PECG Media Briefing

April 18, 2019

State treasurer announces sale of $299.6 million in bonds for State Water ProjectLake County News
California State Treasurer Fiona Ma has announced the competitive sale this week of $299.6 million in California Department of Water Resources water system revenue bonds to refinance certain State Water Project capital improvements, including a portion of the costs of the Oroville Dam Spillways Response, Recovery and Restoration Project.

Rare ‘toxic cocktail’ from Camp Fire is poisoning Paradise water.  It could cost $300 million to fix.The Sacramento Bee
The discovery was as surprising as it was ominous.  Weeks after the Camp Fire roared through Butte County last November, devouring entire towns, officials made an alarming find: The Paradise drinking water is now laced with benzene, a volatile compound linked to cancer.  “It is jaw dropping,” said Dan Newton, a Principal Water Resource Control Engineer with the State Water Resources Control Board.  “This is such a huge scale. None of us were prepared for this.”

California Bullet-Train Agency Eyes Central Valley-Only Service, for NowCourthouse News Service
The California High-Speed Rail Authority indicated Tuesday it is likely to recommend approval of interim rail service connecting Central Valley cities before expanding the service to Los Angeles and San Francisco as funding becomes available.  For proponents of high-speed rail in California, the news does not bode well for the project’s future.

Caltrans plans $158M bridge replacement for Highway 99Elk Grove Citizen
The California Department of Transportation plans to replace the Cosumnes River bridges and the Cosumnes River overflow bridges along Highway 99.  The project is a $158 million endeavor that would be funded through Senate Bill 1.

CalPERS bill for California state worker pensions set to reach $7 billion next yearThe Sacramento Bee
California state government’s bill for public employee pensions is set to rise by $676 million. CalPERS on Tuesday advanced a scheduled increase in employer contribution rates, bringing the state’s total bill for the 2019-2020 budget year to about $7 billion.  That money comes out of taxes and fees collected by the state and is part of the compensation promised to state workers.

April 15, 2019

North Bay’s Highway 37 Is Going to Be a Serious Climate MessKQED
Every day, 46,000 people drive Highway 37, the scenic route that connects Marin County with Vallejo, Napa and just about everywhere east. This thread, though essential, is also tenuous in that it’s strung atop a berm barely above sea level. Traversing the vast salt marshes known as the San Pablo Baylands, the 21-mile stretch is emerging as an early challenge to planners confronting California’s changing climate.

Divestiture politics roils pensions, investmentsCapitol Weekly
The retired Assistant City Manager of Tustin, California, argues that Assembly Bill 33, which would require that CalPERS and CalSTRS divest from private corrections companies, is supported by “politicians hoping to score cheap political points.”

Nepotism investigations spur questions for California state workers: where is it happening?The Sacramento Bee
Parents often want their children to follow in their footsteps, but as a recent state auditor’s report on nepotism shows, in government that can sometimes be a problem. Look for the issue to surface more frequently than it used to because former Gov. Jerry Brown expanded the State Personnel Board’s authority to investigate nepotism and publish its findings.

PECG Media Briefing Archive

April 2019

April 11, 2019

‘A fiasco from the beginning’ — Caltrans’ costs soar on $1.1 billion San Francisco tunnelsThe Sacramento Bee
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger celebrated when the California Transportation Commission voted, despite a host of warnings from PECG and government analysts, to pay a contractor more than $1 billion to build two tunnels on a stretch of road outside San Francisco nine years ago.  Now the Presidio Parkway project is more than two years late and $208 million over budget, including another $34 million in delay-related spending last month.  And Caltrans is obligated to pay the contractor up to $40 million annually for 33 years for a total of $1.3 billion.  “That’s hundreds of projects that could be built in every part of the state that will not be built because they’re paying for a project in San Francisco that’s two to three times as much as it should have been,” said Ted Toppin, Professional Engineers in California Government’s executive director.

CalPERS Investment Committee Rejects Tobacco Reinvestment AgainChief Investment Officer
The investment committee of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System has rejected a proposal for the largest US retirement fund to consider reinvesting in tobacco stocks.

Thousands of Bridges In ‘Urgent Need of Repairs’Route Fifty
California has 1,812 structurally-deficient bridges, according to a new report by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, the seventh-most nationwide.  Still, the Golden State has rehabilitated 576 bridges that had been structurally deficient, ranking it fourth in fix ups behind Pennsylvania (1,199), Oklahoma (900), and Indiana (593). Researchers using the latest data available from the federal government’s National Bridge Inventory Database say that 47,000 bridges in America urgently need repairs.

Bay Area lawmaker demands new Richmond-San Rafael bridgeCurbed San Francisco
On April Fools’ Day, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt pranked constituents with a phony announcement claiming that the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge would soon close and would perhaps need to be replaced. Days later, California Assemblymember Marc Levine of San Rafael demanded that Butt’s gag come true, after the span needed emergency repairs for the second time this year.

April 8, 2019

More concrete falls from upper deck of San Rafael-Richmond Bridge, CHP saysMarin Independent Journal
More concrete fell from the upper deck of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge last Friday afternoon, prompting a temporary closure of some eastbound lanes on the lower deck. Caltrans said the fallen concrete resulted from ongoing construction work to replace expansion joints on the upper deck. The construction is itself a response to an earlier incident in February in which a failed bridge joint caused chunks of concrete to fall on the lower deck.

Will CalPERS board shake-up continue this year? – Calpensions
A former CalPERS board member, J.J. Jelincic, plans to run against the current CalPERS board president, seeking a comeback fourth 4-year term on the board of the nation’s largest pension system.

SCAG appoints Ajise executive directorProgressive Railroading
The Regional Council of the Southern California Association of Governments last week approved appointing former Caltrans chief deputy director, Kome Ajise, as executive director.

April 4, 2019

A California tax to clean up toxic drinking water has lawmakers jumpyLos Angeles Times
The water tax will require a two-thirds vote in each house. Governor Gavin Newsom says the tiny tax is needed to raise enough money to clean up toxic drinking water throughout California, particularly in low-income farmworker communities of the San Joaquin Valley.

Calif. spillway passes first test since reconstructionAssociated Press
Officials opened Oroville Dam’s main spillway because of the growing snowpack that will melt into California’s waterways and storms expected this week. With the increased rain and a snowpack not seen in years, water managers are beginning to discuss how best to manage and operate reservoirs.

Longtime Marin transportation leader Dianne Steinhauser to retireMarin Independent Journal
From her early career with Caltrans as one of the few women engineers in the Bay Area to her role in managing billions of transportation dollars for Marin County, Dianne Steinhauser has seen it all when it comes to the world of transportation. After a nearly 40-year career, Steinhauser is set to officially retire in October.

Bay Area’s most structurally-deficient bridge is in East Bay, report saysKRON
According to a recently published report, the worst bridge in the Bay Area is on I-680 over Monument Boulevard in Concord. That bridge is also in the top 10 in California of the most traveled on deficient bridges. It was built in 1998 and about 235,000 people drive over it on average per day.

April 2, 2019

Two years and $1.1 billion later, water flows down Oroville Dam spillway – The Sacramento Bee
Oroville Dam’s main flood-control spillway reopened for business Tuesday morning, releasing a gentle sheet of water into the Feather River for the first time since the 2017 crisis that sent 188,000 people fleeing for their lives. It was a far cry from the scene two years ago, when the massive sinkhole in the spillway turned water releases into an angry, boiling mess that sparked the evacuation and ultimately destroyed the lower half of the structure and much of an adjoining hillside.

California state worker contract negotiations kick off with 3-minute meeting The Sacramento Bee
State worker contract negotiations for the year officially began Friday with a three-minute meeting between the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, the California Association of Psychiatric Technicians, and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association to exchange “sunshine package” proposals with CalHR. The proposals list in the broadest terms the types of benefits each side plans to address in negotiations. The unions used language such as “will propose general salary increases,” while the state simply listed all of the articles in each union’s contract without mentioning anything it is seeking.

Californians worry about public pensions, but not as much as they used toThe Sacramento Bee
Fewer Californians appear concerned about public spending on pensions than in past years, according to a Public Policy Institute of California poll. Sixty-three percent of adults said the amount of money state and local governments are spending on public employee pensions is either a big problem or somewhat of a problem, according to poll results released last week. That’s the lowest percentage expressing that level of concern since 2005, pollsters said.

California hiked its gas tax for road repairs, yet ‘poor’ bridges have multiplied, data showLos Angeles Times
The state has spent $121 million in SB 1 funds on bridge repair and replacement so far, but some elected officials say the work isn’t happening quickly enough, while new data from the Federal Highway Administration indicates the number of California bridges in “poor” condition is increasing.  Caltrans officials blame the worsening statistics on a lag in inspections, the aging of the state’s bridges and the fact that repairs can take up to five years to complete.

March 2019

March 28, 2019

Rebuilt Oroville Dam spillway could be used next week after storm hits. Is it ready? – The Sacramento Bee
Water may cascade down Oroville Dam’s rebuilt spillway next week for the first time since a massive crater formed in its nearly half-mile long surface two years ago — a major milestone in the saga that triggered the evacuation of 188,000 people and a $1.1 billion repair job to the country’s tallest dam.  A storm forecast to hit this week is expected to fill Lake Oroville to the point that state dam operators might need to open the spillway gates to manage lake levels, state officials said Tuesday.

Transportation Commission approves more than $90 Million to improve highways and reduce congestionLake County Record-Bee
Caltrans announced the California Transportation Commission allocated $758.1 million for 91 State Highway Operation and Protection Program projects throughout California, including $90.4 million for 26 fix-it-first projects funded by Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017. This funding allows crews to improve 21 bridges and more than 189 lane miles of pavement, upgrade 292 congestion reducing devices, and repair or replace 81 culverts to prevent flooding on highways.

Troubled Richmond-San Rafael Bridge suffers another failure San Francisco Chronicle
Reports of a pothole on the left westbound lane of the upper deck sent transportation officials scrambling around 9 a.m. Monday after concrete had peeled off the deck to expose rebar underneath. The problem surfaced just as crews were starting a three-month project to replace 61 expansion joints on the 63-year-old structure.

Nepotism investigation finds state executive got her daughter a job, undermined auditThe Sacramento Bee
A former California state government executive under investigation for alleged nepotism sought to undermine a state audit and helped her daughter win promotions that violated state civil service rules, according to a report released Tuesday. Although the audit does not name individuals or identify departments, the timeline of events described in the report coincides with publicly available information describing the retirement last year of former Department of Industrial Relations Director Christine Baker.

March 25, 2019

How Fast Can CalPERS’ $360 Billion Grow?Bloomberg Businessweek
Ben Meng helped run China’s $3 trillion pension reserve fund, but his new job as CalPERS’ new chief investment officer could be harder.

Work to Widen ‘Mathilda Monster’ Begins Near 101/237 Interchange in SunnyvaleKPIX
Work has officially begun to improve a notorious stretch of roadway dubbed the “Mathilda Monster” by commuters who get stuck in the swirling knot of cars near the intersection of state Highway 237 and U.S. 101. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and Caltrans held a groundbreaking ceremony on a $42 million project they hope will ease congestion at the infamous intersection.

State plans new 4-lane expressway for Rte.
Instead of just adding two lanes to the existing State Route 25 between Hollister and Gilroy, Caltrans officials are proposing the construction of a new four-lane expressway, using the current two-lane highway as a parallel frontage road.

Opinion: Finally, a new path toward managing water, rivers and the DeltaCALmatters
A case for resetting (instead of merely tinkering with) the patchwork of rules that govern the Delta and our river watersheds.

March 21, 2019

CalPERS moving forward with $20 billion expansion of its private equity investmentsThe Sacramento Bee
CalPERS is preparing to significantly increase its stake in privately held companies, moving to create two new ventures that could invest up to $20 billion outside of publicly-traded stock markets. The pension fund’s investment committee on Monday voted 10-3 to move forward with the proposal to create two limited liability companies and hire a fund manager to control new investments in private companies.  The plan has given pause to some board members and the public, whose concerns have included the lack of public disclosure, high consultant fees, and the private-sector layoffs and cost-cutting that comes with private equity investing.

New CalPERS leader wants pension fund to put its money back into tobacco – The Sacramento Bee
CalPERS’ newest elected board member floated a proposal this week, asking the pension fund to consider investing in tobacco, an industry that CalPERS abandoned 18 years ago. Jason Perez, a Corona police officer who was elected to the pension board in October, put forward the motion during a meeting of the fund’s investment committee Monday.  Board members Margaret Brown and Dana Hollinger supported the proposal to consider reinvesting in tobacco, but the rest of the 13-member committee rejected it.

Petaluma section of Highway 101 Marin-Sonoma Narrows set for 2022 finish with $85 million in funding – Santa Rosa Press Democrat
The California Transportation Commission last week formally allocated the money to the two-county road project, which will complete a third lane from Windsor to the Marin County line. The funding was threatened last year by the potential repeal of a tax hike created by Senate Bill 1, but California voters defeated the measure in November with 57 percent opposition.

Proposal for Highway 37 toll bridge moves forwardSolano Daily Republic
Agencies trying to fix flooding problems on Highway 37 hope to get legislation that would turn the stretch from Sears Point to Mare Island into a state-owned toll bridge.  The legislation could result in the “bridge” (it’s really more like a low-lying levee) being created without the need to go to the voters for approval on the toll, according to a regional transportation official.

Repairs on Richmond-San Rafael Bridge will take longer than expectedKTVU
Fixing the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge will take much longer than anticipated because Caltrans decided to expand the project from replacing one expansion joint to replacing 63. Nearly 800 expansion joints were replaced in the early 2000s, but there are some original ones left from the 1950s when the bridge was built. Those original joints will now be replaced including 33 on the upper deck and 30 on the lower deck, Caltrans said.

March 18, 2019

Higher risk, higher returns? New CalPERS strategy would use non-public employeesThe Sacramento Bee
The CalPERS board will decide this week whether to move forward with a controversial plan to boost investment earnings with a higher-risk, higher-return strategy that comes with little opportunity for public scrutiny. The state retirement fund’s new chief investment officer has pitched the plan, which involves investing up to $20 billion more in private companies that specialize in buying businesses, often stripping them of costs and jobs, and then selling them for a profit. The proposal would allow private-sector fund managers to work with CalPERS and receive wages and bonuses running into the millions of dollars, all without public disclosure.

The Bay Area’s 11 biggest transportation projectsSan Francisco Chronicle
As more people come to the Bay Area and the trips to and from work become longer, commuters frequently find themselves white-knuckling the steering wheel, jostling for space on a bus or train, or simply dreaming of better days. While the problem of overcrowding on public transit and highways is unlikely to be solved any time soon, here are 11 major transportation projects that should improve the daily commute.

Caltrans begins tearing down Pomona homes along 71 Freeway expansion projectInland Valley Daily Bulletin
Caltrans workers have started the work to demolish some of the 17 homes needed to make way for the long-awaited 71 Freeway expansion in Pomona.

Judge says lawsuit’s claims of racism, corruption at Oroville Dam can go forwardThe Sacramento Bee
Blockbuster claims in a lawsuit that a racist, sexist, corrupt culture contributed to the near-catastrophic failure of Oroville Dam two years ago can go forward, a Sacramento judge ruled Thursday.

March 14, 2019

California state workers in L.A., San Francisco should be paid more, new report findsThe Sacramento Bee
California state employees working in expensive cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles could receive higher pay under new recommendations from a task force made up of state officials and union representatives.

State Water Resources Control Board Reaches $6 Million Settlement With Metro – My News LA
The State Water Resources Control Board announced Monday it has reached a $6 million settlement with Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority over alleged violations in its storage of hazardous substances in underground tanks at 16 of the transit agency’s facilities.  The State Water Board’s Office of Enforcement began an investigation in July 2015 after alleged violations were identified during an inspection at a facility owned and operated by Metro.

Four years worth of construction projects coming to BakersfieldBakersfield Now
Caltrans announced a series of road improvement projects along Highways 58 and 99 that will be going on for the next four years. Officials said Monday the department is launching a total of seven projects in the area, totaling $450 million. The department expects to complete all of them by the end of 2022.

California agencies at odds over Colorado River drought planAssociated Press
A major Southern California water agency is trying to push the state through a final hurdle in joining a larger plan to preserve a key river in the U.S. West that serves 40 million people. Most of the seven states that get water from the Colorado River have signed off on plans to keep the waterway from crashing amid a prolonged drought, climate change and increased demands. But California and Arizona have not, missing deadlines from the federal government.

March 11, 2019

State union contracts are expiring. Gavin Newsom is picking a new bargaining teamThe Sacramento Bee
Gov. Gavin Newsom is replacing the state officials who handle union negotiations as California enters a busy year for collective bargaining. Last week he appointed a new director of CalHR, the department that sets state human resources policies and oversees contract negotiations. CalHR also emailed staff that Deputy Director Pam Manwiller had left her position.

California politicians at odds over what should happen to high-speed rail money – USA Today
Last month, the Trump Administration said it wanted California to return billions in federal high-speed rail money. U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa is sponsoring legislation to make that happen. LaMalfa said his High-Speed Refund Act would allow the U.S. Department of Transportation to redirect the money so it could be spent on important freight and highway projects such as widening Highway 70 in Northern California.

Almost 2 billion raised by gas tax for use by Caltrans this yearCBS 12 (Chico, Ca.)
SB1, the “Road Repair and Accountability Act” passed in 2017, will send $1.9 billion dollars in fiscal 2018-19 to Caltrans for infrastructure maintenance and improvements, and an expected $2.7 billion next year.

Trump’s FEMA disallows more than $300 million in funding for Oroville Dam repairsThe Sacramento Bee
FEMA said Friday it is rejecting a $306 million request by California officials to repair Oroville Dam’s flood-control spillways, representing nearly one-third of the costs the state incurred after the February 2017 crisis. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it wouldn’t reimburse California for costs related to the “upper gated spillway” because of pre-existing problems on the giant concrete structure. FEMA’s ruling means the costs will likely be borne by state water contractors that store water at Lake Oroville.

Genoa Bridge Collapse Throws Harsh Light on Private Contractor’s Highway BillionsThe New York Times
Long before the Morandi Bridge collapsed in Genoa, Italy, last year, killing 43 people, an economics professor named Marco Ponti took aim at the private company that managed the structure, raising two fundamental concerns. One was money. Mr. Ponti argued that Autostrade per l’Italia, or Highways for Italy, which managed the bridge and more than half of Italy’s 4,000 miles of toll roads, made “abnormal” profits. The other was the lopsided power balance between Autostrade and the Italian government. Mr. Ponti, who served on an expert panel advising the government, said ministries did too little to regulate the company. Taxpayers were being shorn “like flocks of sheep,” Mr. Ponti said in a newspaper interview in 2003.

March 7, 2019

What does the California Supreme Court pension ruling mean for you?The Sacramento Bee
The Bee’s Q&A on Cal Fire Local 2881 v. CalPERS, featuring video-recorded remarks about the case by PECG Executive Director Ted Toppin in his capacity as the new chairman of Californians for Retirement Security.

California state workers hoarding vacation days, creating $3.5-billion debt for taxpayers – Los Angeles Times
In a trend that stems from managers’ lax enforcement of the state’s cap on vacation accrual, more and more state workers are able to retire with massive payouts for unused vacation and other leave. That could become a budget breaker for California as an aging workforce heads into retirement.

California Collects Nearly A Trillion Gallons Of Water From February StormsKHTS (Santa Clarita)
Following last month’s storms, the state’s 67 major reservoirs are at 72 percent of their combined capacity, according to the Department of Water Resources.

Caltrans says it monitors Highway 1 cracksHalf Moon Bay Review
State transportation engineers are monitoring erosion on the cliff below Highway 1 near Gray Whale Cove after recent storms appear to threaten the roadway. Caltrans spokesman Jeff Weiss said transportation officials noticed cracks in the roadway and erosion near the southbound lane in April 2018 while investigating a car that went over the cliff nearby. He said Caltrans hydrologists and geologists have seen the site and are keeping a close eye on continuing erosion.

Oft-flooded Highway 37 in Northern California eyed for locally directed long-term solutionsNorth Bay Business Journal
A new agreement shifts oversight of the flood-prone Highway 37 from the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA).  The change is no mere bureaucratic shuffle. It could prove important, officials said, because it moves the highway’s oversight from a planning agency to the authority that collects tolls from Bay Area bridges (except the Golden Gate Bridge). Given Highway 37 falls under Caltrans’ authority, and involves several county transportation committees, having a point agency focused on financing and revenue could prove vital to getting years of construction projects off drawing boards.

March 4, 2019

California Supreme Court curbs a pension benefit but preserves ‘California Rule’ – Los Angeles Times
The California Supreme Court decided Monday that state government may rescind an employee benefit that enlarged pensions even after decades of rulings that have shielded public retirement plans from cuts. However, it did not alter or redefine a set of legal precedents that guarantee workers the pension benefits that were in place the day they were hired. Ted Toppin, chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, expressed gratitude that the court left the so-called “California Rule” intact. “Thankfully, the decision protects the retirement security of California’s nurses, teachers, firefighters, school employees and countless other public servants and retirees dependent on their hard-earned pensions,” Toppin said.

Caltrans weighs options for MacArthur Maze renovations, including months-long closuresABC 7
As Caltrans plans to modernize Oakland’s MacArthur Maze, officials are considering at least one proposal that would close parts of the crucial link for months. That would require diverting freeway traffic onto surface streets, worsening the commute over the Bay Bridge for Bay Area drivers. Sections of the Maze need modifying so taller trucks can drive through the interchange.

DWR increasing releases from Hyatt Powerplant as Lake Oroville risesChico Enterprise-Record
The state Department of Water Resources is increasing releases from the Hyatt Powerplant with weather forecasts and water storage in mind.  Lake Oroville, which feeds water to the plant, currently sits at 801 feet and 10-day projections show it rising to 830 feet by March 11. The reservoir is at 62 percent of total capacity. The department has said use of the Oroville Dam spillway is unlikely; however, the department is preparing in case its use becomes necessary. The spillway can be utilized once water reaches its gates at 813 feet.

In Central Valley towns, California’s bullet train isn’t an idea: ‘It’s people’s lives’Los Angeles Times
When Annie Williams heard that California’s plan for high-speed rail had been scaled back to 119 miles through the Central Valley, her head jerked back. “Merced to Bakersfield? The good Lord himself can’t make sense of that,” she said. “After all our tears and making peace?”

Event guides students through state job application process  – The Connection (Cosumnes River College, Sacramento)
The California Department of Transportation sponsored an event on campus that would help demystify the state application process for prospective applicants on Feb. 21. Thirty students stopped by BS 153 so they could listen to current Caltrans employees talk about necessary steps to take when seeking government-related jobs.

February 2019

February 28, 2019

Gov. Gavin Newsom uses the power of appointments to shape government in his image Los Angeles Times
Gov. Gavin Newsom highlighted a highly significant but less visible power of his office in his first State of the State speech earlier this month: selecting appointees who can reshape California government in his image and help deliver on his ambitious policy agenda. The governor has already put his stamp on the High-Speed Rail Authority, California Natural Resources Agency and Water Resources Control Board with selections to top posts at each. Over the next four years, Newsom will have the opportunity to appoint more than 3,000 people to 32 government entities.

Solano supervisors commit another $70K in fight against Delta tunnels projectDaily Republic
Solano County is now fighting the California WaterFix tunnel project on three legal fronts – joining the opposition in a second “validation action” against the state Department of Water Resources. The unanimous decision to join most of the Delta counties was announced by County Counsel Dennis Bunting after a morning closed session Tuesday of the Board of Supervisors.

Granite awarded $22M Caltrans Highway 1 contract Better Roads
Granite announced that the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has awarded the company a $22 million contract for a Highway 1 project from North Aptos Underpass to Junction Route 9 in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Why Did California Build Such Tall Bridges Over Its High-Speed Train Tracks?Slate
On Feb. 17, the HSR watchdog Elizabeth Goldstein Alexis shared an interesting observation about the beleaguered project, which is currently under construction in the Central Valley. New bridges over the train tracks—mostly roads, which cross from one side to the other every couple miles or more often—were required to clear the top of the rails by 27 feet.

February 25, 2019

Richmond-San Rafael Bridge will get 61 joints replaced following mishapSan Francisco Chronicle
Engineers at the state’s Department of Transportation said Friday they will replace 61 joints on the troubled Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, where crumbling concrete struck a vehicle and caused a nine-hour shutdown this month.

An error-free state payroll? It’ll be at least four more years, controller saysThe Sacramento Bee
Before she leaves office in four years, State Controller Betty Yee wants to make progress on an elusive task in California state government: overhauling the state’s outdated and dysfunctional payroll system. “It’s a priority of my second term,” Yee said in an interview. “I want the damn thing started.”

Valentine’s Day storm damage closes Highway 26 until at least early MarchThe Union Democrat
(PECG member) Sheila Kirton, a Caltrans construction site inspector and engineer, last Thursday stood on Highway 26 in Calaveras County next to a 25-foot-high eroded slope of unstable red dirt looming above snow-speckled frozen mud, rocks and boulders. Record rainfall that District 10 staff are calling the “Valentine’s Day Deluge” had brought down tons of material on the road, she said, “and undermined paved roadway surfaces on the downhill side.”  A 2.5-mile-long section of Highway 26 will be closed about 10 miles east of Mokelumne Hill until at least early March.

L.A.’s ambitious goal: Recycle all of the city’s sewage into drinkable waterThe Los Angeles Times
In a dramatic shift for a city notorious for looking afar for most of its water, Mayor Eric Garcetti vowed last week that the city will be recycling all of its wastewater by 2035 and using it to reduce its need for imported supplies.

Auto Emission Talks Between White House and California Break Down – The Washington Post
Already-faltering negotiations between the Trump administration and California aimed at resolving a dispute over fuel-economy standards have broken down completely, according to a top Democratic lawmaker.

February 21, 2019

Permanent repairs begin on Richmond-San Rafael BridgeNBC News Bay Area
Repairs to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, damaged by falling concrete earlier this month, started Tuesday night and are expected to continue for two weeks, weather permitting.

My turn: How to lead California on waterCALmatters
Felicia Marcus is a public servant unknown to many Californians. But as she concludes her tenure as chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, we owe her a debt of gratitude for consistently reaching for a balance between art and science, compassion and flexibility, and adherence to science and the law.

Big Pharma companies sue CalPERS, state prisons to block disclosure of drug pricesThe Sacramento Bee
CalPERS could be on the hook for attorneys’ fees after a Los Angeles County judge ruled that pharmaceutical companies don’t have to publicly disclose plans to raise drug prices, according to information CalPERS’ legal office presented to its Board of Administration this week.

How High-Speed Rail got caught between Newsom and TrumpThe New York Times
If you weren’t already confused about the status of California’s controversial bullet train after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s State of the State address, you might be soon.  The Trump administration says it plans to cancel a $929 million grant to the project and wants the state to repay $2.5 billion in federal money already spent on it.  Newsom claims that President Trump is seeking “political retribution” for California’s role in a lawsuit against Trump’s national emergency declaration to secure funding for a border wall.  “This is California’s money,” the governor said in a statement, “and we are going to fight for it.”

February 19, 2019

Gas tax hiring spree continues at Caltrans. It has hundreds of new openingsThe Modesto Bee
Caltrans is on a spree to hire enough workers to improve road upkeep as called for in a 2017 gas tax bill that in November survived an initiative that would have repealed it. The department is also planning to hire more engineers, planners and surveyors in its Capital Outlay Support Program.

Congressional Transportation Leaders to Update AASHTO on Infrastructure BillTransport Topics
The big four surface transportation policymakers on Capitol Hill are scheduled to share with state-level transportation officials the latest developments on crafting much-anticipated infrastructure legislation. During a recent House transportation committee hearing, state officials and freight stakeholders urged lawmakers to ensure sustainable funding for infrastructure projects.

Coronado City Council Starts Long Path Toward Decision Regarding Relinquishment Of SRs 75 And 282Coronado Eagle & Journal
Last week, a partnership including Rep. Jared Huffman, Sen. Mike McGuire and Assemblymember Jim Wood announced that Caltrans will request the final $40 million needed to complete the Last Chance Grade environmental study.  Authorities have warned that section of Highway 101 is in danger of a catastrophic failure, which would cut the primary route between Del Norte County and the rest of the state.

Contracted work at MDOT cost Michigan an extra $90M, study saysDetroit Free Press
An analysis by a University of Michigan researcher has found that the state Department of Transportation spent $90 million more to hire private contractors for engineering and design work than it would have if it had maintained that work in-house over just one three-year period.  The report reviewed contracts from 2011 to 2014 and determined that the state overspent for engineering and design services in order to make up for “self-inflicted” staffing shortages at MDOT.

February 14, 2019

FHWA grants awarded to California and six other states to test new highway funding methodsRoads & Bridges
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on Wednesday announced $10.2 million in Surface Transportation System Funding Alternatives (STSFA) grants to seven states to test new ways to finance highway and bridge projects. Caltrans received $2.03 million for “exploration of California’s Road Usage Charge Program (RUC) with emerging technologies and services, such as Usage-Based Insurance (UBI), Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), and Autonomous Vehicles (AVs),” according to an FHWA news release.

Flashing Lights On Eastern Span Of Bay Bridge Leave Caltrans, Drivers StumpedCBS San Francisco
Felicia Marcus’ term as chair of the State Water Resources Control Board ended January 15.  Now a Central Valley editorial page writer is urging Governor Gavin Newsom not reappoint her to the job.  “The problem,” according to Mike Dunbar of the Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star, “is that she never stopped working for the environmental movement.”

Caltrans Recently Inspected Section of Richmond-San Rafael Bridge Where Concrete Chunks FellNBC Bay Area
The joint that failed on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge last week showed signs of trouble last summer, but inspectors found no “signs of deficiency” when they checked it in August, NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit has learned. The failed deck joint is among 62 steel-to-steel expansion joints on the span – a comparatively small number of the more than 800 joints that make up the 4.5 mile bridge, authorities say.

California governor scales back high-speed trainAssociated Press
California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared Tuesday there “isn’t a path” for completing the state’s plan for a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles, saying that he would shift his focus to completing just a 171-mile segment of the line already under construction in the state’s Central Valley. The project is key to the economic vitality of the state’s agricultural heartland, the governor said.

February 11, 2019

Expansion Joint Failure Caused Concrete To Break Loose On Richmond-San Rafael BridgeCBS San Francisco
A state transportation official said Friday it was the failure of an expansion joint that caused several pieces of concrete to break loose and fall onto the lower deck if the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, forcing Caltrans to shut down the span for hours on Thursday.

Opinion: We don’t trust water board’s chair. Please, Governor make a changeThe Modesto Bee
Felicia Marcus’ term as chair of the State Water Resources Control Board ended January 15.  Now a Central Valley editorial page writer is urging Governor Gavin Newsom not reappoint her to the job.  “The problem,” according to Mike Dunbar of the Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star, “is that she never stopped working for the environmental movement.”

McGuire, Wood, Huffman and Caltrans request $40 million for Last Chance GradeKRCR News
Last week, a partnership including Rep. Jared Huffman, Sen. Mike McGuire and Assemblymember Jim Wood announced that Caltrans will request the final $40 million needed to complete the Last Chance Grade environmental study.  Authorities have warned that section of Highway 101 is in danger of a catastrophic failure, which would cut the primary route between Del Norte County and the rest of the state.

Bridge connecting UCSD over I-5 opens FridayFox 5 San Diego
Officials from UC San Diego, the San Diego Association Governments and Caltrans celebrated the completion Thursday of a bridge over Interstate 5 at Gilman Drive connecting the east and west sections of UCSD’s campus.

February 7, 2019

My turn: Public-private partnerships are an industry gimmick that don’t serve public wellCALmatters
The start of a new legislative session inevitably brings calls from industry for lawmakers to authorize privatizing state highway projects through so-called “public-private partnerships.” That would be a mistake.

State, Bay Area Highways To Get Improvements Funded By Gas Tax IncreaseSan Francisco Chronicle
Caltrans has announced that $54.8 million in funds approved by the California Transportation Commission will be used for 46 highway projects in California.  The “fix-it-first” projects on the list are funded by Senate Bill 1, which the Legislature approved in 2017. Last November, California voters rejected a statewide ballot measure, Proposition 6, that would have repealed SB 1.

Caltrans Announces $54.8 Million in Transportation Improvements LA area and throughout
Caltrans announced Wednesday that the California Transportation Commission has allocated $54.8 million for 46 projects throughout California including many in the greater Los Angeles area.

CalPERS is strong — but challenges remainCapitol Weekly
Much has been written of late about the state of pension systems across the nation and here in California. Despite problems in other states, CalPERS is strong.  We had more than 70 percent of the assets needed to pay benefits at the end of the 2018 fiscal year, and our average annual return on investments over 30 years is 8.4 percent. Nevertheless, challenges exist.

Amid CHP overtime fraud probe, Caltrans orders audit of highway funds used to pay officersLos Angeles Times
The director of Caltrans has ordered a state audit of expenditures tied to the protection of the agency’s work crews by California Highway Patrol units after a CHP investigation uncovered evidence of fraudulent overtime among its officers.

February 4, 2019

California pension funds losing tens of millions of dollars on PG&EThe Sacramento Bee
Nobody is happy about PG&E’s bankruptcy filing, but California’s two biggest public pension systems are positioned to absorb losses on the utility’s stock without major repercussions. That’s because the pension funds’ multi-million dollar investments in PG&E are tiny fractions of the portfolios that CalPERS and CalSTRS control.

California Lawmakers Push for Oversight of Delta Tunnels ProjectCourthouse News Service
A group of Northern California lawmakers seeking more sway over a mammoth $17 billion water project introduced a proposal Friday that would require new construction contracts to be reviewed by the Legislature. The Legislative Delta Caucus says because of the scope of the California WaterFix, the project should require more scrutiny from both the public and lawmakers now that former Gov. Jerry Brown has left office.

L.A. offers four concepts for high-speed railEngineering News-Record
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority recently released four refined concepts for the visionary Sepulveda Transit Corridor Project, a plan that aims to build a fast, high-capacity transit line between the San Fernando Valley and the Westside and eventually Los Angeles International Airport through the Sepulveda Pass.

January 2019

January 31, 2019

Gavin Newsom’s record offers hints about how he’ll handle unions and California pensions – The Sacramento Bee
Gov. Gavin Newsom won election with support from the state’s unions, pledging to at least one of them that he would protect public employee pensions, yet his record and a couple of his key cabinet appointees suggest he’s open to reducing benefits for government workers if money becomes scarce.

See how far union membership has declined in California The Sacramento Bee
Fewer than 15 percent of California workers were members of a union in 2018, the lowest union membership rate in at least 35 years, according to new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Largely due to the strong presence of public sector unions, California remains among the 10 states with the highest proportion of workers who are members of unions.

Trains Avoid Traffic With $985.1M Fresno TrenchConstruction Equipment Guide
California High Speed Rail’s Fresno Trench & State Route 180 Passageway project will take trains under highways and streets to avoid car traffic. Constructing the trench is a massive job for crews because of its 2-mi. length. An even greater challenge: residents and farmers opposed to high-speed rail cutting through the valley.

Subsidizing Infrastructure – Seeking Alpha
Public pension funds in the United States invest in infrastructure. Unfortunately, they aren’t very good at it, according to a recent working paper of the National Bureau of Economic Research.  Indeed, public pensions are so bad at such investments that they — and thus either the public or its retirees or both –are subsidizing infrastructure projects that have a much worse return than stocks.

January 28, 2019

New rule: California state workers can get reimbursed for electric bike ridesThe Sacramento Bee
A bit of good news arrived for state workers in a formally worded email from CalHR Thursday: Yes, the state will reimburse you for using JUMP bikes. The email came in response to employee questions about whether the department’s policy for reimbursing bicycle travel includes electric bikes.

Interstate 680/State Route 4 Interchange Improvement Project breaks groundThe Press
The Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) announced the start of construction on the first phase of a multi-phased project to improve safety and help reduce congestion at the Interstate-680/State Route 4 Interchange in central Contra Costa County. “Improving the I-680/SR4 Interchange has been a priority for the Contra Costa Transportation Authority for many years,” said CCTA Board Chair Federal Glover. “Thanks to an infusion of Senate Bill 1 funds from the State, we are able to take this first, important step in improving safety at this critical interchange.” The total cost for improving this segment is approximately $136 million.

Could High-Speed Rail Ease California’s Housing Crisis? See Japan.City Lab
California’s High-Speed Rail project has been touted as a job creator and smog fighter, as well as a way to help lower the state’s carbon footprint by taking cars off the road and airplanes from the skies. Bullet-train boosters are hoping that another, less-examined impact of the project is due for attention: the possibility that the rail network could eventually help ease the housing affordability crisis in the cities at either end of the line.

Marin officials seek faster Richmond Bridge bike lane trial –  Marin Independent Journal
The Transportation Authority of Marin’s Board of Commissioners will send letters to state and Bay Area transportation agencies requesting they consider a shorter trial run for a proposed bike-pedestrian lane on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. The board voted 14-2 to request Caltrans and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to consider reviewing whether to open up the lane to vehicle commuters in the mornings after six months instead of waiting for four years as planned. The reason: increased westbound traffic on the bridge during the morning commute.

January 24, 2019

L.A. May Charge Drivers by the Mile, Adding Freeway Tolls to Cut CongestionLos Angeles Times
Local transportation officials say congestion has grown so bad in Los Angeles County that politicians have no choice but to contemplate charging motorists more to drive — a strategy that has stirred controversy but helped cities in other parts of the world tame their own traffic.

The Bay Area Gets a New Transportation CzarEast Bay Times
Therese Watkins McMillan will serve as the Bay Area’s new transportation czar, helming two regional planning organizations that oversee transit and highway projects and the distribution of bridge toll funds and other programs, the agencies said Wednesday.

California Retirees Look for ‘Independent’ Voice in New CalPERS PresidentThe Sacramento Bee
The nation’s largest pension fund has a retiree as the president of its board of administration for the first time in recent memory. The CalPERS Board of Administration chose Henry Jones as its president this week, marking the first time in at least 25 years that a retired public employee has held the leadership role. Jones also is the first African-American man to be elected CalPERS president.

CalPERS Former No. 2 Investment Official Hires Employment Lawyer After ResigningChief Investment Officer
The former No. 2 official in the investment office of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) has hired an employment lawyer who specializes in wrongful termination and other employment discrimination cases. Elisabeth Bourqui, the system’s chief operating investment officer (COIO) until her sudden resignation two weeks ago, made a surprise visit Tuesday at the pension plan’s semiannual retreat meeting in Rohnert Park with her lawyer.

January 22, 2019

California Utility Files Suit Against Caltrans, Local Districts Over MudslidesCourthouse News Service
Southern California Edison (SCE) is suing Santa Barbara County arguing that county officials should share in the liability over the deadly Montecito mudslides that killed 15 people last January after a massive wildfire ripped through Southern California. In its SCE claimed the city of Santa Barbara, the county’s flood control district, the California Department of Transportation and a local water district “failed to take measures to reduce the known and inevitable risks posed by debris flows in Santa Barbara County.”

California Partners With Scholars To Research A Stronger, Cheaper BridgeCapitol Public Radio
Caltrans and University of Missouri researchers are testing a theory that says a bridge support column might not need as much steel.

San Joaquin Water Authority Files Suit Over Unimpaired Delta Flow Proposal – California Water News Daily
Members of the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority (SJTA) filed suit last week challenging the State Water Resources Board’s recent decision to increase flows in the Stanislaus and two other rivers.  The authority, which includes the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and three Central Valley irrigation districts, claims that a state water flow policy adopted in December is arbitrary, harms farmland, and violates environmental review laws.

A Night at the Bridge Museum Engineering News-Record
Richard Dion is planning to open the world’s first bridge museum in Oakland, California, later this year. The concept of the bridge – the journey of A to B – has united people and enabled connections for millennia.  Given our current polarized landscape, maybe we can develop more of an appreciation of the structures that facilitate the sharing of goods and services, the knowledge that understanding of the other brings and its importance for a better world. Dion’s vision is for a place that celebrates the physical greatness of bridges and their ability to connect us.

January 17, 2019

Newsom’s Picks for Environmental Protection and Water Chiefs Will Reveal His PrioritiesSan Francisco Chronicle
One of the keys to former Gov. Jerry Brown’s success as California’s chief executive over the past eight years was the stellar group of individuals he recruited as his top environmental and water officials. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s initial, senior environmental appointments – Jared Blumenfeld as secretary for environmental protection, and Wade Crowfoot as natural resources secretary – suggest that he is wisely following in Brown’s footsteps.

Pension Trustees Seek Corporate Disclosure of Sexual Harassment Costs, Policies – Bloomberg
A group of trustees from some of America’s biggest public pensions are calling on companies to detail costs related to sexual harassment and any measures they’re taking to address the problem. “We don’t see how it could possibly be accretive to corporate value to have a culture that allows for sexual harassment in the workplace,” said Priya Mathur, the departing president of the $345 billion California Public Employees’ Retirement System.

Suicide-Prevention Spikes to Go Up Soon on Coronado Bridge San Diego Union-Tribune
So far, transportation agencies that rely heavily on federal funds have been spared from major consequences from the federal government shutdown. But the longer the impasse in Washington continues, industry officials warn, the harder it will be to keep state and local agencies running normally.

DB pension plans contributing billions to U.S. economy: report Benefits Canada
A new report shows that retired Americans and their beneficiaries in 2016 received $578 billion in defined benefit pension payments, then spent enough money to support 7.5 million American jobs that paid nearly $386.7 billion in wages.  Overall, pension dollars resulted in $1.2 trillion in economic output nationwide and added $685 billion in additional gross domestic product.

January 14, 2019

New air pollution scandal: Fiat Chrysler settles with California and U.S. for $800 millionThe Sacramento Bee / Associated Press
In a settlement announced last week by state and federal officials, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles agreed to pay $800 million over charges that the global carmaker used “defeat device software” in thousands of diesel vehicles to cheat on air pollution tests. The case is similar to the multibillion-dollar settlement made by Volkswagen over the use of the rogue software — and was discovered through enhanced testing procedures state and federal officials developed after the Volkswagen scandal was unearthed by California and federal officials in 2015.

New effort to require Caltrans to consider bikes, buses and pedestrians in plansSan Francisco Chronicle
The streets are not just for cars anymore. That’s the credo behind a bill that state Sen. Scott Wiener will announce Monday, requiring the state Department of Transportation to consider bike lanes, buses and pedestrian walkways whenever it starts a major road project.

Newsom’s State Budget Connects Housing Needs and Transportation Funding – CalStreetsblog
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2019-20 budget plan includes $1.75 billion for housing which he said last week would be “incentive-based” using more “realistic and nuanced” housing evaluation system than the current one. The state would provide funding and technical assistance to regions to meet those assigned housing goals. But, said Newsom, if regions “don’t reach those goals, we are going to take the SB 1 money. [If] you’re not hitting the goals, I’m not sure you should get the money.”

As Shutdown Stretches On, Transportation Officials Worry About Long-Term Effects – Governing
So far, transportation agencies that rely heavily on federal funds have been spared from major consequences from the federal government shutdown. But the longer the impasse in Washington continues, industry officials warn, the harder it will be to keep state and local agencies running normally.

State Transportation Project Planning on Hold Amid
The uncertainty about the budget may slow the pace of work on infrastructure projects because states can’t say for sure how much they will get once the budget impasse ends. “States are not going to be letting new projects because of the uncertainty associated with the federal program,” Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials says.

January 10, 2019

What does Gov. Newsom’s $144 billion proposed budget mean for you? – Mercury News
Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled his first-ever budget proposal Thursday at the Capitol, putting dollar signs behind some of the soaring rhetoric that defined his campaign and inauguration. Still, despite more than $14 billion in the state’s Rainey Day Fund and a nearly $15 billion budget surplus estimated for next year, Newsom said California still needs to prepare for a future economic recession, and pay $3 billion extra toward unfunded long-term pension obligations.

Shutdown Affects Some, But Not All, Infrastructure ProgramsEngineering News-Record
The partial shutdown of the federal government is having an effect on some federal construction programs—especially those under the Federal Transit Administration—but other major infrastructure accounts, particularly highways, continue with little change.

Highway and transit projects grind to a halt as the shutdown continuesThe Washington Post
Highway construction projects across the country have been jeopardized by the federal shutdown as state officials hesitate to authorize projects planned for 2019 without the assurance of federal funding. “If this continues to drag on it will have real impacts, not only on a state’s ability to build new projects but also on their ability to operate the system that they currently have,” said Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

My turn: Here’s a way to help California get moving againCALmatters
The authors say Governor Gavin Newsom and the Legislature should reauthorize public-private partnerships to deliver transportation projects.

After Bridge Tragedy, Genoa Selects a New
Five months after the deadly Genoa bridge collapse, the city has announced that it will replace the structure with another bridge that its designer claims will “last for a thousand years.”

January 7, 2019

Gov. Gavin Newsom promises a ‘progressive, principled’ CaliforniaSan Francisco Chronicle
California’s 40th governor delivered an inaugural speech in Sacramento Monday that cast the state as a global leader and his administration’s priorities as a counterweight to the more conservative agenda in Washington, D.C.   “What we do today is even more consequential, because of what’s happening in our country,” Newsom said. “People’s lives, freedom, security, the water we drink, the air we breathe — they all hang in the balance. The country is watching us. The world is waiting on us. The future depends on us. And we will seize this moment.”

Here’s what Gavin Newsom had to say at his inaugurationThe Sacramento Bee
Read the text of Governor Newsom’s speech.

PCH could stay closed until Tuesday near Malibu after mudslidesABC 7
Caltrans said the Pacific Coast Highway would remain closed in both directions from Las Posas Road in Ventura County to Encinal Canyon Road in Malibu, possibly through Tuesday. Several vehicles were stuck in mud Sunday on PCH, where rain triggered debris flows the previous evening and forced the closure of a 13-mile stretch of the highway.

Gov. Brown reappoints top California high-speed rail leaders The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa) / Associated Press
Gov. Jerry Brown reappointed two leaders of California’s embattled high-speed rail board last week, just days before leaving office.  He gave Dan Richard and Tom Richards fresh four-year terms on the board of directors that oversees the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which is tasked with building a high-speed train to shuttle passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in less than three hours. Richard and Richards were selected by their fellow board members as chairman and vice chairman, respectively.

January 3, 2019

California on track to complete building 2nd-tallest cable-stayed bridge in U.S. this year – Equipment World
Construction started in 2014 on the $1.2 billion Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project in Long Beach.  The deck stands 205 feet above the water, so the world’s largest cargo ships can travel underneath on their way in and out of the Port of Long Beach. The cable-stayed design features two 515-foot-tall steel-reinforced concrete towers, which will make the bridge the second-tallest bridge of that type in the United States, behind the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina, at 572.5 feet.  Click here to view a four-minute time-lapse video of the project from its 2014 start to November 2018.

Tower Bridge Construction Extended, Project To Be Completed In March – CBS 13 Sacramento
Expect more closures on the Tower Bridge in the new year as Caltrans announced work on the historic bridge will be extended through March.

Reporter’s Notebook: In awe of massive Mud Creek slide – Monterey Herald
BIG SUR — More than 5 million cubic yards of dirt and rock created a new 15-acre point here, burying a quarter-mile of Highway 1 in mud 35 to 40 feet deep.  Yet, like the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, another massive Caltrans project caused by the damaging winter storms of 2017, a visitor driving through the section of Highway 1 would not know they are atop the landslide and the old section of the highway unless somebody in the know pointed it out.

December 2018

December 27, 2018

Rep.-elect Katie Hill appoints former PECG award winner as Chief of Staff – The Santa Clarita Valley Signal
Emily Burns, a former PECG award winner, has been named Chief of Staff for California Representative-Elect Katie Hill.  Burns was Chief of Staff for Rep. John Garamendi when she won the 2015 PECG Legislative Staff Person of the Year Award, which was mentioned in a press release announcing her new appointment.

Benefits from new state bridge toll hikes might be delayed – Marin Independent Journal
Commuters will pay an extra $1 to cross the Bay Area’s seven state-owned bridges come Jan. 1, as part of a voter-approved measure to raise money for major transit upgrades. But the improvements could be delayed after state and transportation officials were hit with an unanticipated legal roadblock, preventing release of hundreds of millions of dollars for cash-strapped road projects.

Caltrans Can’t Say What’s Eating Away at the Bay Bridge – NBC Bay Area
Despite a $1 million dollar study, Caltrans cannot say whether or not microscopic organisms are gouging the pits found on some of the 13 giant steel piles whose performance is critical to assure that the new Bay Bridge fulfills its 150 year design lifespan – prompting another testing program to look for firm evidence of the phenomenon known as microbiologically influenced corrosion.

CalPERS Reviews Divestment of Companies with Ties to Sudan, Iran – Chief Investment Officer
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) has identified 13 companies, including Nokia Corp., Makita Corp., and Nordea Bank, that its investment staff is reviewing to see if it meets the threshold for possible divestment because of potential connections to Sudan and Iran.

December 21, 2018

Caltrans Reports Highlight Climate Change Effects on Highway System – KPIX
The reports by Caltrans say climatic and extreme weather conditions affect the state’s roadway infrastructure in a variety of ways, and may increase exposure of roads, bridges and rails to environmental factors beyond original design considerations.

What caused nearly 20,000 quakes at Oroville Dam? Scientists weigh in on the mystery San Francisco Chronicle
Earlier this year, engineers said that leaks undermined Oroville Dam’s spillway and led to the near-disaster that prompted 180,000 people to evacuate.  Now seismologists say those leaks also triggered thousands of tiny tremors over the last quarter-century, but none were strong enough to create the 2017 event.  Since 1993, there have been a total of 19,221 very small earthquakes that did not exceed a 1.0 magnitude, according to the group.  The earthquakes did not cause last year’s spillway failure, the seismologists reported, and Oroville Dam is not in any present danger. The new spillway, a DWR spokesperson noted, is “built to 2018 standards” with design features that will keep water from getting under the structure.

Granite Selected for Two California Construction Manager/General Contractor Projects Worth More Than $520 Million – Associated Press
Granite Construction Incorporated has announced its selection by Caltrans as the Construction Manager/General Contractor (CM/GC) for the estimated $410 million Highway 101 Carpinteria to Santa Barbara Project, and for the estimated $113 million Cosumnes Bridge Replacement CM/GC Project in Sacramento County.

December 17, 2018

A New Era of Emissions Testing Labs – Laboratory Equipment
The new Southern California headquarters of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) will be the largest and most advanced regulatory vehicle emissions testing and research facility in the world—as well as the world’s first zero net energy (ZNE) facility of its type. The nature of CARB’s research mission—regulating as-yet unregulated emissions constituents in vehicles and other mobile sources—demands precision laboratory environments to produce repeatable data. Riverside, California is the site for the $368 million, 380,000 sf, 19-acre design-build project.

Off-Schedule and Over-Budget, California’s Bullet Train Is Hurtling Towards Disaster New York Magazine
As Jerry Brown prepares to leave office after his second eight-year stint as Governor of California, he’s leaving his chosen successor Gavin Newsom a strong legacy, including a state with renewed economic and fiscal health and a Democratic super-majority in both chambers of the state legislature. But there is at least one thing Brown’s leaving behind that will likely be a major headache for Newsom: a much-delayed and extremely expensive high-speed rail project that has bled public support as rapidly as dollars.

Lawmakers Pitch Infrastructure Proposals Before Next Congress Transport Topics
Sensing the impetus for considering a long-term infrastructure funding bill when the new Congress convenes in less than a month, key House and Senate policymakers have started to outline proposals for what would be a massive piece of legislation.

December 13, 2018

Caltrans receives $11.8 million to repair damages caused by the Delta FireKRCR
Caltrans District 2 announced Tuesday that they have received $11.8 million to repair damages caused by the Delta Fire which started on September 5.

Here’s what Californians want Gavin Newsom to deliver. Probably not high-speed rail The Sacramento Bee
Focus on universal health care and free community college. Forget high-speed rail. That’s the message from Californians for incoming Gov. Gavin Newsom, according to a new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.

California’s Pension Fund Says No to Tobacco Stocks but Yes to Marijuana StocksBarron’s
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the biggest pension fund in the U.S., won’t invest in tobacco companies. But apparently it doesn’t have an issue with marijuana producers.

Opinion: Saving Infrastructure and Pensions at Once? That’s AmbitiousBloomberg
Give credit to U.S. Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky, who is set to lead the House Budget Committee, for stepping up with a concrete proposal to address the lack of public works financing – and help out public pension funds. Under his plan, the federal government would issue up to $300 billion of 40-year bonds to provide capital for a U.S. infrastructure bank, which would then extend loans to fund construction and maintenance projects. The ultra-long bonds would have a set interest rate that’s 2 percentage points more than 30-year Treasuries and would be sold exclusively to public and private pension funds.

December 10, 2018

Caltrans Gets $600 Million for Highway Projects, Many in San DiegoTimes of San Diego
Caltrans announced Friday the California Transportation Commission has allocated more than $600 million in funding for hundreds of transportation projects, with almost $100 million for the San Diego area. The funding includes $80 million from Senate Bill 1, the 12-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase that was preserved by state voters in November.

State Agency Says Delta Tunnel Needs More ExaminationCourthouse News Service
California’s Department of Water Resources dealt a major blow to Gov. Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnel project Friday. The state water agency found the project does not meet the requirements of the Delta Plan, a set of mandatory water policies that prioritize restoring the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta estuary’s eco-system.

Dam project may be delayed until 2022Gilroy Dispatch
The rains have returned to the Santa Clara Valley, and with them renewed anxiety over the capacity and stability of the Anderson Reservoir. The source of that anxiety isn’t likely to go away until after as many as nine rainy seasons, as the Santa Clara Valley Water District now says that a $550 million project to upgrade the earthquake safety of the dam may not begin until 2022 at the earliest.

Proposed California initiative to divert billions from state, kill bullet train faces uphill climb CNBC
A backer of California’s failed gas tax repeal measure is proposing an initiative to shift tens of billions of dollars from state coffers to local governments for highway construction and maintenance. It also would spell an end to the state’s $77 billion high-speed rail project.

Gavin Newsom visits Fresno, calls for ‘fresh start’ on High Speed RailABC30
California’s next governor visited the Valley to meet with influential leaders and spent Friday in Fresno. At a round-table meeting with business, political and educational leaders, Gavin Newsom listened to their concerns. Newsom says he wants to see the project completed.

December 6, 2018

Opinion: Pensions are promises California must keepSan Francisco Chronicle
Dave Low, chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, writes, “As the state Supreme Court considers two cases that raise important retirement issues, there is much legal wrangling over the narrow issues being litigated. Unfortunately, it is being accompanied by political rhetoric challenging the wisdom of the legal principle that underlies these cases — a principle known as the California Rule.”

Promised pension benefits in California can be cut, Jerry Brown’s attorneys argue, union says no – The Sacramento Bee
Attorneys representing Cal FIRE Local 2881 and Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration debated Wednesday before the State Supreme about whether the opportunity to purchase “air time” is a vested pension benefit or subject to change or elimination, even for current employees. Air time allowed employees to buy up to five years of service credit to boost their pensions.   The Governor’s lawyer argued the opportunity to buy air time, which a 2012 law now prohibits, can be changed prospectively by the Legislature. The union’s lawyer cited decades of case law that has been consistently interpreted as protecting promised public pensions – including the option to buy air time – from any reductions.  The court will return a decision within 60 days.

My turn: California must keep its promise to our public servantsCALmatters
CalPERS CEO Marcie Frost explains what the retirement fund is doing “to strengthen the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, on behalf of all Californians.”

Disneyland cooling tower was likely source of all 22 Legionnaires’ cases – Los Angeles Times
Christopher Casteel, a Department of Industrial Relations associate safety engineer – and PECG member – testified during a hearing on Tuesday that cleaning records showed Disneyland did not follow guidelines to disinfect its cooling towers, creating a breeding ground for bacteria.  State and local authorities said one of the towers was the likely source for a 2017 Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that made 22 people ill.  Earlier this year, Cal-OSHA cited and fined Disneyland $33,000 for the cleaning violation. Disneyland appealed the citation at a two-day hearing this week that included Casteel’s testimony. A Cal-OSHA administrative law judge will rule within 60 days.

Yuba-Sutter-Colusa bridge projects completed with Senate Bill 1 funding – Appeal-Democrat
Several bridge improvement projects were completed in the region with funding from Senate Bill 1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.  According to a news release, Caltrans completed nine bridges in five counties. Several of the improvements were made in Yuba, Sutter, and Colusa counties.

December 3, 2018

Public employees won’t recover union fees after court ruling The Sacramento Bee
A Washington judge has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to force public employee unions to give back “fair share” fees contractually collected from non-members. The anti-union Freedom Foundation, which has filed similar suits around the country, hopes to exploit the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to end government union fees from employees who benefit from union representation, such as collective bargaining.  Robert Bryan, the judge who heard the case in the U.S. district court in Tacoma, ruled that unions collected the fees in good faith in keeping with state and federal laws.

Huge Delta water deal backed by Dianne Feinstein, Jerry Brown, Kevin McCarthyThe Sacramento Bee
California’s most senior Democrat and most powerful Republican in Washington are teaming up to extend a federal law designed to deliver more Northern California water south, despite the objections of some of the state’s environmentalists.

Post-Fire Restoration Work Will Prompt Closures Along PCH In Malibu Area CBS Los Angeles
Work to stabilize hillsides and repair infrastructure damaged in the Woolsey Fire will prompt the closure, beginning Monday (today), of segments along a 20-mile stretch of Pacific Coast Highway in the Malibu area, Caltrans announced Friday.

How Vulnerable Are Bay Area Bridges to a Major Earthquake?NBC Bay Area
While California’s Department of Transportation has retrofitted thousands of bridges across the state to better withstand a major earthquake, NBC Bay Area’s investigation found thousands more at potential risk should the earth start shaking significantly. “For years we have not properly funded our transportation system and we’re seeing a lot of the effects of that,” says Caltrans Director Laurie Berman.

Caltrans re-opens Hwy 1 in Big Sur – KSBW
After two days of significant storm activity, State Route 1 re-opened at Mud Creek and Paul’s Slide in Big Sur. Caltrans crews assessed damage at both locations Friday morning and re-opened the roadway at noon.

November 2018

November 30, 2018

Caltrans Officially Kills 710 Extension Project After Decades Of DebateCBS Los Angeles
The 710 Freeway extension project is officially dead after six decades of debate over lengthening the busy interstate route from Alhambra to Pasadena. Caltrans announced Wednesday that it had finalized a report endorsing local street improvements instead of a freeway tunnel.

Caltrans looks at future of Route 1Point Reyes Light
Caltrans has presented possible strategies to address the increasing difficulty and cost of keeping Highway 1 in Marin and Sonoma Counties open in the face of climate change.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger Proposes ‘Emergency Plan’ After 5 Freeway TrafficKHTS
During Tuesday’s Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting, Barger proposed a partnership between agencies, including Caltrans, involved in the 5 Freeway improvements and suggested they report back monthly to identify traffic patterns and an emergency plan.  The emergency plan would be implemented if the I-5 shut down for accidents, weather or construction.

Trump Administration Ponies Up $449M for New California DamCourthouse News Service
In an effort to boost California’s water infrastructure and alleviate the state’s perpetual drought worries, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said Tuesday his department will spend more than $449 million to help fund projects to increase the reliability and efficiency of the water supply across the state.

November 26, 2018

Cal Expo cop’s lawsuit targets union lock on state worker paychecks – The Sacramento Bee
A state fair police officer is suing his union because it won’t let him quit paying dues, challenging a common provision in California public employee contracts that forbids workers from leaving their labor organizations while contracts are in effect. Terry Cooley of Galt filed the case in federal court this month with help from a pair of attorneys who have sued several California public unions since the Supreme Court in June handed down a ruling that bans labor organizations from collecting fees from workers who don’t want to join them.

Latest phase of the 5 Freeway widening project completed in Norwalk – Whittier Daily News
Another milestone in the ongoing widening of the 5 Freeway was completed Wednesday: Caltrans opened a new Norwalk Boulevard off-ramp from the northbound side of the freeway. It’s part of the $1.8 billion, 6.7-mile 5 Freeway project to add a carpool and regular lanes on each side of the existing six-lane freeway from the Orange County border to the 605 Freeway.

Big Sur: Soil “settling” behind the cracks on new highway projectMercury News
Soil settlement rather than continued sliding is behind the cracks forming along newly repaired Highway 1 at Mud Creek, where a spectacular washout had closed the scenic cliff-hugging roadway for 14 months, according to geologic experts. Caltrans engineers have been monitoring the road since the cracks appeared in August and began unnerving local residents. Both Caltrans and independent experts insist the southern gateway to Big Sur on Highway 1 is safe but to expect further cracking as the soil under the fresh asphalt continues to settle.

Editorial: Newsom should pay down California’s huge pension debt – Mercury News
If credit card payments were squeezing our budget and our wealthy aunt suddenly left us money, most of us would use the windfall to pay down our debt. That would certainly be the responsible thing to do. California government should be no different.

November 21, 2018

Bullet-train land acquisitions are moving so slowly a judge hearing the cases calls it a ‘lifetime job’ – Los Angeles Times
Once a month, Judge Edward M. Ross packs his car and drives 200 miles to preside over the biggest government taking of private land for one project in recent California history. His workload — much like the commute — seems to drag on.

Fate of Highway 1’s Last Wooden Trestle Bridge Spurs Fight on North Coast – NBC Bay Area
Albion River Bridge was built in 1942 during World War II, constructed of Douglas fir lumber hauled in from Oregon due to a wartime shortage of concrete and steel. While some 20 other wooden bridges along Highway 1 have since been replaced, Albion River Bridge survived — carrying 3,200 cars a day. Yet the wooden timbers that make the bridge unique, are also why Caltrans believes it now needs to be replaced.  Albion residents, however, say the bridge is an indispensable iconic feature that reflects the region’s spirit.

November 19, 2018

Failure of Prop 6 Allows Caltrans to Continue Work on Bay Area Road Projects – KCBS
Road projects in all nine Bay Area counties can continue as planned now that Prop 6 has been voted down. This 55-second audio report features Caltrans District 4 Director Tony Tavares.

Sensitive to smoke? State workers can ask to work from home or take vacation The Sacramento Bee
State workers who are sensitive to the smoke that has settled in downtown Sacramento can ask their supervisors to work from home, CalHR spokesman Andrew LaMar said. If that’s not possible, public employees can use vacation hours and stay home.

Key design flaws found in FIU bridge that had deadly
Designers overestimated the strength of a critical section of a Florida International University pedestrian bridge that collapsed, killing six people, and they underestimated the load on that same section, federal investigators reported.

As CalPERS rates climb, how high can they go? – Calpensions
A new report shows a third of local governments in CalPERS will have police and firefighter employer rates next fiscal year that are at least 50 percent of pay, a level that a former CalPERS chief actuary believed a decade ago would be “unsustainable.”

November 15, 2018

DWR: Camp Fire poses no threat to Oroville DamWestern Farm Press
Northern California’s deadly Camp Fire poses no immediate threat to the Oroville Dam, state Department of Water Resources officials say. Crews are taking precautionary measures to ensure the safety of other water infrastructure, including power plants and power lines, the agency reported in a press statement.

California Tunnels Project Circling the Drain After ElectionsBloomberg
This month’s elections may have mortally wounded California’s chances for a long-delayed $23 billion water tunnel project. The project’s biggest cheerleader, Gov. Jerry Brown (D), is leaving office because of term limits and his successor, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), lacks’ Brown’s enthusiasm for the tunnels.

After voters keep gas tax, plans for 15 Freeway toll lanes from Corona to Lake Elsinore move aheadPress-Enterprise
Inland officials are taking a first step toward building more toll lanes on the 15 Freeway. Express lanes are already being built on the 15, between the 60 Freeway and Cajalco Road in Corona, at a cost of $471 million, and are expected to open by mid-2020. Now transportation officials are laying the groundwork for extending those lanes — two in each direction — 14 miles farther south to Highway 74 in Lake Elsinore.

Investors With $4.8 Trillion, Including CalPERS, Push Gun Industry for ReformBloomberg
CalPERS and 12 other investors and money managers with more than $4.8 trillion in combined assets are banding together for the first time to pressure gun manufacturers and sellers to make firearms “safer, more secure and easier to trace.”

Bay Area ‘hidden freeways’ that were never builtABC 7
As long as cars have been on our streets, California highway planners have seen the need for a network of roads to move cars faster and more efficiently around the Bay Area. Decades later, a lot of that network is in place. But many of the roads envisioned by planners years ago were never built.

November 13, 2018

Trump approves major disaster declaration for California as fires rage onUSA Today
In a Monday night tweet, President Trump said he approved an expedited request for a Major Disaster Declaration, which followed a state of emergency declaration on Nov. 8. Fires continue to burn throughout the state and so far have killed more than 40 people and burned more than 6,000 structures and around 200,000 acres. A Major Disaster Declaration provides funds to affected communities for everything from crisis counseling and housing to public assistance for state and local governments to repair and replace disaster-damaged facilities and infrastructure such as roads, bridges and utilities.

California Supreme Court Sets Oral Arguments on Public Pension RightsChief Investment Officer
The California Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Dec. 5 in a case with potential national implications as to whether pension benefits can be reduced for existing public employees.

Cost of building Southland section of bullet train could jump by $11 billion, documents showLos Angeles Times
The cost of constructing the Southern California section of the state bullet train could jump by as much as $11 billion over estimates released earlier this year, though rail authority officials caution that their new numbers assume a more expansive design than is likely to be built.

Opinion: Incoming Gov. Newsom Will Have to Clean Up Jerry Brown’s LeftoversCALmatters
Gavin Newsom will not begin his governorship in January with a budget deficit, but nevertheless, Gov. Jerry Brown will leave him a stack of knotty managerial and policy issues. The two most obvious are Brown’s two pet public works projects, twin tunnels to carry water beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and a north-south bullet train.

November 8, 2018

California voters reject gas tax repealMercury News
“California voters are smart, and they don’t like to be deceived,” said Carl Guardino, a member of the California Transportation Commission. “The more it became clear what was at risk — the safety of our highways and bridges, the loss of funding for traffic relief and transit alternatives, the ongoing frustration of potholes and a lack of road and street maintenance — the more people saw through it.”

Effort to Kneecap Gas Tax Revenue Fails in CaliforniaRoute Fifty
California voters rejected a ballot measure that would have repealed an increase in the state’s gas tax and upended funding sources for needed repairs to roads and bridges. According to vote tallies as of 12 midnight PST Wednesday, Measure 6 failed on a 45 percent to 55 percent vote. As Los Angeles Times transportation reporter Laura Nelson observed Tuesday night, there was a pronounced geographic split in support for and against the measure.

Calif. High-Speed Rail Agency Tries to Stay on TrackEngineering News-Record
Despite uncertainty about the next governor’s support and the passion of critics who want it canceled, the California High-Speed Rail Authority is carrying on for now with $3 billion worth of work on three sections. Viaducts are rising, trenches are being built, salamanders relocated.

 Trial date set for Oroville Dam lawsuits against DWRChico Enterprise-Record
A June 1, 2020,  trial date has been set to hear several lawsuits against the state Department of Water Resources over the Oroville Dam crisis. Plaintiffs include: PG&E, Butte County, the city of Oroville, Bains Properties, LP, and Bains Farming, LP; Goose Club Farms, LLC; the South Feather Water and Power Agency and the Association of California Water Agencies Joint Powers Insurance Authority; JEM Farms, LP, et al; and residents forced to evacuate when officials feared mass flooding from the failing spillway was eminent.

Caltrans Executive Director Laurie Berman Speaks of Changes Afoot at the State DOT Streetsblog
Streetsblog sat down recently to talk with the Caltrans Director Laurie Berman about her job. The conversation ranged widely, covering the shifting culture at Caltrans, the department’s goals to get more people using environmentally benign transportation modes, climate change, induced demand, and changing California’s built environment.

November 5, 2018

Gov. Jerry Brown bashes gas tax repeal in rare campaign stop The Sacramento Bee
California Gov. Jerry Brown made a rare appearance on the 2018 campaign trail Friday, joining a final push against an effort to roll back a gas tax hike he championed to pay for highway repairs.  Brown said the initiative was cooked up by “shady politicians” who want to fool Californians.

Oroville Dam repairs aren’t enough, feds warn. Should state be forced to plan for a mega-flood? The Sacramento Bee

Federal regulators are raising new concerns about the troubled Oroville Dam, telling California officials their recently rebuilt flood-control spillways likely couldn’t handle a mega-flood.  That finding could mean public agencies that store water in Lake Oroville will have to spend millions of dollars to upgrade the dam.

Caltrans, SANDAG Kick Off I-5 North County ExpansionKPBS
Local, state and federal transportation officials Friday held a press event marking the start of construction on eight miles of new carpool lanes on Interstate-5 in Carlsbad and Encinitas.  The project is part of the larger North Coast Corridor program to add 13 miles of carpool lanes, seven miles of bike and pedestrian paths and 1.5 miles of rail corridor double tracking in North County.  Most of the state’s $250 million contribution to the project comes from SB 1, the law passed in Sacramento last year that raised the gas tax and vehicle fees.

$1 billion lawsuit over CalPERS insurance rates moves forward with trial date The Sacramento Bee
A class-action lawsuit that could cost CalPERS $1 billion is headed to trial in June, and many of the 122,000 retirees who bought an insurance plan at the center of the case are receiving small checks from an agreement that settled a portion of the claims.  The lawsuit alleges the pension fund carried out a contract-breaking rate hike on their long-term health care plans five years ago.

Skanska Books $100M Write-Off On P3s As US Civil Chief Exits That Role  Engineering News-Record
Sweden-based contractor Skanska A.B. is quitting its U.S. markets for privatized infrastructure development, after accumulating large losses on major contracts.  Under new U.S. leadership, the company also seeks to divest its U.S. power construction business, but will still pursue infrastructure design-build work.

November 1, 2018

Gas tax is needed to meet key freeway projects, California emissions goals, bipartisan group saysRedlands Daily
A bipartisan group of elected officials gathered in Diamond Bar Wednesday to argue for continuation of gas tax and vehicle license fee hikes imposed by state lawmakers last year, saying the monies from SB 1 are earmarked for key freeway and light-rail extension projects that would be left undone without the extra dollars.

Why You Should Keep An Eye On The Effort To Repeal California’s Gas TaxHuffington Post
Improving California’s bad roads ― by fixing potholes that damage cars and correcting poor highway design that causes congestion, for example ― is expected to save drivers more money on gas and repair costs than they’re paying in gas taxes.

Officials: California dam spillway will be ready for rainThe Associated Press
California water officials said Wednesday that the $1.1 billion spillway at the nation’s tallest dam will be in full working order if it’s needed this winter, nearly two years after it was damaged and thousands were forced to flee. Crews have finished pouring concrete on the main spillway at Oroville Dam, though it still needs to cure for a month and other work is necessary before it can be used.

Privatization or Not, Governments’ Responsibilities Never EndGoverning
The bridge collapse in Genoa, Italy illustrates that government can never abdicate its responsibility to provide reliable infrastructure.

October 2018

October 29, 2018

Proposition 6: Rough Roads Ahead If California Repeals Its Gas Tax – Capital & Main
Beyond jeopardizing road repairs and mass transit, Prop. 6 would strike at the very nature of governance itself in the Golden State.

Protect road safety, vote No on Prop. 6 – Napa Valley Register
A measure on the November ballot puts the safety and quality of our roads and bridges at risk.

$1B freeway planned in California – ABC7
The new 16-mile freeway will start at an interchange on I-215 at Placentia Avenue and stretch eastward, eventually taking over the thoroughfare currently traversed by the Ramona Expressway. It will provide an alternative to State Route 60 to the north and State Route 74 to the south.

Why is Caltrans closing Tower Bridge? It’s sagging and needs new suspenders – The Sacramento Bee
Sacramento’s iconic Tower Bridge is 82 years old. With age, there’s sagging. Bridge inspectors last year noticed the cables that help lift the main span for tall ships have stretched 14 inches longer than they once were – a sign that time, weather, and stress have taken a toll. So the golden span is getting fitted with new suspenders.

October 25, 2018

Sweet contracts, tricky rules help California unions hold on after court loss – The Sacramento Bee
California public employee unions can celebrate a little good news in the months since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling that stripped them of millions of dollars in revenue and threatened their influence in the state: So far, workers are not leaving their unions in high numbers. In fact, some labor organizations are gaining members.  Professional Engineers in California Government, for example, gained about 340 members, according to state payroll data. “PECG delivers,” said Ted Toppin, the union’s executive director. The union negotiated a two-year contract with a base raise of 8.5 percent and some sweeteners that included longevity pay for longtime workers. “PECG does deliver competitive pay, pension protection, the best health care in the state and job protection from outsourcing.”

Which California state worker unions gained members after Supreme Court’s Janus ruling? – The Sacramento Bee
PECG is among the state employee unions that have gained members since a key legal ruling ended so-called “fair share” fees last summer. Overall, unions that represent California state employees defied expectations and notched a slight increase in total membership after the Supreme Court in June handed down the Janus decision that dealt government labor organizations a serious financial blow.

Gas tax repeal lacks ‘momentum’ in new poll of California voters – Merced Sun-Star
A high-profile initiative to repeal the recent increase to gasoline and diesel taxes continues to lag with likely California voters. Just 41 percent plan to vote for Proposition 6, according to a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California, while 48 percent are opposed. That result is similar to a PPIC survey last month, when the measure trailed 39 percent to 52 percent among likely voters.

A wake-up call for investment in America’s transportation infrastructure – The Seattle Times
Recently, the world learned yet again that inadequate investment in infrastructure — roads, bridges, tunnels, and railways — can have tragic consequences. This time, those consequences befell the people of Genoa, Italy, where the collapse of a 51-year-old bridge killed 43 people.  Polling shows U.S. taxpayers want money invested to restore the nation’s public transit systems to a state of good repair would create 162,000 new jobs and generate over $180 billion in economic activity over a six-year period.

October 22, 2018

Sacramento’s roadways are in bad shape and getting worse, study says – The Sacramento Bee
Sacramento has some of the worst urban roadways in the nation, a recent study shows. About 41 percent of the Sacramento area’s roads are rated in “poor condition,” according to a report on urban road quality released Wednesday by nonprofit research group TRIP. That ranks No. 12 among the 20 large urban areas (population 500,000 or higher) with the nation’s most deteriorated roads and highways.

Will Brown get chance to defend pension reform? – Calpensions
A case challenging part of Gov. Brown’s 2013 pension reform law — which some think could result in a major ruling allowing unprecedented public pension cuts — will not be heard by the State Supreme Court until the first week of December, at the earliest. With a new governor taking office on Jan. 7, time is running out for the Brown administration to make oral arguments in the case.

California, U.S. environmental agencies are in talks with Volvo over emissions issue – Reuters
An issue with catalytic converters are causing some of Volvo’s vehicles to exceed nitrogen oxide emission limits. Over the last few weeks, the California Air Resources Board and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have been communicating with the car manufacturer about the problem to develop plans to quickly address the situation.

Redondo Beach officially opposes Prop. 6 – The Beach Reporter
Redondo Beach city council has taken a formal stance against Proposition 6, the November 2018 statewide ballot measure to repeal transportation funds generated by fuel and vehicle taxes implemented by legislature in 2017. Redondo is set to receive $1.2 million in state funding from the bill during fiscal year 2018-2019 and more than $19.3 million over the first ten years of the program, Public Works Director Ted Semaan said in an administrative report.

October 18, 2018

Vote ‘no’ on Prop. 6 — funding needed for California roads, transit San Francisco Chronicle
On Nov. 6 you will face a choice: A choice between a future of clogged and worsening roads or one that offers relief from endless traffic jams and bridges in need of repair. This future hinges on the outcome of Proposition 6, an initiative that seeks to repeal the $54 billion in transportation improvement projects that have been made possible due to the passage of Senate Bill 1 in 2017. This landmark law is responsible for 6,500 projects in California moving forward, offering safer travel, reducing gridlock and improving transit operations.

Industry Fuels Battle to Stop California’s Anti-Tax Prop. 6 –  Engineering News-Record
More than 500 groups and organizations have united through the group California Alliance for Jobs to defeat Prop 6, says Associated General Contractors of California CEO Peter Tateishi. “It’s a huge coalition of people who don’t usually come together on issues.” Prop 6 is a “grave threat” to transportation infrastructure funding, says Emily Cohen, executive vice president of the 300-member United Contractors, which contributed $9 million to opposing it. “These projects would be fighting for general monies or relying on bonds to fix our roads forever.”

Redondo Beach officially opposes Prop. 6 The Beach Reporter
Redondo Beach city has taken a formal stance against Proposition 6, the November 2018 statewide ballot measure to repeal transportation funds generated by fuel and vehicle taxes implemented by legislature in 2017.

High-Speed Rail moves forward in Bakersfield KGET
Another portion of the high-speed rail project was voted on in Bakersfield Tuesday. Folks from the High-Speed Rail Authority calling it, “a major step forward.”

October 15, 2018

9 Months after Montecito Disaster, 7 Key Bridges in Various Stages of Rebuilding – Noozhawk
The flash flooding and debris flows that thundered through Montecito early on Jan. 9 destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes while killing 23 people. Now roads and bridges in the area are getting priority attention from Caltrans and its contractors.

Major projects at risk if voters kill California gas tax hike, officials say – San Francisco Chronicle
With the clock ticking toward the Nov. 6 election, state and local officials are frantically battling Proposition 6, a measure to repeal the 12-cent per gallon gas tax increase that state legislators passed last year as Senate Bill 1.  At risk, they say, are more than 400 transit infrastructure projects with plans shelved, construction frozen in place and millions of taxpayer dollars vaporized.

Prop. 6 is an attack on our roads and highways  – Ventura County Star
The first factor in keeping our roads safe is a driver who is alert, sober and completely engaged in the rules of the road. The second safety factor is well-maintained local streets, highways and railroad crossings. We can each take care of the first factor by driving with no distractions. But the second factor — the condition of our roads and highways — is under attack from Proposition 6 on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Caltrans warns road improvement projects could be delayed, canceled if CA’s gas tax is repealed – ABC 7
There’s a dire warning from the state of California to just about anyone who owns a car: major road repair and improvement projects could be in jeopardy if voters repeal California’s gas tax in November.

Bridge shake test is part of earthquake engineering research for Caltrans – Nevada Today
The massive “shake table” at the University of Nevada, Reno, symbolizes a partnership with Caltrans to test innovative bridge designs that are quick to construct, stand up better against big earthquakes and, when damaged, can be easily repaired.

October 11, 2018

Prop 6 Mailer Made to Look Like Official Ballot ‘Correction’  –  NBC 7 San Diego
Reform California, the group that wants to repeal the gas tax, sent out millions of leaflets, which some believe are deceptive. Critics are calling it misleading and deceptive – a new Prop 6 political ad “pretending” to be an official correction to the sample ballots. Two million ads were sent by mail in the past few days.

SPUR Talk: Prop. 6 Would Make State Fall Apart – Streetsblog SF
Is California poised to bankrupt its transportation system? A host of projects across the state, from basic road repairs to Caltrain electrification, could screech to a halt if voters approve Proposition 6, an attempt to repeal Senate Bill 1 (S.B. 1), last year’s 12-cent gas tax increase.

45,000 state workers will get a new family medical benefit next year – The Sacramento Bee
Tens of thousands of California state employees are expected to gain a new benefit next year that will let them take paid time off if they have a baby or must care for a family member experiencing a medical emergency. Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration is expanding paid family leave to about 45,000 managers and supervisors who are not represented by unions, according to a Sept. 24 memo from state Human Resources Director Adria Jenkins-Jones.

Gavin Newsom says he would scale back the bullet train and twin tunnels if elected – Los Angeles Times
If Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is elected governor as expected, he’ll keep building the state’s two contentious public works projects: the bullet train and twin water tunnels. But he’ll scale back both. Newsom will concentrate on completing a high-speed rail line from the San Joaquin Valley to the San Francisco Bay Area. As for the beleaguered water project in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, Newsom will try to reduce its size to one tunnel.

California High Speed Rail’s Plan for the Future – Streetsblog SF
The California High-Speed Rail Authority is striving to get some kind of starter service — from Silicon Valley to the San Joaquin Valley — operational by 2029, and maybe even a service that connects with Amtrak’s San Joaquin lines as early as 2026. The hope is that once a useful service is operational and heavily used, it will be easier to realize the completion of the entire project from Los Angeles to the Bay Area.

October 9, 2018

California candidates for governor clash over transportation issues – KTVU
With less than a month before the November election, transportation issues, such as how to pay for repairs to California’s crumbing roads and bridges, and the value of the state’s high-speed rail project, have put gubernatorial candidates Gavin Newsom and John Cox at odds.

Anti-gas tax mailer ‘corrects’ ballot question – ABC 10
A new political ad could be masquerading as an official correction to the sample ballots that hit mailboxes across San Diego.

CalPERS President Loses Her Board Seat – Chief Investment Officer
The president of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System board has been unseated by a Southern California police officer who ran an election campaign questioning the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investment policies of the nation’s largest retirement plan.

Why did road under FIU bridge stay open? Federal judge blocks release of records – Miami Herald
A federal judge Friday blocked the release of documents that could shed light on why a busy road outside Miami was not shut down before a brand-new bridge developing severe cracks collapsed and killed six people.

October 4, 2018

California releases infrastructure report card – KTVU
In the American Society of Civil Engineers’ latest report card, California’s bridges and transit receive C- grades and its roads received a D. In the introduction to the California report, ASCE urged residents to vote against Proposition 6 in the upcoming November election, asserting that passage would hurt the state’s ability to fund infrastructure.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao formalizes Interstate 5 grant. SB 1 funds still needed. – The Signal
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao came to the Santa Clarita Valley on Monday to present a $47 million federal grant to Metro to build truck lanes and extend carpool lanes running through the Santa Clarita Valley.  But a local official says that if California voters approve Proposition 6 – the November ballot measure that would cut off $5 billion in annual state infrastructure funding – the project would be dead despite the federal money.

Garcetti urges voters to reject Proposition 6 – Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti joined business and labor leaders Wednesday to urge voters to reject Proposition 6, saying a repeal of the state’s new gas tax could force years-long delays for dozens of transportation projects across Southern California.

A Race to the Finish on Oroville Dam Spillway Fix– Engineering News-Record
Seemingly chaotic but actually highly choreographed and sequenced, the $1.1-billion Lake Oroville Spillways Emergency Recovery Project moves at an ultra-fast-track pace for one important reason: to repair the structures in time to protect cities, farmland and hundreds of thousands of people downstream of Oroville Dam before Northern California’s rainy season begins in November.

October 1, 2018

Editorial: Vote no on Prop. 6 and yes for roads – Ventura County Star
The latest polling on Proposition 6 reveals much about the gas tax and registration fee increases that the measure seeks to rescind. Asked generally about the gas tax increase, 50 percent of those polled by the Public Policy Institute of California said they support repealing it, while only 46 percent oppose it. But when pollsters read the actual ballot title to folks, the results flip — only 39 percent support Prop. 6 and 52 percent oppose it.  Why? Because the Prop. 6 title begins, “Eliminates certain road repair and transportation funding.”

Editorial: Prop. 6 would put traffic solutions in reverse – Monterey Herald
If you drive a vehicle, you already know how bad our roads are. California’s roads are ranked as some of the worst in the country. Traffic congestion is driving many local residents crazy.  That’s why last year, state lawmakers approved SB 1, a 12 cents per gallon increase in the gas tax. Proposition 6 is a November ballot initiative that would repeal the gas tax increase — and would send efforts to finally deal with our crumbling roads, highways, bridges and transit alternatives into a jolting reverse.

What could derail ACE’s arrival in Modesto? Prop 6 and those backing it The Modesto Bee
The Altamont Corridor Express started 20 years ago backed by a joint powers authority and funded by a sales tax increase in San Joaquin County, whose residents suffer from some of America’s longest commutes. ACE ridership has doubled in the last six years to 5,000 a day, 1.3 million annually. It’s one of the fastest-growing train lines in the country.  But if Proposition 6 passes, much-needed expansion of the ACE line will be threatened.

Campaign to repeal gas tax short of cash as California Republican leaders focus funds on other contests – Los Angeles Times
Top Republicans in California appear to be shifting resources away from an issue they hoped would lure voters to the polls in November: repealing the gas tax. Construction firms, organized labor and Democrats have raised more than $30 million to defeat Proposition 6, while the main campaign committee in favor of the measure had just $83,291 in the bank as of Sept. 22, according to campaign finance statements made public Thursday.

Deadline nears for Oroville Dam spillway concrete placement – Chico Enterprise-Record
The state Department of Water Resources still expects to meet its quickly approaching Nov. 1 deadline to have all concrete placed on the Oroville Dam’s main spillway.

Trump signs bill requiring independent inspection of Oroville Dam – Chico Enterprise-Record
The U.S. Senate pushed forward a bill on Thursday that would require an independent risk analysis of the Oroville Dam, following a meeting last month between Butte County supervisors and Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

News of Note

My turn: Public-private partnerships are an industry gimmick that don’t serve public well
February 6, 2019  CalMatters
The start of a new legislative session inevitably brings calls from industry for lawmakers to authorize privatizing state highway projects through so-called “public-private partnerships.” That would be a mistake.

This article by PECG President Cathrina Barros was posted online on February 6, 2019 by CalMatters, an influential State Capitol news organization.

California state engineers say yes to 8.5 percent raise, other perks
September 12, 2018  The Sacramento Bee
The union that represents California state engineers announced on Wednesday that its members ratified a two-year contract that nets them a cumulative 8.5 percent general wage increase and delivers a number of other perks.

Professional Engineers in California Government reported that 98.4 percent of members who cast ballots favored the contract.

“It’s a fair and appropriate deal. It’s the right thing for the state and for PECG members,” said PECG Executive Director Ted Toppin.

You can get a job at Caltrans in two days. It still has 1,100 openings.
September 12, 2018  The Sacramento Bee
Motivated by a wave of retirements and an urgency to fill new positions created by the state’s gas tax increase, Caltrans has devised a bureaucracy-defying human resources program that has let it bring on hundreds of new employees at a time during hiring events.

It’s racing to add staff in a hot economy in which other engineering firms and local governments also are bulking up.

“They need design staff to deliver state highway projects,” said Ted Toppin, executive director of Professional Engineers in California Government. “That’s what Californians expect. Right now they’re competing with other state and local departments and the private sector for engineers, so the need to on-board them is real or they’re going to lose them.”

Gas tax projects prompt Jerry Brown’s pay raises for California highway engineers
August 23, 2018 The Sacramento Bee
Gov. Jerry Brown’s last contract with the state’s highway engineers includes some sweet perks aimed at retaining the longtime road designers, planners and project managers who’d be charged with executing work funded by the gas tax he backed last year.  “The piece I like to call experienced pay is there to address a real problem. Those experienced folks are retiring and there isn’t really a cadre in the middle to deliver SB 1 projects,” said Ted Toppin, PECG’s Executive Director. “Hopefully this agreement will keep those people on the job…”

Caltrans is Desperate to Fill Thousands of New Jobs 
March 13, 2018 The Sacramento Bee

Landmark Infrastructure Funding Bill Spurs Major Job Creation in California
February 5, 2018 Engineering News-Record Spotlight on Labor

2017 News of Note Archive

Public Employees Should Control CalPERS Election, by Mark Sheahan
September 18, 2017 The Sacramento Bee Letters to the Editor

Don’t Waste Highway Money on Greedy Private Contractors, by Bruce Blanning
July 3, 2017 The Sacramento Bee

2016 News of Note Archive

2015 News of Note Archive

Blame Politicians, Not the Bridge Builders
by Roy Flores, PECG Past President
November 6, 2015 The San Diego Union Tribune Letter to the Editor

California State Engineers Ratify Contract
October 28, 2015 The Sacramento Bee

State Engineers Okay Contract That Requires They Pay for Retiree Benefits
October 14, 2015 The Sacramento Bee

Brown Signs Labor Agreements
September 22, 2015 Capital Public Radio

PG&E’s ‘Shady’ Conduct Hindered Probe, Investigators Say
September 12, 2015 San Francisco Chronicle

Deal Requires State Workers to Pay Ahead for Retiree Health Care
September 1, 2015 The Sacramento Bee

State Government Union Reaches Deal on Retiree Healthcare
September 1, 2015 Los Angeles Times

California State Engineers Reach Contract Deal With Jerry Brown
August 31, 2015 The Sacramento Bee

Despite Vehicle-Tracking System, Caltrans Employees Speeding More
Sacramento Bee

Breaking Trust,
by Art Duffy
August 21, 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Letters to the Editor

Letters: Taxes Wasted on No-Bid Contracts
August 15, 2015 Orange County Register

Brown’s Retiree Health Care Proposal Stalls
August 13, 2015 Capital Public Radio

CalPERS Investments Are Solid,
by Cathrina Barros
August 8, 2015 The Sacramento Bee Letters to the Editor

Pensions, Contracts on August Agenda
The Sacramento Bee

Jerry Brown, Employee Unions Set to Tangle Over Health Insurance
January 25, 2015 The Sacramento Bee

2014 News of Note Archive

Caltrans Outfits Fleet With High-Tech Devices
October 10, 2014 The Sacramento Bee

What California State Workers Earn: Engineers
June 26, 2014 The Sacramento Bee

Hearing Date Set for California Civil Engineers’ Furlough Case
June 23, 2014 
The Sacramento Bee