November 30, 2020

FHWA Proposes Changes in Design Standards for Highway Repairs, ResurfacingEngineering News-Review (tiered subscription)

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has proposed a regulation that it says will give state departments of transportation more flexibility in setting design standards for resurfacing, restoration and rehabilitation (RRR) projects on existing Interstate highways and other key arteries.  The proposal, published in the Federal Register on Nov. 24, would incorporate updated design standards—principally those issued in recent years by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)—and drop older versions of the benchmarks.

California Regulators Didn’t Follow Rules In Approving Hundreds Of New Oil Well Permits, Audit FindsCapital Public Radio

A state audit released the day before Thanksgiving shows that California oil regulators didn’t follow their own rules and in 2019 issued hundreds of inappropriate permits for new wells.  While the Department of Finance audit found the California Geologic Energy Management Division, CalGEM, was “generally” in accordance with its laws, it also found major areas lacking.

Well Water Throughout California Contaminated with ‘Forever Chemicals’CalMatters

Across California, water providers are discovering the same thing: “Forever chemicals” are everywhere.  Used for decades to make non-stick and waterproof coatings, firefighting foams and food packaging, these industrial chemicals — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS — have been linked to kidney cancer and other serious health conditions.  They last forever because they don’t break down.  They’re dangerous.  They’re expensive to get rid of.  And many Californians don’t even know they’re drinking them.  California is now cracking down by implementing new thresholds for the chemicals that will force cities and utilities to shut down their wells, treat the water, or notify their customers about the contamination.

GM Flips to California’s Side in Pollution Fight With TrumpAssociated Press / GV Wire

General Motors is switching sides in the legal fight against California’s right to set its own clean-air standards, abandoning the Trump administration as the president’s term nears its close.  CEO Mary Barra said in a letter Monday to environmental groups that GM will no longer support the Trump administration in its defense against a lawsuit over its efforts against California’s standards.  And GM is urging other automakers to do the same.  The move is a sign that GM and other automakers are anticipating big changes when President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.  Already at least one other large automaker, Toyota, said it may join GM in switching to California’s team.

November 23, 2020

Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin on the Future of TransportationStreetsblog California

In a wide-ranging conversation, Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin addressed some topics that aren’t usually the focus of a state DOT. He touched on the department’s role in climate change and transit, and discussed the new Caltrans Office of Race and Equity. He also talked about speed limit enforcement, congestion pricing, and highway expansion.

California Expands Air Monitoring to Include PFAS, More ToxicsBloomberg Law

A crew aboard a barge off the coast of Summerland has begun capping the abandoned Treadwell oil well, the second such project under a state law aimed at sealing polluting sites that, in many cases, opened during California’s “Oil Rush” in the 1930s.

Governor Seeks ‘Ongoing Increase In Telework’ As State Builds Big New Offices In Downtown SacramentoCBS Sacramento

As billions of dollars in new state buildings go up in Downtown Sacramento, Governor Gavin Newsom is now asking California state agencies to reduce their “physical footprint” and expand “telework.”

In all, four new downtown state buildings are under construction. Three state buildings are under construction on O Street, and a massive campus for the Department of General Services is under construction on Richards Boulevard.

PECG Media Briefing Archive

November 2020

November 19, 2020

Not dire, for now: California expects $26 billion windfall despite pandemic – CalMatters

The recession California officials forecast in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic has not been as dire as predicted, leaving the state with a $26 billion windfall heading into the next fiscal year.  The bad news: California is heading toward a $17 billion deficit in three years because expenses are growing faster than revenue. That leaves lawmakers with two politically unappealing choices: make ongoing spending cuts or raise taxes.  Still, legislative leaders were quick to say they hope to use some of the windfall to restore cuts made in this year’s budget. That could include restoring $602 million to universities, reversing the roughly 10% pay cut state workers took, and canceling plans to delay some payments to schools and suspend some programs for people who are elderly and developmentally disabled. They also suggested using some of it to repay recent borrowing, prepare for emergencies and help people who don’t have homes.

Projects in Golden State Making Significant Progress – Construction Equipment Guide

The Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (Senate Bill 1) has passed a major timeline milestone, one-fifth of the way through a promised 10-year transformation of California’s transportation network.  A recent progress report presented to the California Transportation Commission shows that Caltrans, to this point, is meeting or making significant strides on key SB 1 performance targets set for pavement, bridges, drainages, its signals, signs and sensors system.  But challenges remain in the pace of improvements to the bridges that Caltrans maintains, although solid progress has been made to that critical part of the State Highway System.

Historic deal revives plan for largest US dam demolition – Associated Press

An agreement announced Tuesday paves the way for the largest dam demolition in U.S. history, a project that promises to reopen hundreds of miles of waterway along the Oregon-California border to salmon that are critical to tribes but have dwindled to almost nothing in recent years.  If approved, the deal would revive plans to remove four massive hydroelectric dams on the lower Klamath River, creating the foundation for the most ambitious salmon restoration effort in history.  The project on California’s second-largest river would be at the vanguard of a trend toward dam demolitions in the U.S. as the structures age and become less economically viable amid growing environmental concerns about the health of native fish.

California Eyeing Resolution to Dozens of Federal Lawsuits – Bloomberg Law

Over the years, California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) has sued federal agencies over immigration, border wall financing, transgender rights, health care, education, and consumer privacy.  But the bulk of the cases—57—have focused on air, water, wildlife, energy, or environmental policy.  Now his office is poring over the lawsuits to see what can be rectified through executive order, by agencies changing course, or by accepting well-established case law.  “With a new administration coming in, we might be able to dial it back to normal, which will mean we don’t have to sue all the time,” Becerra said.

November 16, 2020

California official sees state auto emissions deal as ‘template’ for feds – Reuters

California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols, who sources say could be the next federal environment chief, said on Thursday her state’s agreement with major automakers for fuel efficiency requirements could serve as a “good template” for federal standards through 2025.  Meanwhile, many automakers are bracing for lengthy court or regulatory fights over tougher standards that they say could cost them billions of dollars.

California coastal oil well capping project launchedSanta Barbara News-Press

A crew aboard a barge off the coast of Summerland has begun capping the abandoned Treadwell oil well, the second such project under a state law aimed at sealing polluting sites that, in many cases, opened during California’s “Oil Rush” in the 1930s.

Ex-consultant for California bullet train project cleared of ethics violationsKTLA / Los Angeles Times

A state ethics investigation into the top consultant working on the California bullet train last year has found he did not violate state law, following allegations that he was among those who approved a contract modification for a company in which he held stock.

November 12, 2020

CalPERS weighs price hikes of up to $270 for cheaper health plans to save its best offerings – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)

Prices for some of the cheapest health insurance plans California state workers can buy would increase by up to $270 per month under a CalPERS proposal to stabilize rates.  The price hikes for the cheapest plans, typically favored by young and healthy workers, would help save richer plans favored by older workers and retirees from collapse, a CalPERS health insurance official has told the retirement system’s board.  CalPERS posted projected rates online this week ahead of an anticipated decision Tuesday on whether to adopt the stabilization proposal in 2022. Rates for 2021 are not affected.

Report: Oroville Dam safe, but still vulnerable – KRCR TV

The state released a study on Monday that finds no urgent repairs are needed right now on the Oroville Dam. Still, the report by the Department of Water Resource says that several “potential vulnerabilities that require further examination” have been identified. Some of the vulnerabilities are “negligible” but aren’t deemed “unacceptable.”  A list of fixes in the report would cost from $2 million to $2 billion each.  The report is available here.

Caltrans seeks volunteers for road charge research. Participants will receive up to $100  – ABC 7 (Los Angeles)

Caltrans is offering up to $100 to volunteers who can help conduct research on a road user charge as an alternative to the California gas tax.  Researchers are exploring the ways in which drivers could be charged mile-by-mile with a payment system at electric vehicle pumps, or a usage-based insurance approach, Caltrans said.  In future phases, researchers will test payment of rideshare miles and collect data from autonomous vehicles through an app.

November 9, 2020

State Commission approves Highway 1 realignment on Sonoma Coast near Gleason Beach – Santa Rosa Press Democrat

The California Coastal Commission has unanimously granted Caltrans approval to realign Highway 1 on the Sonoma Coast, a $34 million project that will shift the roadway about 400 feet inland and create an 850-foot bridge spanning Scotty Creek, which flows to the ocean at a popular beach between Bodega Bay and Jenner.

California PUC says utilities on track to meet renewable requirements – Daily Energy Insider

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) said utilities are on track to meet renewable energy requirements for 2020, according to its annual Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) report.  The state’s RPS requires utilities, electric service providers, and community choice aggregators (CCAs) to procure 33 percent of retail sales per year from renewable sources by 2020 and 60 percent by 2030.  By 2045, the goal is to have a 100 percent carbon free electric grid.

November 5, 2020

Newsom administration to state officials: Find savings from permanent telework  

Telework moved closer to becoming a permanent part of California state employment this week after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration told officials to reconsider building leases and find other permanent savings.

Finance Department Director Keely Bosler sent a letter to agency secretaries and department leaders Tuesday instructing them to submit plans for permanent spending reductions of 5% by Feb. 1.  The letter makes repeated reference to telework, saying departments may find savings by reducing lease space, trimming travel spending and using telework to cut costs such as printing, postage, utilities and transit subsidies.  The letter doesn’t say anything about layoffs, nor does it institute a hiring freeze.

Newsom can put his stamp on California’s world-leading air boardPolitico

Gov. Gavin Newsom has an opportunity to put his stamp on the Golden State’s pioneering environmental policies by appointing the influential chair of California’s leading policymaking body on climate change and air pollution.  Already, potential leaders are jockeying for the position before California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols departs after more than a decade at the helm.  The top candidates, according to sources, are former Democratic legislators who now sit on the board.  Hector De La Torre, a former Democratic Assembly member, South Gate city mayor, and nine-year board member, has Nichols’ support, those sources say, while  former Sen. Dean Florez, a Democrat from Bakersfield who’s been on the board for six years, is also receiving consideration.

See the numbers: California state worker union membership dips amid pandemic The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)

Membership rates for California state unions have dropped slightly amid the pandemic, according to an analysis by The Sacramento Bee of State Controller’s Office data.  The State Worker published a story on the trend Monday.  This follow-up blog post shows membership rates by bargaining unit and state union for three points in time: just after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, just before the coronavirus arrived in California and six months into the pandemic.

November 2, 2020

Union  membership rates drop among California state workers during COVID-19 pandemic The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)

Union membership among California state workers declined slightly this year as recruitment has gone remote due to the coronavirus, according to state data and interviews with union leaders.  The biggest factor in the slight decline appears to stem from a reduced rate of new employee sign-ups.  In August, the most recent month for which data is available, 67% of state workers were dues-paying union members, according to State Controller’s Office data.  That’s down 2% from February, the month before the virus began to spread in California.

Union leaders said recruitment by computer or by phone just isn’t the same as meeting in person.  “It’s sort of difficult to recruit new members on Zoom; you miss that person to person sort of connection,” said Ted Toppin, executive director of Professional Engineers in California Government.  In the past, union representatives would be in a room with groups of new workers.  They could answer questions and hand out copies of contracts, business cards and union-branded swag such as calendars, notepads and pint glasses, said Toppin, with the engineers’ union.  The union had an 83% membership rate in August, down 1 percentage point from February.  While the unions can mail those things to new members, first impressions aren’t as strong when made by computer or phone, Toppin said.

Caltrans completes bridge work on Echo SummitTahoe Daily Tribune

Work is complete on a two-season project to replace a bridge that served motorists for more than 80 years with a new structure that meets safety and seismic standards.  The $14.1 million U.S. Highway 50 Echo Summit Sidehill Viaduct Replacement Project removed the existing bridge, which was completed in 1939 at a cost of $25,000 (equal to roughly $376,000 today).  The project includes $5.2 million in funding from Senate Bill 1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.

California Slammed Over “Blank Check” for Delta Tunnel Project  – Courthouse News Service

Lobbing another hurdle at California’s $16 billion plan to tunnel underneath the West Coast’s largest estuary, environmentalists last week sued to freeze public funding for the megaproject championed by Governor Gavin Newsom.  Led by Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, a familiar coalition of critics of the so-called delta tunnel claim the cash-strapped state is pursuing a “blank check” for a project that isn’t fully cooked.

Las Vegas high speed project postponed because of inability to sell bonds  – Trains News Wire

Just days after launching a website with construction details of the rebranded project, Fortress Investment Group is postponing plans for its Las Vegas-to-Southern California high speed rail project after failing to sell bonds to provide financing.  Bloomberg reports the effort to sell $2.4 billion in debt to be financed through agencies in California and Nevada — reduced from original plans for a $3.2 billion sale – has been “postponed until market liquidity improves,” according to an email from California Treasurer Fiona Ma.  California had given Fortress until Dec. 1 to sell the bonds; the bond capacity will now be returned to the state and used for other projects, such as affordable housing.

October 2020

October 29, 2020

Report: Electricity from renewable sources outpaces coal or nuclear in CA, majority of other states PV Buzz 
Renewable energy sources generated more electricity than either coal or nuclear in nearly 30 states during the first two-thirds of this year, according to an analysis of just-released data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).  Notably, renewable energy sources generated more electricity than either coal or nuclear in three of the nation’s four largest states – California, New York, and Texas.  The six New England states have become a nearly coal-free zone while four of the region’s states produced no electricity using nuclear power.  Renewables also generated more electricity in the five Pacific Ocean states (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington) than coal and nuclear power combined.

Five years later, has Porter Ranch recovers from Aliso Canyon well blowout? – Los Angeles Daily News
There’s little sign these days that just five years ago an environmental catastrophe and major public health challenge was evolving in the hills north of Porter Ranch as scores of residents were suffering from bloody noses, headaches and nausea.  And yet, beneath the gloss of a trendy new shopping center and inviting new dwellings, there’s a core group of residents for whom pre-blowout “real life” has not returned. In the wake of a 2019 “root-cause” report finding that a local natural-gas well casing had corroded,  and well casing leaks at the site dated back to the 1970s, tension endures for these folks, who fear a recurrence of the crisis of five years ago.

Brightline reveals more details about Vegas-to-LA high-speed rail line – Las Vegas Review-Journal
As the long-discussed high-speed rail system between Las Vegas and Southern California awaits a bond sale that’s slated to pay for the initial phase, the company behind the project, Brightline, released more details on the construction timeline.   Plans revealed on the now-branded Brightline West project’s recently launched website show work on the rail line is expected to begin this year and wrap up in the first half of 2024.

October 26, 2020

Three CalPERS health plans are in a ‘death spiral.’ Saving them could involve price hikes The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)

Three of the best health plans California state workers and retirees can buy are speeding toward collapse, according to CalPERS insurance experts.  The three troubled plans are PERSCare, Anthem Traditional HMO and Blue Shield Access+.  The plans’ benefits have attracted some of the least healthy workers and retirees, who need more medical treatment than healthier members.  When insurers have to pay big medical bills, they raise premiums.  Price hikes in turn push healthier people out of the plans and into cheaper plans.  The most-expensive plans may be salvaged, CalPERS staff said, but a proposed solution likely will involve price increases for cheaper plans as soon as 2022.

Santa Monica Mountains Wildlife Crossing Project unveils new imagesCanyon News

The National Wildlife Federation released new images of the upcoming wildlife crossing project in the Santa Monica Mountains near Liberty Canyon.  The project is on track to begin construction in 2021.  Caltrans and landscape architectural practice company Living Habitats LLC have been collaborating to develop the design of the overpass, which will span over ten lanes of the U.S. 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills.  Construction starts next year, and should be finished by 2023.

California state workers can bank more time off for later under new pay cut policy  – The Sacramento Bee /

The California Human Resources Department removed caps on state employees’ leave balances Tuesday, a change that ensures workers can store up the days off they’re accruing under state pay cut agreements.

October 22, 2020

A look at the actual dollars each state gets from the highway bill.  (It’s less than you think.) Construction Dive
While the recent FAST Act extension infused $13.6 billion into the Highway Trust Fund, it failed to provide clear-cut visibility that road builders can take to the bank for 2021.  The reason?  Federal budget politics.  The report includes a table of budgeted versus banked highway dollars by state.

Mary  Nichols on Short List to Run EPA – Bloomberg News
If Joe Biden wins the presidency, his EPA chief could be a clean air champion from California who has fought President Donald Trump on automobile pollution, or an environmental justice activist from Mississippi.

Religious California state job applicant lost offer over ‘loyalty oath,’ lawsuit says – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
To keep your state job, do you owe more loyalty to your employer than your God?  That’s a question Brianna Bolden-Hardge wants a federal court to decide in a lawsuit filed in Sacramento this week that claims the State Controller’s Office rescinded a job offer to her because of her religious beliefs.

Alan S. Boyd, nation’s first transportation chief, dies – New York Times / Antelope Valley Press
The first US secretary of transportation, who was named by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966 to integrate the nation’s sprawling networks of planes, trains, ships and highways into a new superagency, died Sunday in Seattle.  He was 98.

October 19, 2020

With no federal aid package, California state worker pay cuts are here to stay The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
It’s official: Pay cuts for California state workers are here to stay.  Thursday was the deadline for the federal government to send financial aid that could have undone cuts that took effect in July.  The reductions will remain in place for two years for most of the state’s 230,000 employees.

Emissions Exposure May Increase COVID-19 Mortality – Pew Trusts
Car pollution is making the pandemic worse.  For years, the effort to reduce transportation emissions has largely centered on fighting climate change.  But some advocates say the pandemic underscores the need to focus on human health as well.  The worst effects of air pollution are being borne by low-income communities and people of color — the same groups that have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic.  “Some people who are experiencing COVID-19 are more susceptible due to the impacts of air pollution,” said PECG member Michael Benjamin, chief of the Air Quality Planning and Science Division at the California Air Resources Board.  “Disadvantaged communities have a double whammy with that preexisting susceptibility and the greater likelihood that they’re going to get COVID-19 [from serving as essential workers].”

PG&E lacked basic training before California blackouts  – Associated Press
When Pacific Gas & Electric cut power to large swaths of wildfire-prone Northern California last fall, few of the emergency personnel handling the blackouts for the nation’s largest utility had learned the fundamentals of managing an emergency in their home state.  Predictably enough, the October 2019 outages brought chaos from the San Francisco Bay Area to the Sierra Nevada, as more than 2 million people lost power.  By many accounts, this year’s shutoffs have been smoother.  That improvement reflects more than just infrastructure upgrades and a year to fine-tune.  Chastened by its failures and required by state regulators, PG&E sought the training it had neglected.

October 15, 2020

California urges automakers to reveal improper emissions software Reuters
California air regulators on Wednesday urged automakers and engine manufacturers to disclose by the end of the year any unapproved hardware or software programs that compromise a vehicle’s emissions control system.  The letter from the California Air Resources Board follows a string of penalties against automakers for using software to evade emissions requirements since 2015, including Volkswagen AG VOWG_p.DE, Daimler AG and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.  The board noted it has other pending emissions investigations and said “voluntary disclosure will trigger a reduction in penalties; failure to do so may affect the result of future enforcement actions.”

Highway  Rehab Cruises Into Ninth Circuit – Courthouse News
California officials appeared in front of a three-judge panel at the Ninth Circuit on Tuesday to argue a highway construction project running through an old-growth grove of magnificent redwood trees would not harm the forest.  The dispute centers on a project to realign and widen Highway 101 as it threads through Richardson State Park, located in Humboldt County in the northern part of the state where some of the largest specimens of redwoods loom over the horizon.  A consortium of environmental groups has sued Caltrans saying their internal approval of the project after several rounds of environmental analysis was incomplete and failed to fully account for the impacts to the old-growth trees.

What No Federal Stimulus Means for California Schools, Unemployment And More  – CalMatters / Capital Public Radio
A state deadline to restore $11 billion in funding for education, housing and state workers looks likely to pass with no more financial help from Washington. Is there still hope for a reprieve, and could deeper state budget cuts follow?

October 12, 2020

California’s Long Game of Tug-of-War With the Auto Industry The Sacramento Bee / Governing
In 1976, Jerry Brown had been California’s governor for two years when he signed rules that would force automakers selling cars in the state to drastically reduce tailpipe emissions.  Carmakers resisted, saying the changes were too costly and would hurt consumers in their pocketbooks.  Rallying to his hometown industry’s defense, a powerful Michigan congressman accused the upstart governor of ignoring economic and scientific practicalities.  California stuck to its plan, and the industry fell in line.  Now another governor in office for two years, Gavin Newsom, has insisted automakers end sales of new fossil-fuel burning cars in California by 2035.   And once again, the car manufacturers are pushing back.  Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, said the auto industry routinely opposes the state’s anti-pollution initiatives, only to find a way eventually to make them work.  “There’s definitely a pattern… in which the industry fights against any tightening or any new regulation, and then complies,” said Nichols, who served on the air board during the 1976 controversy.  “We have been through this before.”

Elaine Chao: Long-Term Plan Needed for US InfrastructureTransport Topics
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said the nation’s lawmakers must take a long-range view of addressing the country’s pressing infrastructure needs, and do the work needed to craft a funding measure more far-reaching and comprehensive than the one-year highway bill extension that recently advanced.

California unprepared for brutal ‘heat storm’ that caused blackouts, officials tell Newsom  – The Sacramento Bee /
The managers of California’s electricity network last week blamed a pileup of poor planning and bad luck for the two nights of rolling blackouts in August that plunged hundreds of thousands of residents into darkness during an oppressive heat wave.  Three separate agencies that oversee the state’s troubled power system, in a 121-page “root cause analysis” found no single reason for the blackouts of Aug. 14 and Aug. 15, which affected a total of more than 800,000 homes and businesses.

October 8, 2020

Del Monte Fresh Produce Pays Nearly $2M for Violating California’s Clean Air Laws Fresh Fruit Portal
The California Air Resources Board has announced a settlement with multinational fresh produce company Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A. Inc. for $1,990,650 – the largest penalty to date related to clean-air violations for the state’s Ocean-Going Vessel at Berth Regulation.

California Officials Can Make Roads Safer – for Morotists and Wildlife – Pew Trusts
To help make travel in the region safer for wildlife and drivers, The Pew Charitable Trusts and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recently released the Northeastern California Connectivity Report, which stems from a January 2020 workshop held in Redding. That event brought together experts in the latest scientific research and local stakeholders to share information about wildlife movement and barriers within the region.  The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) also played a key role in the workshop.

Newsom calls for California to conserve land, coasts to capture carbon and fight climate change  – San Francisco Chronicle (tiered subscription)
California will enlist its natural resources in the state’s fight against climate change by establishing new land conservation and carbon sequestration goals over the next decade.  Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday setting a target to conserve 30% of the state’s land and coastal water by 2030 – joining dozens of nations in a global pact to preserve biodiversity and prevent species loss.

California governor vetoes road bond bill – Land Line
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has vetoed a measure, SB 1351, that would have sold $5 billion in bonds over two years to boost the state’s road work program.  In his veto message, the Governor said the bonds are unnecessary.

October 5, 2020

Completion of Iconic New Bridge Celebrated in Long Beach American Journal of Transportation
A sparkling parade of green trucks, a dramatic vintage aircraft flyover and fireboat sprays christened today’s ceremonial opening of the new bridge at the Port of Long Beach, reaffirming the region’s importance to international shipping and heralding in an iconic structure that dramatically shifts the Southern California skyline.

Officials move to add South L.A. to list of communities disproportionately affected by poor air quality – KTLA
Local regulators voted Friday to add South Los Angeles to California’s list of communities disproportionately affected by air pollution, paving the way for state funding to address the issue.  The region received more than 120 of 130 community nominations to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.  The agency plans to forward the recommendation to the California Air Resources Board for consideration in December.

DWR: The Water Year Ended Below Average and Further Demonstrated the Impact of Climate Change – Sierra Sun Times
California’s Water Year 2020 has come to a close and while Northern California was mostly dry, parts of Southern California experienced above average precipitation.  The water year ended below average and further demonstrated the impact of climate change on the state’s water supply.

Caltrans tries again to tame the roller coaster ride that is San Diego’s Route 52 – San Diego Union-Tribune
Built over a landfill, a section of State Route 52 in Kearny Mesa is a perennial maintenance problem.  Will grout succeed where asphalt has failed?

October 1, 2020

Measuring What Matters: How California Government is Measuring Its Shift to Remote Work All Work
California’s Department of General Services (DGS) has been internally tracking the impact of telework since the pandemic required the shift for many of their employees in March of 2020.  The department recently released a public dashboard with key telework metrics including the number of employees teleworking, changes in commutes for those employees, as well as the estimated savings associated with these changes.

Newsom vetoes Friant-Kern Canal fix bill – East County Today
California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have provided funding to fix the ever-sinking Friant-Kern Canal.  SB 559 would have required the Department of Water Resources to report to the legislature by March 31, 2021, on federal funding approved by the federal government for the Friant Water Authority or any other government agency to restore the capacity of the Friant-Kern Canal.  Newsom’s veto said the measure was too narrow: “(W)e need to evaluate, develop and identify solutions and funding that provides water supply and conveyance for the entirety of the state, not one project at a time.”

Fiat Chrysler fined $9.5M for ‘misleading disclosures’ on diesel emissions – Compliance Week
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has agreed to pay $9.5 million to settle allegations by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that it made “misleading disclosures” regarding an internal audit of emission control systems for diesel vehicles it sold in the United States.  “At the time FCA made these statements, engineers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) had raised concerns to FCA about the emissions systems in certain of its diesel vehicles,” the SEC said in a press release.

With new California border crossing in the works, connecting highway also  takes shape – Fox 5 San Diego
Officially, it will be known as California State Route 11.  Unofficially, it will be seen as an easier way to cruise into Southern California from Mexico.  The new highway will connect the new Otay Mesa East Port of Entry, scheduled to break ground in late 2022, to the freeway system in San Diego.  Most of the $850 million for the crossing and State Route 11 is coming from Caltrans and SANDAG, the San Diego Association of Governments.

Federal stimulus impasse endangers California budget relief – Politico
A new infusion of federal aid looks increasingly unlikely to materialize in the coming weeks, dimming hopes that California will restore billions of dollars state leaders trimmed from the budget as part of an agreement with Gov. Gavin Newsom.  On the list of potential restorations is $150 million for the courts; nearly $1 billion for public higher education; and $1.9 billion in compensation for state workers, many of whom have taken furlough days beginning July 1 as part of collective bargaining agreements.

September 2020

September 28, 2020

State Supreme Court passes on Marin pension case Marin Independent Journal
The California Supreme Court has dealt a blow to fiscal hawks who hoped a Marin County lawsuit would set a new precedent allowing governments to renegotiate pension agreements with employees.  The court said in late 2016 it would review the lawsuit, titled Marin Association of Public Employees vs. Marin County Employees’ Retirement Association.  But last week, the justices reversed course and sent the case back to the appeals court, which previously ruled in favor of MCERA.

State Agencies Announce Steps to Address Discriminatory Names, Inequities in state Parks and Transportation System Features – East County Today
California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot, State Parks Director Armando Quintero and Department of Transportation Director Toks Omishakin on Friday announced a series of actions to identify and redress discriminatory names of features attached to the State Parks and transportation systems.

Rail Startup Brightline Kicks Off $3.2 Billion Bond Sale For LA-To-Vegas High-Speed Train – Forbes
Brightline, the only private passenger rail service in the U.S., is moving ahead with an offering of up to $3.2 billion of tax-exempt bonds for a high-speed train line connecting Las Vegas to Southern California.  The company also has a new plan to run trains directly into Los Angeles.

September 24, 2020

California governor wants all new cars sold in the state to be zero-emissions by 2035 – CNN
California Governor Gavin Newsom announced an executive order Wednesday requiring that all new passenger cars and trucks sold in the state be zero-emission vehicles by 2035.  The effort is aimed at curbing carbon emissions in the country’s most populous state and addressing the climate change crisis.  The California Air Resources Board has been charged with developing new regulations mandating that all in-state sales of new passenger cars and trucks meet the zero-emissions standard.

ASCE Report: Underfunded Infrastructure Will Seriously Impact Economy – Transport Topics
Failure to properly invest in the nation’s deteriorating surface transportation infrastructure will inflict significant negative consequences on the economy, according to preliminary findings from a yearlong study by the American Society of Civil Engineers.  The report, “Failure to Act,” notes that if investment in highways, bridges and transit systems continues at current levels, businesses and households will incur about $2 trillion in extra transportation costs over 20 years.  If logistics and delivery-industry costs are passed down to consumers, costs per household may be even higher.

How California Became Ground Zero for Climate Disasters – The New York Times (tiered subscription)
California is one of America’s marvels.  By moving vast quantities of water and suppressing wildfires for decades, the state has transformed its arid and mountainous landscape into the richest, most populous and bounteous place in the nation.  But now, the same manufactured landscapes that have enabled California’s tremendous growth, building the state into a $3 trillion economy that is home to one in 10 Americans, have also left it more exposed to climate shocks, experts say.  Meanwhile, state officials describe a series of steps the state is taking to cope with climate risks, including shifting more development into cities and away from the edge of the wilderness, and designing coastal roads and bridges with rising seas in mind.

September 21, 2020

Congressional Transportation Leaders Back One-Year Extension of FAST Act – Transportation Topics
A soon-to-expire federal law that governs the country’s highway policies appears to be headed toward a yearlong extension.  Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the top transportation policy authorizers on Capitol Hill, have indicated support for extending the provisions in the 2015 FAST Act highway law for a 12-month duration.

Cal/OSHA will create emergency COVID workplace safety rules – / Los Angeles Times
After months of discussion, California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health will move forward with emergency statewide standards to address what worker advocates have been calling “an occupational health emergency.”  A seven-member board appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom voted unanimously Thursday to begin creating standards that would require employers to take stricter precautions against COVID-19.

Opinion: Three lessons for California’s water funding challenges in today’s recession – CalMatters
California’s water managers have had their hands full keeping our water systems safe and operational during the COVID-19 pandemic. But their work on addressing the fiscal consequences of the deep economic recession is just beginning.  Three lessons from the Great Recession of 2007-09 could guide more effective policy responses today.

September 17, 2020

Caltrans details Federal Highway Administration’s annual redistribution – Transportation Today
Caltans officials said the state will receive more than $493 million in additional transportation funding from the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) annual August redistribution.  The funding will aid statewide Caltrans efforts such as FixSac5 HOV and Los Angeles County improvement projects along Interstate 5 designed to enhance safety, improve traffic flow, reduce congestion, encourage ridesharing, decrease surface street traffic and improve air quality.  Most of the projects receiving August redistribution funding are already allocated by the California Transportation Commission and underway using state dollars until the federal money becomes available.

Opinion: Water board must establish a state water budget that California can afford – CalMatters
Former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt writes that a “Grand Bargain” in California water is needed to end the “political culture of deferral” and allow major water projects to advance.  On the contrary, what’s needed is an adult regulator that will make hard choices that water users refuse to make.

Former Caltrans Director passes at age 94 – The Sacramento Bee
Leo J. Trombatore, who served in the mid-1980s as Caltrans Director, died on September 3, according to an obituary written by his family and posted online by The Sacramento Bee.  His 40-year career with the department included Caltrans’ top post from 1983 to 1988, seven years as District 3 Director in Marysville (where the Caltrans building bears his name), eight years as Deputy District Director for Planning and Design in the San Francisco District 4 office, and 20 years as Assistant District Director in the Los Angeles area.

Benefit reductions, price hikes coming for CalPERS long-term care insurance – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
CalPERS hasn’t publicly estimated how much it might raise premiums on its long-term care insurance policies next year, but the anticipated rate hikes are prompting the system to consider a wide range of changes including benefit reductions.  The California Public Employee Retirement System’s board reviewed information in meetings this week that show the depths of the financial challenges faced by its $4.7 billion long-term care insurance fund.  The board plans consider specific changes in November, when it will likely weigh premium increases that would go into effect in July 2021.  The system suspended enrollment in the plans in June and warned of “significant premium increases” to come.

September 14, 2020

U.S. Confirms It Will Unveil Daimler Diesel Emissions Cheating Settlement – US News & World Report / Reuters
Daimler AG is set to pay an $875 million civil penalty for violating U.S. clean air laws as part of a $1.5 billion settlement with U.S. and California regulators over excess diesel emissions in passenger vehicles and vans, two people briefed on the matter said.

Board of Supervisors Delays Decision on Caltrans Gaviota Culvert Project Appeal – Noozhawk
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors has delayed a decision on the Caltrans Gaviota Culvert project after an appeal hearing, and will likely deny the project at another meeting later this month.

Doctors to court: Let California keep tougher emissions rules – AMA Advocacy Update
Physicians say there will be “drastic, adverse impacts” on Californians’ health if a federal appeals court allows the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revoke a waiver that allows the state to set tougher state automobile emissions standards.

CalPERS has vital role in state’s economic recovery – Capitol Weekly
It may not be top of mind, but Californians should be aware that CalPERS is a key part of ensuring that the state recovers quickly and completely from the coronavirus pandemic.

September 10, 2020

California’s High-Speed Rail Loses Momentum Due to Pandemic – Governing / Los Angeles Times
The bullet train project was downsized last year after the state realized it couldn’t afford the full route, but COVID-19 has further diminished financial resources.

Proposed wildlife bridge gets $5-million boost – Thousand Oaks Acorn
At its quarterly meeting in August, the California Wildlife Conservation Board approved more than $25 million in grants to restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat throughout California.  The funds included a $5-million gift to the National Wildlife Federation for the wildlife crossing at Liberty Canyon.  Caltrans is among a half-dozen state, local, and private entities collaborating on the landmark structure.

Congressional Representatives Call on Caltrans Inspector General to Investigate TAC – The Capistrano Dispatch
Three Congressional representatives from Orange County have asked Caltrans to follow up on a grand jury investigation of the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA).  The grand jury found that the joint-powers authority injected itself into road planning projects outside of its legislative purview, duplicated duties and responsibilities of Caltrans and the county transit authority, and violated conflict-of-interest statutes.  The TCA extended its life by restructuring loans to later payoff dates to create administrative reasons to continue existing, but needlessly ran up public debt.  COVID-19 forced the grand jury to end its inquiry early.  On Wednesday, Reps. Mike Levin, Katie Porter, and Harley Rouda – all from Orange County congressional districts – asked Caltrans Inspector General Rhonda Craft to continue the investigation.

September 8, 2020

New Heim Bridge comes online in Los Angeles, Long Beach port complex – Daily Breeze
Caltrans has opened a $570 million six-lane, fixed-span concrete bridge at the Port of Los Angeles that is three quarters of a mile long and extends straight across, and provides nearly five stories of vertical clearance for the vessels below.  The new Commodore Schuyler F. Heim Bridge replaces the original, which the U.S. Navy opened on Jan. 10, 1948.

As California enters a brave new energy world, can it keep the lights on? – The Sacramento Observer / Associated Press
California is casting off fossil fuels to become something that doesn’t yet exist: a fully electrified state of 40 million people.  Policies are in place requiring a rush of energy from renewable sources such as the sun and wind and calling for millions of electric cars that will need charging—changes that will tax a system already fragile, unstable and increasingly vulnerable to outside forces.  Gretchen Bakke, a cultural anthropologist who studies the consequences of institutional failures, says it’s unclear whether the state’s aging electricity network and its managers can handle what’s about to hit it.

CBO: Highway Trust Fund will be Exhausted in 2021 –
The federal mechanism for funding highway construction, will be exhausted soon, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) current baseline budget projections.  Spending from the government’s collective trust funds is projected to exceed revenues by $18 billion in 2021,  with the deficit growing to $502 billion by 2030.  The Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is one of the accounts in more serious jeopardy as funding levels are set to expire at the end of this month.

September 3, 2020

Approvals for new oil and gas wells up in California – Associated Press
Despite pushing back against the Trump administration’s plan to expand oil extraction in California, the state has issued 190% more oil and gas drilling permits in the first six months of 2020 than were approved under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first six months in office, two advocacy groups said Wednesday.

California PUC vote to fire executive director after contentious meeting, accusations of retaliation – Utility Dive
Regulators at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted unanimously on Monday to dismiss the agency’s executive director, Alice Stebbins, who says she is being removed from her job because she “blew the whistle” on roughly $200 million in unpaid fees owed to the agency.  CPUC President Marybel Batjer linked Stebbins’ dismissal to a state report that raised concerns about five hires that Stebbins was involved with — including a case where Stebbins allegedly “pre-selected” a candidate for a job.

Transportation groups seek short-term funding fix, urge replacement of the gas tax – The Bond Buyer
Transportation groups are advocating for a year-long extension to existing federal highway funding that would give state and local governments more budgetary confidence while lawmakers, hopefully, create a more sustainable long-term plan.

August 2020

August 31, 2020

Caltrans awards $6 million to construction company to fix highways damaged from CZU Lightning Complex – KSBY
Caltrans District 5 awarded Granite Construction of Santa Cruz a $6 million emergency contract to clear, repair and restore segments of Highway 1, 9 and 236 in Santa Cruz County.

Shape up or ship out: California requires ships, trucks to eliminate thousands of tons of pollution – CalMatters
Diesel trucks, oil tankers and other ships must comply with two new rules that are the state’s most ambitious strike against smog in a decade.  The rules, adopted late last week, overhaul regulations for diesel truck exhaust and expand emission reductions from ships idling in California’s ports.  The two rules, when fully implemented, are expected to eliminate some 10,000 tons of pollution per year, the state’s biggest strike against smog in twelve years.

Critical deadlines loom for highways, airlines and transit – Roll Call
With just weeks left in the legislative year, Congress faces two big transportation deadlines on Sept. 30, a transportation to-do list and potentially dire consequences if it does not act.  Without congressional involvement, airlines have signaled they will lay off thousands of workers this fall.  State highway departments could grind projects to a halt, and transit agencies could slash services.

U.S. planning California oil and gas lease sale this year – Reuters
The Trump administration on Wednesday said it was planning to hold a sale of oil and gas leases in California before the end of the year in what would be the first such auction in the Golden State since 2013.

August 27, 2020

CalEPA’s Jared Blumenfeld on Grounding COVID Recovery in Climate Action IVN San Diego
As the state of California grapples with record-breaking heat, wildfire, pandemic, and a $54 billion budget deficit, The Planning Report interviewed state Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Jared Blumenfeld.  He discusses how his agency’s priorities have been impacted by the overlapping crises and continued federal opposition to California’s climate actions.  Secretary Blumenfeld reiterates Governor Newsom’s commitment to ensuring safe and affordable rural drinking water supplies and opportunities to propel the state’s post-COVID economic recovery with clean jobs.

El Centro’s Imperial Improvement – Construction Equipment Guide
Granite Construction Inc. is continuing to make progress on the California Department of Transportation’s (Caltrans) $44 million, multi-year project to reconstruct the interchange at Imperial Avenue and Interstate 8 (I-8) in the city of El Centro.  “Some of the design and engineering challenges was the staging of the project in order to minimize the traffic impact of the area,” said Daniel Hernandez-Duarte, a Caltrans resident engineer and PECG supervisory member.

Will California Adopt First-of-its-Kind Legislation Governing GHG Emissions from Land-Based Activities? – The National Law Review
The California legislature is considering a bill aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from “working lands” (including agricultural, grazing, and forest) and “natural lands”. If passed, Assembly Bill 2954 would be the first measure of its kind in the United States and could also serve as a national model.  The measure would require the state’s Air Resources Board to set targets for GHG emissions reductions and carbon sequestration on agricultural, forest, and grazing lands by January 1, 2023. AB 2954 also requires the board to identify practices and policies to achieve its GHG reduction and sequestration goals, and to develop methods for the state to track such emissions and sequestration.

August 24, 2020

California state workers affected by fires may be eligible for paid time off – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California state workers affected by the wildfires may be eligible to take paid time off, the state Human Resources Department announced this week.  Gov. Gavin Newsom’s emergency order related to fires and extreme weather conditions qualifies some workers for administrative time off, CalHR Department Director Eraina Ortega said in a Tuesday email to department HR officers.

With emissions deal, California takes aim at automakers’ alliance with White House Los Angeles Times / Rome News Tribune
On Aug. 17, California finalized its agreements with five major automakers aimed at upholding its stringent vehicle emissions standards against an effort by the Trump administration to roll the rules back.  In doing so, the state delivered an unmistakable warning to the rest of the auto industry: California’s rules are likely to remain in place, and if you’ve got brains, you’ll join us.

California’s Delta tunnel project inches forward – and just got a $15.9 billion price tag – The Sacramento Bee /
When Gov. Gavin Newsom downsized the Delta tunnels water project last year, the idea was to save money and try to appease at least some of the project’s critics.  Yet the project remains controversial — and still figures to be costly.  After months of relative quiet, Newsom’s administration released a preliminary cost estimate for the scaled-back project Friday: $15.9 billion for a single tunnel running beneath the estuary just south of Sacramento.

August 20, 2020

Five automakers finalize deal with California to clean up car emissions – Equities News / Reuters
BMW of North America, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen Group of America and Volvo this week pledged to meet California’s greenhouse gas requirements, not Trump administration rollbacks. In exchange, they get more time to meet the goals.  The agreement is a detour around the federal government’s decision to yank California’s authority to set its own greenhouse gas limits — a power enshrined in the Clean Air Act that has enabled California to battle pollution for decades.

Representation on the California Transportation Commission Is Shifting Streetsblog
Recent changes among appointees to the California Transportation Commission have delighted advocates for more diverse representation and active transportation.  Governor Gavin Newsom late last week announced that he has appointed Michele Martinez to the commission, replacing real estate developer Lucy Dunn, whose term expired in February.  Also last week, the commissioners elected Hilary Norton as chair.  Both have strong support from active transportation and environmental advocates throughout the state.

California Blackouts Bring Calls for Investigation – Power Magazine
California’s governor has demanded an investigation into the cause of a series of power outages—the first since an energy crisis in 2001—that blacked out parts of the state in recent days.  The events have drawn Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ire, and in a tweet demanding an investigation into the service disruptions, he blamed energy regulators—the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and the California Energy Commission (CEC)—which “failed to anticipate this event and to take necessary actions to ensure reliable power to Californians,” he said.

SANDAG Bucks History Of Widening Freeways In New Transportation Plan – KPBS
Officials with the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) recently presented its vision for the county’s next long-term transportation blueprint with no projects to widen freeways, marking a sharp departure from previous plans.

August 17, 2020

Daimler Reaches $2.2 Billion Agreement With US Regulators on Emissions Settlement – Equities News / Reuters
German carmaker Daimler said on Thursday it has reached agreements costing nearly $3 billion to settle civil investigations by U.S. regulators and lawsuits from vehicle owners stemming from a long-running probe into software to cheat diesel emissions tests.  The settlements in principle address civil and environmental claims tied to 250,000 U.S. diesel passenger cars and vans in the United States and include claims from the Environmental Protection Agency, Justice Department, California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the California Attorney General’s Office.  The company manufactures the Chrysler, Fiat, and Mercedes-Benz automobile lines, among others.

North Bay traffic to suffer most in San Francisco Bay Area from sea level rise, says Stanford study  – North Bay Business Journal
Rising sea levels will not only require bayside businesses to protect their property, but they will also disrupt commuting for hundreds of thousands of drivers in Solano, Napa, Sonoma and Marin counties by regularly flooding critical routes, according to a new Stanford University study.  With the area already seeing traffic backups returning to pre-coronavirus levels, a 1-foot rise will add a half-hour to the average commute.  Any rise beyond 2 feet will affect downtown Napa and threaten to cut a major North Bay commute route — state Highway 37 — known now for being severed by rainy weather.

California Lawmakers Introduce Snow Water Supply Forecasting Program Authorization Act – Sierra Sun Times
Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Kamala D. Harris and Representative Josh Harder (all D-Calif.) introduced the Snow Water Supply Forecasting Program Authorization Act to establish an airborne snow observatory (ASO) and measurement program within the Department of the Interior.  Without accurate readings, water managers could be forced to unnecessarily release water from reservoirs or use it for groundwater pumping, resulting in millions of dollars in financial losses.  Last December, NASA ended its ASO program, which measured snowpack depth and water content using an airplane-mounted light detection instrument, commonly known as LiDAR, coupled with an imaging spectrometer.  This bill would replace the NASA program with one run by the Department of the Interior.

August 13, 2020

Continued Climate Change Will Lead to Future Flooding in SoCal, UCLA Study Says – NBC Los Angeles
By the 2070s, global warming will increase extreme rainfall and reduce snowfall in the Sierra Nevada, delivering a double whammy that will likely overwhelm Southern California’s reservoirs and heighten the risk of flooding in much of the state, according to a study by UCLA climate scientists.  That phenomenon will, among other things, increase the burden for California’s water managers, who already face the weighty challenge of collecting just enough water to last through the summer while leaving enough space in reservoirs to catch extra runoff from winter storms and prevent flooding — a balance that will be even more difficult to maintain as climate change continues.

Calpers CIO’s mysterious exit was preceded by months of torment – Financial Planning
First, he was called a Chinese spy. Then he was accused of misleading his board.  Yet Ben Meng stayed on as investment chief at California’s mammoth state pension plan.  What finally drove him to quit wasn’t only the public pressure, it was a Wall Street sin every rookie in the business knows to avoid: He steered the fund’s money into investments that could benefit him personally.

All Hands on Deck – Crews Make Steady Progress on Sweetwater River Bridge – Construction Equipment Guide
Steady progress is the byword for the ongoing upgrade and rehabilitation of the Sweetwater River Bridge in Chula Vista, a $25.7 million project along the I-805 in the South Bay area of San Diego County that is a joint-project between the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG).  The bridge and safety improvements are part of the I-805 South Express Lanes Projects, which cover more than 11 miles between East Palomar Street in Chula Vista and the I-805/SR 15 interchange.

Virgin out as partner in Las Vegas to SoCal high-speed rail project – Las Vegas Review-Journal
The planned high-speed train system set to run between Las Vegas and Southern California will no longer bear the Virgin Trains USA name.  Instead, the Las Vegas to Victorville rail line will continue forward under the Xpresswest banner.

August 10, 2020

‘Horrible sequence of mistakes’: How bullet train contractors botched a bridge project – Los Angeles Times / MSN
A series of errors by contractors and consultants on the California bullet train venture caused support cables to fail on the massive bridge, triggering a stop work order and further delaying a project already years behind schedule.  Hundreds of pages of documents obtained by The Times under a public records request show the steel supports snapped as a result of neglect, work damage, miscommunications and possible design problems.

California tests recycled plastic water bottles as asphalt replacement – KOLO
The California Department of Transportation has repaved a 1,000-foot section of a Northern California highway using recycled plastic water bottles.  Caltrans is testing the recycled water bottles on highways throughout the state to see if it is a substitute for traditional asphalt. A 1-mile segment of highway will recycle 150,000 water bottles.  “This pilot project underscores the department’s commitment to embracing innovative and cost-effective technologies while advancing sustainability and environmental protection efforts,” Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin said in a statement.

DWR selects design-build contractor for Salton Sea Project – Imperial Valley Desert Review
The Department of Water Resources has completed the evaluation of proposals for the Species Conservation Habitat (SCH) project and Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. has been selected as the best-value design-build entity.  Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. and DWR are in the process of finalizing the contract, according to a recent Salton Sea Authority press release.  Design and construction of the SCH project is expected to begin in fall 2020.

Contact Tracers Fighting Two Contagions: The Virus and Fear – The New York Times
California Connected, the state’s program to track and contain the COVID-19 spread, has cost upwards of $30 million.  It includes a new online academy run by the University of California to train county and state employees as disease investigators, and a public education campaign to reassure Californians that their information is confidential.  The state enrolled 10,000 trainees by early July.  But California Connected has only contained the pandemic at the margins.  A fearful public has not cooperated when contacted, and the virus has outpaced testing capacities that often deliver results too late to be helpful.

August 6, 2020

California count: public employees can’t ‘spike’ pensions – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
CalPERS Chief Investment Officer Yu Ben Meng is resigning after less than two years on the job, according to a Wednesday night news release.  The release didn’t provide a reason for Meng’s immediate departure, which was announced at 10:09 p.m., while quoting him saying he needs to focus on his health and family.

Climate Change Could Lead To More Incidents Like The Oroville Dam Spillway Failures, Experts Warn – Capital Public Radio / NPR
Nearly 200,000 people were evacuated when the spillways failed at Oroville Dam in 2017, an infrastructure disaster that cost around a billion dollars to repair.  Three years later, scientists say events that partially led to the incident could become more frequent.

COVID-19 causes highway construction boom in parts country, bust in others – News 5 Cleveland
In mid-July, California’s department of transportation was supposed to break ground on a highway construction project that was expected to take 18 days.  The work was to repair and repave 800 feet of the busy 101 Freeway that connects San Francisco to the mainland.  Instead, the project wrapped up in April, months before it was originally expected to begin.  The contractors were able to start and complete the project months ahead of schedule because of COVID-19.

DWR head: SGMA will bring more certainty to farmers – Agri-Pulse
Karla Nemeth, who directs the Department of Water Resources, said in a speech last week that implementing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) will provide “agriculture with more certainty, even around surface water supplies.”  Speaking to the Association of California Water Agencies, Nemeth said she recognized implementing SGMA will cost the San Joaquin Valley up to $7 billion annually, but that “the cost of doing nothing in the context of groundwater management will be far higher, and that uncertainty will be far greater.”

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 2020

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.

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.