spine continues to take shape in California’s Central Valley.  While state and other office workers are adapting to a work-from-home order, it’s obviously impossible for construction workers to accomplish anything without being at the many construction sites.

Caltrans Claims SHOPP Projects include Complete Streets Elements. But Are They Speaking the Same Language?Streetsblog
Caltrans representatives told the CTC this week that the draft 2020 State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP) reflects the department’s commitment to incorporate bicycle, walking, and transit features in its highway maintenance projects “where feasible,” in compliance with its Complete Streets policies.  But going just by the draft SHOPP itself, it’s impossible to ascertain to what extent this is true, or even what Caltrans means by “Complete Streets elements.”

Dry Winter Plunges Much of California Into DroughtCourthouse News
Much of California remains in abnormally dry conditions and several regions in the north state are experiencing drought, according to the latest report released by the U.S. Drought Monitor last week.

March 2020

March 26, 2020

The complete list of California’s essential workersKTVU
This month, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered everyone to stay home in California unless you are an essential worker. There are exceptions to leaving the house, including taking a walk and going to the grocery store and doctor. Here is the list provided by the governor’s office on who in the public and private sectors is deemed essential.

The Golden Gate Bridge seeks an emergency bailoutCurbed San Francisco
The shelter-in-place orders now active across the entire San Francisco Bay Area region have sapped the vitality of sectors of the economy, including the Golden Gate Bridge, which is appealing to the federal government for monetary aid.

‘Outdated attitude’: Why California wasn’t ready for its state workers to telecommuteThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
A decade before the new coronavirus arrived in California, the state encouraged departments to promote telework.  In addition to improving performance, morale, health and wellness, teleworking could promote “effective continuation of business” during an emergency, according to 2010 guidance issued by the Department of General Services.  Yet three weeks after California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared an emergency to help address the virus, many state workers say they are facing resistance, confusion and uneven responses when they ask to work remotely.

… “It’s a scary and difficult time and you’d like to think that the state of California departments were moving to adhere to the governor’s executive order to stay at home and protect public health,” said Ted Toppin, executive director of the union Professional Engineers in California Government, which represents Caltrans engineers.  “And for the state to do that, that means to put their employees to work at home.  But we know this: State government is a battleship.  It is very slow.”

Toppin, the director of the state engineers’ union, said the union has supported telework for a long time.

“Maybe what comes out of this crisis is that state departments will recognize that telework will work,” he said.  “That you can still deliver for taxpayers from your home office.”

March 23, 2020

California is asking state workers to consider changing jobs in coronavirus outbreakThe Sacramento Bee
Governor Gavin Newsom said that the state has sent out surveys to employees designated as having a “non-essential” capacity, asking them whether they would be willing to be re-assigned to another position.  He said many of them are saying they’re open to a temporary job change.

What does Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order mean for state workers?The Sacramento Bee
The statewide stay-at-home order Gov. Gavin Newsom issued Thursday appears to change little for the state’s workers, who are required to report to work unless they have reached a different agreement with a supervisor or are using leave.  A Department of Industrial Relations executive sent out an email following Newsom’s announcement addressing the new order, along with similar orders from local officials: “State and local health officials have determined government service is essential and government sector employees are exempted from the stay-at-home or shelter-in-place directives,” Chief Deputy Director Victoria Hassid said in the email.

$100 billion Bay Area transportation measure pushed backSan Francisco Business Journal
An ambitious plan to generate $100 billion in new funding for Bay Area transportation has been postponed indefinitely.  The coalition of business advocacy and public policy groups behind Faster Bay Area said Wednesday they have pushed plans for a nine-county measure from the November 2020 ballot to an undetermined date in the future.  The Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Bay Area Council and SPUR said in a statement that the disruption and uncertainties related to COVID-19 were behind the postponement.

Cash Toll Collection Suspended On Bay Area BridgesSan Francisco Chronicle
The state at midnight on Friday stopped staffing of bridge tollbooths on seven Bay Area bridges and suspended collecting cash.  The suspension is being enacted “to minimize toll collectors’ and toll-paying customers’ risk of exposure to Covid-19 during the current public health emergency,” officials said in an announcement.

March 19, 2020

Can’t telework? You might get a new California state job, according to Newsom administrationThe Sacramento Bee
Many of the California state workers who reported to their offices Wednesday will have to keep showing up — whether or not their job is essential — under the latest guidance from Gov. Gavin Newsom.  Workers have anticipated new direction from Newsom since Sunday, when he said it was coming Tuesday.  They continued showing up at offices in Sacramento and the Bay Area even after local officials issued shelter-in-place directives.  A central frustration among workers has been the discretion the state has left mid-level managers to decide who may and who may not work from home under telecommuting agreements.

CalPERS Employee Tests Negative For CoronavirusPensions & Investments
As volatile stock markets have resulted in tens of billions of dollars of losses for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), there was one bit of positive news Wednesday.  Tests came back showing the CalPERS employee suspected of possibly having coronavirus did not have the virus.

March 16, 2020

Is your state government job ‘essential?’ Newsom administration to tell you on Tuesday ­– The Modesto Bee
California will issue new guidance to state workers Tuesday on working from home, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Sunday, intending to move employees out of crowded workplaces where the coronavirus can easily spread.  As of now, state workers must go to work unless they are under quarantine, have reached a telework agreement with a manager, or they are using sick leave according to state guidance.

Two California state offices close after workers take coronavirus testsThe Sacramento Bee
Caltrans planned to close an office in Oakland on Monday after an employee there tested positive for COVID-19, according to a Sunday night email.  Separately, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System closed its Sacramento headquarters for cleaning Monday after an employee there showed symptoms and went home. The employee has been tested for COVID-19, according to a CalPERS news release.

Hushing up concerns of bullet-train workers? Not a great look for state rail authorityThe Fresno Bee
Serious allegations raised last week by former workers on California’s high-speed-rail project would, if true, support charges by conservative critics that the effort is deeply flawed.

DWR awards $47 million in grants for Groundwater Sustainability23 ABC News
The Department of Water Resources awarded $47 million in grant funding to 53 applicants to support local agencies in development of plans to manage groundwater basins for long-term sustainability.

March 12, 2020

Coronavirus tests are free for 1.5 million people with CalPERS health insuranceThe Sacramento Bee
The 1.5 million people with CalPERS health insurance won’t have to pay for medically necessary coronavirus tests, according to a spokeswoman for the retirement system.

What coronavirus means for California state workers: Telecommuting, sick timeThe Sacramento Bee
California state workers may use sick leave to take care of children who are home due to school closures, according to guidance CalHR sent to state departments earlier this week.  Employees who are required to stay at home under quarantine will receive administrative time off, and “telework may be considered,” according to the memo CalHR emailed to department human resources directors.  That’s unless the worker chose to travel to a high-risk country — then they will not receive administrative time off, according to the email.

18 states ask White House to withdraw major environmental rollbackThe Hill
Attorneys general for 18 states, including California, are asking the Trump administration to withdraw a rule that would roll back a bedrock environmental law, arguing the proposal is “unlawful, unreasonable, and unjustified.”  The administration in January announced changes that would limit the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires that an environmental review accompany any major infrastructure project such as building highways or pipelines.

State orders permanent shutdown of oil drilling site near USCLos Angeles Times
California regulators are ordering Allenco Energy to plug wells and decommission an oil drilling site whose neighbors once complained of nosebleeds, headaches and other ailments, permanently closing the South Los Angeles facility.  In the order, State Oil and Gas Supervisor Uduak-Joe Ntuk declared that Allenco Energy had “deserted” the facility and failed to properly fix leaks that showed that wells were deteriorating.

March 9, 2020

California unions would get more details on job applicants under proposed lawThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
The state of California would be required to provide more information to unions each time it fills a job under a new proposed law.  Under the proposal, Assembly Bill 3349, union representatives could request information on how many people have applied, been interviewed, and have been hired or rejected for any state job.

California bullet train officials say they were told to suppress bad news and ‘shut up’Los Angeles Times
Former engineers of the consulting firm in charge of California’s High-Speed Rail program, WSP, say that managers at the company’s Fresno office threatened to punish or terminate employees if they reported bad news about the project.  A former project controls coordinator said WSP’s failures ran the gamut of estimating costs, scheduling construction and managing change orders.  “Revealing bad news was discouraged,” he said.  “I just couldn’t continue to work there.  I don’t work that way.  American professionals don’t work that way.”

Caltrans will begin $26 million road improvement project on Interstate 15 in FontanaFontana Herald News
Caltrans will begin a $26 million road improvement project on the Interstate 15 Freeway in and near the cities of Fontana and Rialto by the end of March.  The project includes repaving on- and off-ramps, adding two outside lanes in each direction, and slab replacement where needed.  Roughly 10 percent of the funding, $2.5 million, is from Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.

Conservatives sue over state law that limits public employers’ anti-union talkOrange County Register (tiered subscription)
Saying their free speech rights are being trampled, seven local leaders from cities in Southern California are challenging a state law that prohibits them from expressing anti-union sentiment to public workers.  In a lawsuit filed last month in federal district court, the officials from Orange, Los Angeles and San Diego counties are challenging a 2018 law that says public employers “shall not deter or discourage” workers from joining unions.

March 5, 2020

Carmageddon Is Back: Burbank Bridge Demolition Project To Shut Down 5 FreewayKCAL
Drivers will need to brace themselves for significant traffic issues over the coming months due to a large-scale construction project that will include completely shutting down the 5 Freeway in Burbank for a full weekend in order to demolish the much-traversed Burbank Boulevard overpass bridge.

Seepage monitors installed at Oroville DamKRCR News
This week, the California Department of Water Resources will install eight new measurement devices at the base of the Oroville Dam.  The devices, called piezometers will monitor seepage and will be used to confirm seepage measurements that the DWR already collects.  Seepage refers to a small amount of water that can pass through the dam.

Bond measure would put $5.5 billion toward fighting climate changeLa Cañada Valley Sun
A proposed $5.5-billion bond measure from the California Senate aims to combat climate change by funding various environmental preservation and expansion projects throughout the state.  Senate Bill 45, also known as the Wildfire Prevention, Safe Drinking Water, Drought Preparation and Flood Protection Bond Act of 2020, would allocate the money based on environmental hazards faced in California.

Quarantined workers would be protected from retaliation under proposed California law – The Sacramento Bee (open access for coronavirus news)
Assembly Bill 3123 would protect workers forced to stay home due to a public official ordering their workplace closed.  It also would protect workers who have to take care of children whose schools have been closed.

March 2, 2020

Public employees can’t skip work because of coronavirus. How can they keep safe? – The Sacramento Bee
Wash your hands and don’t discriminate against minorities.  That’s the essence of an email CalHR Director Eraina Ortega sent out to California government employees last week as fears of the COVID19 strain of coronavirus circulated.

FHWA distributes $653 million for emergency infrastructure repairsTransport Topics
The Federal Highway Administration is awarding $653.2 million in emergency relief funds to assist states and territories that have experienced infrastructure damage.  California received the largest amount of funding, totaling over $228 million, to help with repairs needed from various wildfires and floods.

Water is life. It’s also a battle. So what does the future hold for California?CalMatters
This series of short articles and graphics lays out the state’s water supplies and uses — as well as the challenges, today and tomorrow, of providing water for California’s people, places and things.

CalPERS fund drops by $15 billion amid market plunge and coronavirus fearsThe Modesto Bee
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System’s portfolio, which rode a hot stock market to reach a milestone of $400 billion last month, stood at $385 billion at the end of Thursday, according to a tracker on the fund’s website.  However, CalPERS says it has changed its investment strategy in the last three years to prepare for a market downturn and doesn’t overreact to short-term fluctuations.  “CalPERS is a long-term investor,” spokesman Wayne Davis said.  “We monitor the markets, we pay attention to the news, but we focus on our long term strategy.”

February 2020

February 27, 2020

Bernhardt fires back at Newsom over Calif. water lawsuit – The Sun
The future of the complicated network of waterways and canals that supplies millions of Californians with water daily could be murky at best, U.S.  Interior Secretary David Bernhardt warned Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom in a letter this week.

California court tosses blanket approval for 72,000 new oil wellsDesert Sun
A California appellate court threw out a Kern County law that allowed major oil producers to rely on a single, blanket environmental approval for 72,000 new oil wells, instead of facing scrutiny for each new project’s potential impact on air quality, drinking water, wildlife and other concerns.

Caltrans addresses Highway 1 erosion – Half Moon Bay Review
In early 2018, Caltrans officials noticed cracks in the road and an eroding roadbed while authorities investigated a vehicle that went over the cliff nearby. Since last year, the department has been working to retain the land and repair the roadway.  The work should be finished this summer.

Bill calls for strict oversight of high-speed railThe Visalia Sun-Gazette
The measure, AB 2249, would create a legislative oversight committee requiring the California High Speed Rail Authority to submit monthly reports on contracts, change orders and any other documentation the committee requests.

February 24, 2020

White House reverses itself, will pay California for Oroville Dam fixes – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
The California Department of Water Resources said Thursday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to cover approximately $300 million in repair costs the agency had previously denied.  All told, the state now expects to be reimbursed for approximately $750 million of the $1.1 billion cost of the crisis, said DWR spokeswoman Erin Mellon.  By law, the federal agency can reimburse up to 75 percent of the costs.

Summertime ‘Carmageddon’ Fears Ignite Over 101 Deck Replacement Project in SF – SFist
Caltrans is undertaking a major project on the 101 freeway in San Francisco this July, and the agency is holding a series of public meetings to discuss how it may impact businesses, traffic, and more.

Fees are going up for California state workers’ 401(k) plansThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California state workers soon will face higher fees and have fewer investment options in the retirement savings plans many use to supplement their pensions.

February 21, 2020

Two dams — essential to the Salinas Valley — are in serious need of repair – KCBX FM
The San Antonio and Nacimiento dams in San Luis Obispo County need a combined $160 million in repairs, according to state and local officials.  California’s Division of Safety and Dams says San Antonio Dam’s spillway – the feature that failed on the similarly-aged Oroville Dam a few years ago – needs to be fixed by the end of 2024.

California Is Drying Out Again; Here’s Why It’s Not a Concern – Yet – The Weather Channel
For the first time since early December, a small part of the Golden State’s central valley and Sierra Nevada have fallen into a moderate drought.  So far, however, reservoirs around the state aren’t doing too badly.

Feds OK more California water for Valley farmers. Gavin Newsom promises to sueThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Gov. Gavin Newsom, in a pre-emptive strike, said Wednesday he plans to sue the federal government to block a controversial plan that would increase water deliveries to the San Joaquin Valley.  Newsom’s office said he “will file legal action in the coming days…to protect highly imperiled fish species close to extinction.”

New $72.5M Bridge Over I-15 In Corona Nears
The work on the Cajalco Road Interchange Improvement Project began in the summer of 2018 and entailed replacing the old two-lane Cajalco Road Bridge with a six-lane overcrossing.  The cost: $72.5 million.

February 18, 2020

California adopts first air pollution measures targeting local emissions in Central Valley – The Fresno Bee
Last Thursday, the California Air Resources Board met in Shafter and after several hours, and at times battling over details and ideas, the board approved plans for Shafter and Fresno that outline ways to reduce emissions.  Under AB 617, the law that called for the plans voted on last week, the state set aside $32 million for implementation of the Fresno projects and $29 million for Shafter.  Eight other communities chosen for the programs also received funding, and each year new communities will be added.

Opinion: Time to act is now on California’s water system – Capitol Weekly
In the face of climate change and an increased risk of natural disasters, it is imperative that the state take action now to fortify our mainline water distribution infrastructure to better protect all Californian’s access to clean, reliable water.

California lawmakers voice concerns about extra $1.3B in high-speed rail planFox 40
California’s latest high-speed rail business plan is drawing bipartisan frustration from state lawmakers.  Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle aired out their concerns Thursday with the project.  The latest business plan calls for an extra $1.3 billion of the $80 billion bullet train project.  The immediate plan includes completion of a line from Bakersfield to Merced by 2022, with plans to connect San Francisco to Los Angeles by 2033.

February 13, 2020

The toxic legacy of old oil wells: California’s multibillion-dollar problem – KGET
Across much of California, fossil fuel companies are leaving thousands of oil and gas wells unplugged and idle, potentially threatening the health of people living nearby and handing taxpayers a multibillion-dollar bill for the environmental cleanup.

Justice Department Drops Antitrust Probe Against Automakers That Sided With California on Emissions – The New York Times (tiered subscription)
The U.S. Justice Department has dropped its antitrust inquiry into four automakers that had sided with California in its dispute with the Trump administration over reducing climate-warming vehicle pollution, deciding that the companies had violated no laws, according to people familiar with the matter.  The decision could boost the efforts of the auto companies and California to move ahead with tighter vehicle pollution standards than those being finalized by the federal government.

California bullet train cost rises by another $1 billionAssociated Press
The estimated cost to complete California’s high-speed rail line rose another $1.3 billion, to $80.3 billion, while construction is on schedule to meet a 2022 deadline to have about 20% of the track laid, according to a new business plan released Wednesday.  The cost increase is mainly because the plan pushes back the completion of a high-speed rail link between Silicon Valley and the Central Valley by 18 months, to late 2031.  California voters in 2008 approved a $9 billion bond measure for the project, with estimates a Bay Area-to-Los Angeles line would be completed this year for $33.6 billion.

February 10, 2020

Tired of bumping along I-80 in Northern California? White House, Congress say they want to help – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
House Democrats and Republicans last week unveiled new plans to pump billions of federal dollars into highway and bridge repair around the country, including California.  A Senate committee last year unanimously passed a highway and bridge improvement plan, and the White House last week urged its adoption.

Opinion: California’s water status quo isn’t working – CalMatters
Our water status quo isn’t working.  We’ve accepted a false choice that pits our environment against our farmers – and ultimately, it’s a false choice that serves to flood our courts with lawsuits more than it serves our economy, our ecosystems or our agricultural sector.

A closer look at the gas tax and what Caltrans is doing with your moneyKSBY News
Road maintenance in California took a back seat for a number of years due to lack of funding, but the $5 billion annual cash infusion from Senate Bill 1 has kick-started dozens of road projects.  Here’s a closer look at how Caltrans is spending the money on Central Coast projects.

Gavin Newsom ends long-distance commuting deals for state executivesThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California government stopped paying for officials to commute across the state last year after The Sacramento Bee reported on a department director’s regular travel between Sacramento and San Diego, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office told The Bee last week.

February 6, 2020

With 31,000 Job Openings, California Government Ramps Up Recruitment in Tight Labor Market – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California state government is making it easier to get a job in public service as its vacancies rise amid historically low unemployment.

Gov. Newsom: California Must Get Past Differences on Water. Voluntary Agreements are the Path Forward – CalMatters
Governor Gavin Newsom writes, “Today, my administration is proposing a path forward, one that will move past the old water binaries and set us up for a secure and prosperous water future.  Guided by science, this new framework will provide the foundation for binding voluntary agreements between government agencies and water users with partnership and oversight from environmental groups.”

Interstate 10 in Palm Springs Area Getting Major Upgrade; Work Will Last Three Years – Palm Springs Desert Sun
A stretch of Interstate 10 through the San Gorgonio Pass is undergoing a $210 million paving project to fix the freeway of damage that causes bumpy rides for motorists.  Dubbed the “I-10 Tune-Up,” the project will cover about 20 miles.  More than half the cost is covered by funds from the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017, also known as Senate Bill 1.

4 Months After New Contract, These California State Workers are Waiting for Raises – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
The International Union of Operating Engineers has filed a grievance on behalf of 900 Bargaining Unit 13 state employees who have not received geographic pay, longevity pay, or special certification pay according to the terms the union bargained last fall.

February 3, 2020

More Than 600 High-Risk Dams in CA Do Not Have an Approved Emergency Plan, Report Says – Action News 12
A new report from the California State Auditor shows that there are more than 600 high-risk dams in the state that do not have approved emergency plans.  The report criticizes two state agencies – The Department of Water Resources and the Office of Emergency Services – for not doing enough to ensure public safety.

Berkeley Officials Show Support for Bay Bridge Bus and Carpool Lanes – The Daily Californian
Elected officials from Berkeley and Oakland have expressed their support for the creation of dedicated bus and carpool lanes on the Bay Bridge and sections of Interstate 580 and 880 leading up to the Bay Bridge.

Another top California oil regulator will step down amid continued probes – Palm Springs Desert Sun
Jason Marshall, one of California’s top oil and gas regulators, is stepping down in mid-February from his post as chief deputy director of the Department of Conservation.  In that role, he has overseen the beleaguered Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) as well as the mining division and other key department functions.

January 2020

January 30, 2020

More Rain and Less Snow Means Increased Flood Risk with Consequences for Infrastructure – Science Daily
As the world warms and precipitation that would have generated snowpack instead creates rain, the western U.S. could see larger floods, according to new Stanford research.  The findings could inform management of reservoirs that not only secure the region’s water supply but also provide a buffer for flooding, according to senior author Noah Diffenbaugh, the Kara J. Foundation Professor at Stanford Earth.

Port commissioners briefed on Harbor Bridge project – KRIS 6 News
In Corpus Christi, Texas, port commissioners learned that the company removed from work on the span of the new Harbor Bridge construction project is continuing work on other parts of it.  On Jan. 10, the Texas Department of Transportation asked that the FIGG design firm be taken off design of the cable-stayed span of the bridge. TX-DOT took that action following a federal investigation into the collapse of a pedestrian bridge in March 2018 that killed several people in Florida.  The FIGG group designed that bridge.

Settlement Talks Over $1.2 Billion CalPERS Lawsuit are Extended with Retired Judge at Helm – The Modesto Bee
A retired judge is now managing settlement talks between CalPERS and a group of people suing the retirement system over its long-term care insurance policies, according to court filings.  The development shows settlement efforts in the $1.2 billion class-action lawsuit haven’t faded since they started in September.

January 27, 2020

California, climate change and the trauma of the last decade –
Scientists say there’s no doubt that climate change has amplified California’s extreme events of the previous decade, mostly because the state’s average temperature is rising.  PECG member Lesley Ewing, a senior engineer with the California Coastal Commission, uses steroids in sports to illustrate the impact.  “Top athletes who use steroids are still great athletes—the steroids just give them a little push,” she said.  “Storms and fires already have the potential to do horrible damage, but climate change gives them an added push.”

Newsom hosts National Governors Association in San Francisco, says infrastructure projects a priority – KTVU
California’s water supply for this year looks promising, with the statewide Sierra Nevada snowpack standing at its tallest in four years for early January, according to the state’s Department of Water Resources latest measurement on Thursday.

California dominates list of most polluted cities in U.S. – Black Hills Pioneer
Five of the 15 America’s largest metro regions with the worst air quality are in California, according to federal data.  Meanwhile, the state’s small- and mid-size metros also claim a disproportionate number of spots, eight in 30, on the nation’s worst-air list.

The Remarkable Story of the Golden Gate BridgeThe Bold Italic
The Golden Gate Bridge is thought to be many things.  To engineers, it’s a wonder; to photographers, a dream.  To the poet, it’s an emblem—“the western bookend to the Brooklyn Bridge,” as Michiko Kakutani once wrote.  To the troubled, it’s a provocation, an intolerable curiosity.  To all, it’s a source of awe, lending from every vantage the sense that what you’re looking at is not just beautiful, or impressive, but historic.  John van der Zee, author of The Gate, called it “the most successful combination of site and structure since the Parthenon.”

January 23, 2020

CalPERS members slow to make their online accounts more secure – Pensions & Investments
Since last summer, CalPERS’ staff has been encouraging its members to use two-factor security, but they have been slower to adopt it than anticipated, Marcie Frost, CEO of the $401.4 billion pension plan said in an interview Tuesday.  The next question is whether CalPERS executives should make two-factor security measures mandatory, she said in an interview.

Newsom pledged to fix California water politics. Now he’s bogged down in the DeltaLos Angeles Times (tiered subscription)
Soon after taking office last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom pledged to break through the “status quo” of California water politics, plagued by decades of litigation and impasse.  One year later, the Newsom administration appears to be a house divided on water, as competing interests pull it in opposite directions.

Study: Americans pay 4x more for cell phones than road
American families pay thousands of dollars a year to use critical services such as electricity, water and broadband, but on average they pay far less for the critical transportation network that powers economies, strengthens communities and improves quality of life.

January 21, 2020

Time’s up on groundwater plans: One of the most important new California water laws in 50 years explained – KQED
Much of California’s water supply is a hidden asset: Deep below the surface, rocks, gravel and sand store water like a sponge, in an underground zone called an aquifer.  The landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA, requires some of the state’s thirstiest areas to form local “Groundwater Sustainability Agencies” and submit long-term plans by Jan. 31 for keeping aquifers healthy.  Here are some key things to know about the groundwater situation in California and how the law will impact the state.

California sues feds over fracking – The Hill
California is suing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over its plan to open up public lands in the state to oil and gas drilling including fracking, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) announced Friday.

Federal government boosts obscure permitting agencyE&E News
A little-known federal agency is staffing up, reflecting President Trump’s vow to streamline environmental reviews for major infrastructure projects.  Located two blocks from the White House, the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council is a tiny office of six people.  They work to coordinate the federal environmental experts reviewing some of the nation’s largest, most complex projects.  The council does not conduct National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews, but they help the federal officials who do to meet their deadlines by ensuring ecological studies, for instance, are not duplicative.

January 16, 2020

Newsom Moves Ahead With Plan for Single Delta Water Tunnel – Associated Press/KQED
California’s governor has restarted a project to build a giant, underground tunnel that would pump billions of gallons of water from the San Joaquin Delta to the southern part of the state. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration on Wednesday issued a Notice of Preparation for the project, which is the first step in the state’s lengthy environmental review process.

FHWA Extends Comment Period on Bridge Inspections Proposal – Transport Topics
The Federal Highway Administration has announced it is extending the period for public comment on its proposed rule to improve oversight of U.S. bridge inspections by incorporating a risk-based approach and encouraging the use of such technological advancements as unmanned aerial systems and sonar. The sweeping proposal applies to all highway bridges on all public roads, on and off federal-aid highways that include tribally and federally owned bridges and privately owned bridges that are connected to a public road on each end.

CalPERS board’s divestment dilemmasTop 1000 Funds
California’s Governor Gavin Newsom’s recent executive order calling on the state’s pension funds and endowments to invest more in green energy and less in fossil fuels flags more, complicated divestment decisions ahead for CalPERS’ 13-member board.

January 13, 2020

California sends 50 emergency crew members to help Puerto Rico with earthquake recovery – Fox 40
The California Office of Emergency Services and Caltrans together are sending up to 50 people to Puerto Rico following two earthquakes that have rocked the island within a week.

She says her pension should be bigger. CalPERS says she was a bad boss. – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
A lawsuit sparked by a $10,000 end-of-career “superior performance” bonus is challenging a California Public Employees’ Retirement System policy that since 2017 has excluded bonus incomes given under certain conditions from final pension calculations.  The plaintiff in the Los Angeles County Superior Court case also disputes CalPERS’ determination that the bonus wasn’t awarded on the basis of “superior” work, citing her shortcomings as a manager and the fact that her performance rating dropped from the year prior.

Toro Creek Bridge Open on State Route 192 – Noozhawk
Two year after the Montecito Debris Flow damaged six bridges on State Route 192, Caltrans has announced that the last one that closed, the Toro Creek Bridge, is now open to two-way traffic.  The other five bridges reopened last year.  Combined cost to repair or replace the bridges was $30 million.

California Lays Out Ambitious Climate Change Budget Plan – Capitol Public Radio
Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced a budget proposal on Friday with ambitious goals for addressing climate change, including a $12.5 billion climate budget, which will be rolled out over five years.  It includes a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund and a new $4.75 billion climate resilience bond the governor hopes to put in front of voters this fall.

January 9, 2020

Top trends: 5 ways construction will evolve in 2020 – Construction Dive
No. 5: Top contractors will continue reconsidering megaprojects with inherently high-risk contracts: Public-private partnerships will continue to fall out of fashion next year, continuing a trend that started in 2019 when executives from Granite Construction and Fluor called out public-private partnership arrangements for having detrimental effects on business.  Swedish-based Skanska AB also announced that it would no longer pursue major design-build transportation public-private partnerships in which it held an equity stake.

Two bills could decide fate of critical Friant-Kern Canal in 2020. Will reps outside Valley care? – Visalia Times Delta
Two bills, at the state and federal level, will likely determine the fate of the Friant-Kern Canal in a legislative year that is shaping up to be pivotal for Central Valley growers and ag communities.  Friant-Kern has delivered Sierra snowmelt to farmers and rural communities since 1952.  However, land subsidence caused by groundwater overdraft after years of historic drought has significantly compromised the canal’s ability to do its job.  Canal repairs could cost as little as $200 million, depending on how engineers go about the fix.

California awards contract for SR 99 project – Transportation Today
The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) recently awarded Granite a $33 million contract for the reconstruction of four miles of State Route 99 near Kingsburg.  The majority of the project will be funded through the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.

January 6, 2020

California water supply looks promising in 2020, officials say – U.S. News & World Report
California’s water supply for this year looks promising, with the statewide Sierra Nevada snowpack standing at its tallest in four years for early January, according to the state’s Department of Water Resources latest measurement on Thursday.

Sterling selected by Caltrans for $43.6 million highway projects – California Construction News
Sterling Construction Co. says that its subsidiary Myers & Sons Construction has been selected by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) for two California highway projects totaling $43.6 million.

Understanding infrastructure: The cost of repairing our roads, bridges and dams – Politifact
Leaving aside proposals made during campaigns, just how much money would it take to fix our infrastructure in three key areas — roads, bridges and dams?  The American Society of Civil Engineers report card says $588 billion is needed for roads, bridges and dams.  Experts told us it could be more.

January 2, 2020

SB-1 funding multiple projects – Kern Valley Sun
The California Transportation Commission (CTC) acquired more than $200 million in December 2019 for twenty-seven fix-it-first projects concerning highways and $42 million towards transit, bike, and pedestrian projects, partially funded by money allocated through Senate Bill 1, the Road and Repair Accountability Act of 2017.  Projects in Kern, Tulare, Kings, Madera and Fresno counties include drainage and pumping upgrades along state routes 99, 198, and 204 ($11.5 million), and Transportation Management Systems installed at varying locations throughout the region ($6.1 million).

DWR prepares Oroville Dam spillway for winter releases – KCRA
The Department of Water Resources is preparing Oroville Dam’s primary spillway for use this winter season.  The reconstructed spillway was completed this spring and used for the first time in April since the 2017 spillway crisis threatened 188,000 residents downstream.

100 years ago an engineer unlocked the Golden Gate Bridge’s beauty. Years later, his career ended in shame. – San Francisco Examiner
Beautiful.  Graceful.  Iconic.  Seemingly hyperbolic — yet, wholly accurate — words that are often used to describe the Golden Gate Bridge, the landmark that defines the City by the Bay.  The Golden Gate Bridge’s elegant form came at a price, however.  In a chapter of its life not often discussed, the Golden Gate Bridge was once briefly shut down for fear that strong gusting westerly winds would tear it asunder.