PECG Media Briefing

October 17, 2019

Caltrans says it saved $233 million of your tax dollarsSan Francisco Chronicle (tiered subscription)
The California Department of Transportation announced Wednesday that it had met its statutory mandate of spending money wisely, issuing a report that documented $233 million of savings in the latest budget year.


Plan in place to ensure power outage never closes Caldecott TunnelKTVU
Last week when Caltrans announced that the Caldecott Tunnel might be closed for the Public Safety Power Shutoff, commuters were shocked and angered.  The Caldecott Tunnel complex gets PG&E power from two separate grids, one on the Alameda County side and the other on the Contra Costa side.  To keep the tunnel open, Caltrans “ had to get right to work with our electrical crews and work directly with our utility partners in order to get separate generators out on site as quickly as possible,” a department spokesman said.


SF developer joins California high-speed rail board to get it ‘back on track’San Francisco Chronicle (tiered subscription)
Not sure if congratulations or condolences are in order, but longtime Bay Area housing developer Jim Ghielmetti of San Francisco, has been appointed to the California High-Speed Rail Authority board of directors.


A do-over at SEIU Local 1000 gets a new result: State workers vote ‘yes’ on contractThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
A group of workers within California state government’s largest union voted to approve a contract in a second vote last week, reversing a previous ‘no’ vote.  SEIU Local 1000 members in Bargaining Unit 11 — a collection of construction and agricultural inspectors, lab assistants and others — approved the contract by 72 percent to 28 percent vote, according to an announcement on Local 1000’s website.

October 14, 2019

Skelton: Are California transportation officials pulling a bait and switch on gas tax funds? – Los Angeles Times (tiered subscription)
A current episode in Sacramento may or may not fall to the level of a bait and switch.  It’s murky.  It involves gasoline taxes and promised highway improvements.  Some of the money is being shifted from road construction to commuter rail in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The money is coming from allocations for three “deleted” projects and other road project savings totaling $61.3 million.


Bill to Eliminate 710 Freeway Tunnel Signed Into Law – Pasadena Now
With a signature, Governor Gavin Newsom relegated the concept of a 710 Freeway tunnel beneath Pasadena to the archives of history.


California dam-raising project favored by feds stumbles after water agency retreats The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s $1.3 billion plan to raise Shasta Dam has run into a roadblock that could delay the project or even kill it.  California officials oppose the plan.


CalPERS in settlement talks in $1 billion long-term care insurance lawsuit – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
A judge has postponed a trial to make time for settlement talks in a $1.2 billion lawsuit against CalPERS over its long-term care insurance policies.

PECG Media Briefing Archive

October 2019

October 10, 2019

California highway projects could lose gas tax funding as Newsom shifts money to mass transit – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom is directing some money collected through gasoline taxes away from road repairs in favor of rail projects, according to a 200-page proposal from the state’s transportation department.  Under an executive order Newsom signed last month, Caltrans must “reduce congestion through innovative strategies designed to encourage people to shift from cars to other modes of transportation.”


Contract gamble: California state workers who voted down raise want return to bargaining – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California state workers who recently rejected their union’s proposed contract are betting they can get a better deal by returning to the bargaining table.  This week, a do-over vote organized by SEIU Local 1000 leaders is testing the resolve of those who voted against the deal while giving those who didn’t vote another chance to do so.


The power’s out in Northern California, and state workers could be sent home – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California state departments affected by widespread power outages may instruct workers to work from home, take administrative time off or make other special arrangements during widespread power outages, according to CalHR.


California water czar seeks resource collaboration, not combat – Bloomberg
For E. Joaquin Esquivel, California has made great strides in fighting climate change and transitioning to a cleaner energy sector.  Now, he said, it’s water’s turn.


Babies won’t be allowed to come to work with state worker parents after Governor vetoes bill CBS 13 Sacramento
California state workers will not be allowed to bring their infants to work after Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed Assembly Bill 372 on Tuesday.  The bill would have allowed state workers next year to bring their infants to work until they were six months old or crawling, whichever came first.

October 7, 2019

California retirees voted in an expensive election at CalPERS.  Here’s who won.The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Henry Jones will keep his seat on the CalPERS Board of Administration after defeating challenger J.J. Jelincic in an election that saw hundreds of thousands of dollars in union spending.  PECG endorsed Jones’ re-election.


Editorial: It was a terrible idea to build a new freeway in Los Angeles County. Now it’s on hold for goodLos Angeles Times (tiered subscription)
Could the era of building new freeways in California be over?


Questions of unethical dealing hit high-speed rail. But don’t stop construction in FresnoThe Fresno Bee
Some tough news recently hit the state’s high-speed-rail project.  The Rail Authority board members’ have become enmeshed in reports of conflicts of interest.   Meanwhile, politicians threaten to redirect rail funds to projects in Southern California and the Bay Area.  But, if anything, that should focus the rail board even more on getting the project done while making sure its leadership is completely ethical in all its dealings.


Caltrans depicts Soscol Junction as big congestion-busterNapa Valley Register
Caltrans predicts that building a roundabout-featuring fix for congested Soscol Junction where Highway 29 and Highway 221 meet east of the Grapecrusher statue could all but erase rush-hour delays there.  Delays at the signalized intersection with no changes will top five minutes in 2025, compared to eight to 15 seconds with the roundabout, a new state report said.

October 3, 2019

Some California workers reject SEIU contract, revealing divide in state’s largest unionThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
A small but significant group within state government’s largest union rejected a proposed contract with the state Tuesday, revealing a split over a three-year SEIU Local 1000 agreement that includes a major new health care perk.  A group of engineering and scientific technicians rejected the contract, which includes a 7 percent raise and a health insurance stipend worth about $3,100 per year.  The rejection could mean that the unit of Local 1000 that rejected the contract will not get new raises and benefits while the rest of the union would.


You’ve been warned: ‘Carmageddon’ coming to Highway 101 in SF in JulySan Francisco Chronicle (tiered subscription)
Caltrans officials have one word to describe the planned rebuild of a deck of Highway 101 at Alemany Circle, north of the interchange with I-280: “Carmageddon.”


New gel-like material can stop wildfires for months at a timeZME Science
The idea behind the gel is to apply it to areas that are prone to wildfires.  The gel helps fix fire-retarding compounds where they’re needed long after weathering would remove them by themselves.  It is non-toxic, made from materials used in food, drug, cosmetic, and agricultural products.  Researchers are now working with Caltrans and CalFire to test the material on high-risk roadside areas that are the origin of dozens of wildfires every year.


Deck installation begins for replacement of collapsed Genoa bridgeThe Construction Index
The first span has been installed for the structure being built to replace the viaduct that collapsed last year in Genoa, Italy.  Pergenova, a joint venture of Salini Impregilo and Fincantieri Infrastructure, is building the new bridge.

September 2019

September 30, 2019

SANDAG Approves $600M in Funding for Transportation Projects Across County – NBC 7
Should more highways be built in San Diego County? Or should mass transit be the focus of transportation investment? Those were the questions discussed at Friday’s SANDAG meeting where leaders approved nearly $600 million in funding for transportation projects across the County.


Caltrans Contemplates Overhaul of Pasadena’s Freeway, the SR-110 Arroyo Seco Parkway – Pasadena Now
Caltrans is considering five changes to the SR-110 Arroyo Seco Parkway.  First opened in 1940, the Parkway, formerly known as the Pasadena Freeway, is notable for representing the transition between early parkways and modern freeways.  At the time it was built, it was in conformity with modern standards, but today, it is regarded as a narrow outdated roadway.


The Bay Area’s Next Big Traffic Headache – KCBS
Caltrans is finalizing plans for a major San Francisco freeway reconstruction project that will disrupt a key freeway for several weeks next summer.  The agency plans to  replace 800 feet of bridge deck on US 101 just north of the Alemany Boulevard exit in San Francisco.  That’ll require the detouring of traffic from a stretch of freeway that carries about 240,000 vehicles a day in each direction.


California Must Embrace Groundwater Management, and Expand It – CalMatters
With dry periods expected to increase in frequency and duration, groundwater is key to creating a more resilient water supply for drinking water, producing food, and sustaining our precious natural resources.  Yet despite its importance, groundwater use in California has been largely unregulated.  Fortunately, this is about to change.


Oroville Spillways Emergency Recovery: Northern California Project of the Year 2019 – ENR California
The Engineering News-Record has named the Oroville Spillway Project California’s Best Project for “Water/Environment and Excellence in Safety.”

September 26, 2019

Caltrans Plans Emergency Reports on Hwy. 1 Along San Mateo Coast – KPIX
Caltrans is planning emergency road repairs for a busy section of Highway 1 along the San Mateo County coast.  On the surface, they look like rather ordinary regular cracks but they are not.  From a nearby vantage point, you can see the side of the cliff is slowly giving way, right up to the highway.


Trump EPA blasts California air quality, threatens to withdraw highway funds – KFGO/Reuters
The Trump administration escalated its fight with California on Tuesday, accusing the state of failing to enforce the U.S. Clean Air Act and threatening to withdraw billions of dollars in federal highway funds to the country’s most populous state.


California high-speed rail board member under investigation for potential conflict – Los Angeles Times (tiered subscription)
The state Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating allegations that Ernest Camacho, a board member of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, has a conflict of interest — the second such investigation the watchdog agency has launched involving the bullet train.


California’s chronic water overuse leads to sinking towns, arsenic pollution – Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
When you walk through Jeannie Williams’s sunny orchard, you don’t notice anything wrong.  But the problem’s there, underfoot.  The land around her — about 250 square kilometres — is sinking.

September 23, 2019

Gavin Newsom tells CalPERS, CalSTRS to favor green investments in climate change order – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday signed an executive order to leverage the might of California’s $700 billion public pension funds and the state’s purchasing power as a highway builder in a campaign to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


California sues Trump over revoking state’s authority to set car emissions standards – Los Angeles Times
A coalition of 14 states led by California filed a lawsuit Friday against the Trump administration, challenging its decision to revoke a rule that empowers the state to set tougher car emissions standards than those required by the federal government.


Rising ocean will flood new Trancas Bridge due to global warming – 991KBU
Caltrans has issued a new assessment of what global warming will mean for the state highway system, and it predicts that major sections of Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu will go underwater in 80 years under a worst-case scenario.


‘The strongest earthquake bridge ever built’: A look inside the eastern span of the Bay Bridge – KTVU
Caltrans gave KTVU an inside look at how the Bay Bridge is seismically resilient.

September 19, 2019

SoCal traffic: 5 Freeway expansion project on track to alleviate gridlock by 2021 ABC 7
Most drivers in Southern California bold enough to brave the 5 Freeway during rush hour will tell you it’s always terrible, but Caltrans hopes to help alleviate the gridlock by 2021.  Transportation officials said Tuesday that the expansion of the Santa Ana Freeway was coming to the rescue.


Trump officials slam California air, rescind state’s authority on emissionsSan Francisco Chronicle (tiered subscription)
Trump administration officials attacked California’s air quality Thursday as they announced the revocation of the state’s authority to set its own auto emissions standards, saying the state should focus on its own problems instead of the rest of the nation.


Bullet train board votes on proposed Valley to San Jose route, amid backlashThe Fresno Bee
The California High-Speed Rail Authority board voted unanimously Tuesday on a route that may ultimately connect the San Joaquin Valley with San Jose – though it didn’t come without some backlash from community groups.

September 16, 2019

Gavin Newsom says he’ll veto Trump-defying California environmental bill – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Governor Gavin Newsom on Saturday declined to pick a fight with the Trump administration, announcing he’d veto a bill that would have preserved Obama-era environmental policies and negated the Republican’s regulations.


Caltrans reports on new bridge built in Napa Valley Lake County News
In this Caltrans News Flash, see how Caltrans built an innovative new bridge right in the middle of one of Napa Valley’s most iconic tourist towns. The completion of the new bridge happened with minimal disturbance to residents, businesses and visitors.


California bullet train’s mishandling of land deals adds to mounting costs and delaysLos Angeles Times (tiered subscription)
California’s bullet train project confronts an array of political and financial challenges, but its biggest problem involves mismanagement of land acquisitions, which has contributed to construction delays, cost increases, litigation and the launch of a federal audit.


California adds an 11th state to its travel ban. No taxpayer-funded trips to Iowa The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Friday extended California’s ban on taxpayer-funded trips to an 11th state, adding Iowa to the list based on the Midwestern state’s passage of a law that removed gender protections under Medicaid. Becerra’s order means public employees and college students may not travel to Iowa under provisions of a 2016 California law.

September 12, 2019

US DOT providing $871 million for highway disaster reliefFreight Waves
The Trump administration will spend $871.2 million to repair roads and bridges in the U.S. and in American territories that have been damaged in natural disasters and unexpected events over the past three years.  California will receive $157 million (18%) of the relief, which includes $115 million to repair damage from storms and fires.


Project rebuilding Hwy. 1 after Mud Creek Slide is up for an award. And you can vote for itThe Tribune (tiered subscription)
Nearly a month of online voting will determine if the $54 million Highway 1 restoration project at Big Sur’s Mud Creek area will win the People’s Choice award in a national transportation project competition.  Voting ends Oct. 6.


Unquenchable Thirst: Groundwater bill could shift state’s water management approachKCET
The latest salvo is California’s long-running water wars, SB 307, has the potential to emerge as one of the most important pieces of water regulation in recent years.  The adoption of the law this summer sheds light on the smartest, least expensive, and most efficient method of building a more water-resilient state: Tackle the demand side of the equation.


Caltrans’ new director: Toks Omishakin has credentials in active transportationStreetsblog California
Adetokunbo Toks Omishakin comes from the Tennessee Department of Transportation, where he directed its Bureau of Environment and Planning.  He has also served on the board of directors for American Walks, and as vice chair of the AASHTO Council on Active Transportation, where biking and walking advocates say he has provided thoughtful leadership.

September 9, 2019

Trump warns California that emissions deal with automakers may be illegal – Los Angeles Times (tiered subscription)
The Trump administration sent California a stern warning Friday that its agreement with four major automakers to reduce car pollution appears to violate federal law.  The letter from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation threatened “legal consequences” if California does not abandon the agreement, but did not say what officials might actually do.  It reiterated the administration’s long-held belief that only the federal government has the authority to set fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars.


Renovations in Store for 23 Freeway –  Thousand Oaks Acorn
The state says it’s investing $100 million over the next four years to upgrade the 23 Freeway between Thousand Oaks and Moorpark.  The job was listed this month along with 132 other projects Caltrans said will be paid for with $1.1 billion from SB 1, the state’s 2018 gas tax and vehicle registration hike.


Caltrans grants more than $34M for sustainable transportation planningTransportation Today
The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) announced plans to award local agencies with more than $34 million in transportation planning grants for fiscal year 2020-2021.  This aid will focus on those planning more sustainable communities, reduce transportation-related emissions, and adapting to climate change.


See the ‘twin’ Bay Bridge that nearly happened despite outrage from SF – San Francisco Chronicle (tiered subscription)
The list of historic San Francisco infrastructure near-misses includes a freeway through the Panhandle, an airport on Treasure Island and a rotating restaurant atop what would become Sutro Tower. But nothing would have changed the look of the city like the 1940s “twin Bay Bridge” plan, a proposal for a second identical span entering San Francisco. It was an oddity that the future would confirm made little sense; it would have added a new hellscape of cloverleafs and off-ramps into downtown San Francisco that would have accelerated surface-street gridlock.

September 5, 2019

Hole found during inspection on Capital City Freeway bridge prompts emergency closuresThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
A hole was found on southbound Capital City Freeway on Wednesday evening, prompting the emergency closures of several lanes and ramps.  Caltrans crews were conducting a routine bridge inspection on the freeway at the junction of Highway 99 and Highway 50 when they saw a deteriorating area, and upon further inspection they discovered there was a hole in the bridge deck.


Making California’s Water Supply ResilientWater in the West
In this Q&A, two Stanford researchers argue that California needs to diversify its “water portfolio.”


Caltrans grants more than $34M for sustainable transportation planningTransportation Today
The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) announced plans to award local agencies with more than $34 million in transportation planning grants for fiscal year 2020-2021.  This aid will focus on those planning more sustainable communities, reduce transportation-related emissions, and adapting to climate change.


California History: The Ridge RouteRicochet.com
An engineer explains his research into the predecessors of The Grapevine, the first of which was designed by the aptly named W. Lewis Clark, a State Highway Commission engineer and was considered “a marvel of its time.”

September 3, 2019

PFAS toxins found in drinking water throughout Southern CaliforniaOrange County Register
Wells of nearly two dozen Southern California water agencies have reportable levels of PFAS, a chemical family increasingly linked to cancer, liver and kidney damage, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, low fertility, low birth weight and ulcerative colitis.  The state only this year began ordering testing for the chemicals, and a state law requiring that customers be notified about the presence of those chemicals won’t kick in until next year.


California’s fight over tailpipe emissions, explainedCalMatters
As global temperatures climb, the federal government is threatening to blunt a major weapon in California’s fight against climate change: the power to police tailpipe emissions.  Although the rollbacks aren’t yet official, California has leveled lawsuit after lawsuit at the Trump administration — and vowed to fight any finalized rollbacks in court.  The battle boiled over this summer when California and four major automakers went around the president and cut a deal to continue curbing greenhouse gas pollution.  Here’s the full history of the state’s battle to curb auto emissions, and what’s at stake in its fight with the feds.


An Era of Roadwork: Most Projects Bakersfield has Seen in DecadesBakersfield Now/Eyewitness News
In Bakersfield, it seems roadwork is everywhere. Bakersfield City Works tells Eyewitness News this is the most roadwork they have had at the same time in years.  They say Bakersfield roads haven’t got this much attention since the 1970s. But after years of under funding, the city has access to state gas tax money.


A Hot Job Market Is Causing Labor Pains for State GovernmentsNew York Times (tiered subscription)
In June, there were two public-sector job openings for every new hire, according to government statistics, a sign that state, local and federal agencies are struggling to quickly fill positions.  In South Carolina, the state officials last year turned to contracting peanut inspectors, a trend across governments as they look for more flexible staffing.  It resulted in fraud and inefficiencies, so the Department of Agriculture got raises approved for this year, which helped recruit enough new workers to satisfy the state’s needs.

August 2019

August 29, 2019

CalPERS Gets Candid About ‘Critical’ Decade AheadCapitol Weekly
Once CalPERS could shrug off low funding and rising employer costs as just another downturn, staying the course in the long-term strategy of getting most of its money from market investments that go up and down.  This time is different.


Caltrans Project Nominated for National Transportation AwardTraffic Technology Today
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) has announced the 12 winning transportation projects from four regional competitions that will battle it out in this year’s America’s Transportation Awards competition.  Caltrans’ Highway 1/Mud Creek Emergency Restoration project is an entrant in the “Best Use of Technology & Innovation” category.  The winners will be announced at the AASHTO Annual Meeting in St. Louis on October 8.


An Era of Roadwork: Most Projects Bakersfield has Seen in DecadesBakersfield Now/Eyewitness News
In Bakersfield, it seems roadwork is everywhere. Bakersfield City Works tells Eyewitness News this is the most roadwork they have had at the same time in years.  They say Bakersfield roads haven’t got this much attention since the 1970s. But after years of under funding, the city has access to state gas tax money.


Efficiency, Technology, Craftsmanship Mark Phase II of Caltrans I-5 ProjectConstruction Equipment Guide
On Interstate 5 in Northern California’s Siskiyou County, a $57 million low-bid contract rehab project merges design expertise, modern technology, and worker craftsmanship in novel ways.  It is there that Caltrans is incorporating a tech tool that combines 3D modeling data and global satellite information to improve productivity by up to 50 percent with a cost savings of up to 75 percent, and with higher quality work and improved safety margins.

August 26, 2019

Holden Looks to Save Bill to Guarantee 710 “Gap” Removed from State Highway Plan – The Pasadenan
With only days to go before an Aug. 30 legislative deadline, Assemblyman Chris Holden is working to save AB 29, his bill to eliminate the section of State Route 710 between Alhambra and Pasadena from the state’s freeway and expressway system.


California Looks to Australia for Ways to Manage its Groundwater After Worst-Ever Drought – ABC Australia
In the powerhouse food bowl of California, the impact of its most recent drought — which finally ended in 2017 after eight grueling years — continues to be felt across the state.  And it turns out many farmers and water experts in California are looking to Australia for answers as they face up to the biggest water reforms in the history of the US.


High-Speed Rail Officials Outline Peninsula Visions – The Daily Journal
One of the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s visions for the corridor between San Jose and San Francisco appears to have the support of Bay Area residents.  The publicly-favored option would not require laying down passing tracks and locates a 100-acre maintenance facility in Brisbane on the east side of the line, away from existing homes and planned residential development.

August 22, 2019

More than $1.1B allocated to work on California highwaysKSBY
The California Transportation Commission is allocating more than $1.1 billion for 133 State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP) projects across the state.  Almost $994 million of that funding will go toward fix-it-first projects funded by Senate Bill 1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.  SB 1-funded projects will improve or replace 880 lane miles, 474 congestion reducing devices and 83 tunnels for flooding prevention.


California Water Board OKs $1.3 Billion for Clean Drinking WaterCourthouse News Service
California’s water regulator voted Tuesday to spend $1.3 billion over the next 10 years to provide safe drinking water to communities throughout California.


California To Build Largest Wildlife Crossing In World — At A Cost Of $87MCBS 2/Associated Press
Like many urban singles, the mountain lion P-22 lives a solitary life in a too-small habitat, and a has hard time finding a mate in the big city.  Now transportation officials and conservationists are planning a wildlife crossing over a major Southern California highway, hoping to fend off the extinction of mountain lions like P-22 that require room to roam.  The $87 million bridge will be built mostly with private funds.  Last month it entered the final design phase, according to Senior Transportation Engineer and PECG member Sheik Moinuddin, with the project’s completion planned for 2023.


Thousands of retired California state workers are getting checks in the mail.  Here’s whyThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Surprise checks that have been arriving at the doors of California state retirees can be traced to a 2012 class action lawsuit over late pay.  Former state workers who retired between November 1, 2010 and March 31, 2011 have been receiving checks of up to $14,500 this month, said Sacramento attorney William Kershaw, who represented the retirees in the suit.  The checks started going out Aug. 6 after the case settled for $6.8 million last fall to 2,064 former state workers who weren’t promptly paid when they retired.

August 19, 2019

Richmond-San Rafael Bridge Project Gets $19.9M From Gas TaxMarin Independent-Journal
The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge is set to get an $85 million makeover next year with the help of nearly $20 million in state funds approved on Thursday.  Caltrans plans to repaint the lower deck and towers to protect the steel and replace 30 of the 31 expansion joints on the lower deck.  The joints allow the bridge to adjust to changes in temperature and vibrations.


‘Ground Zero:’ Coastal Commission Approves Safety Corridor Project, Worries Sea Level Rise May Leave it Under Water – North Coast Journal
While Caltrans’ project on the 6-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 101 that connects Eureka and Arcata is aimed at improving safety for motorists, the agency got an earful earlier this month from California Coastal Commissioners who felt it is ignoring a potentially far more dangerous threat: sea level rise.


Caltrans Soliciting Bids On $31 Million Contract For Last Chance Grade Environmental PhaseLost Coast Outpost
A technical report showed some parts of a bridge that collapsed last year in Genoa, Italy, had lacked maintenance for 25 years, a local prosecutor said on Wednesday.  On Aug. 14 last year, a large section of the 1.2 km-long (1,100-yard) bridge collapsed in heavy rain, killing 43 people.  The cause is still under investigation, but the ruling 5-Star Movement blamed Italy’s biggest toll-road operator, infrastructure group Atlantia, for neglecting maintenance on the bridge.  Atlantia has denied any wrongdoing.

August 15, 2019

California Oil Regulators Made ‘Dummy’ Approval Files for Risky Drill Permits, Records ShowPalm Springs Desert Sun
Employees inside California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, or DOGGR, say higher-ups are using regulatory sleight-of-hand that allows petroleum firms to avoid upfront reviews of risky steam-injection oil extraction projects and keep operations moving.  Documents and emails obtained by The Desert Sun appear to back up their assertions.


Groundwater Trading Program, First of Its Kind for Central Valley, is Being DesignedKGET
In a first for Kern County and the Central Valley, a groundwater trading program is being designed to help local growers meet new regulations under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act — which kicks in next year.


Caltrans Soliciting Bids On $31 Million Contract For Last Chance Grade Environmental PhaseLost Coast Outpost
Caltrans has entered phase two in its preliminary geotechnical studies of Last Chance Grade and is currently seeking a contractor to see the project through its environmental phase.  The agency began collecting data this week on how much movement is occurring at the slide-prone area south of Crescent City, said project manager Jaime Matteoli.  The information is necessary to refine alternatives proposed for a bypass of U.S. 101 around the slide, he said.


California Cuts Carbon Emissions Even as Economy HumsCourthouse News
California’s greenhouse gas emissions dropped again in 2017, air quality regulators reported Monday, and the dive occurred without hurting the Golden State’s raging economy.  An annual report released by the California Air Resources Board says the state’s economy grew by 3.6% even as its emissions fell well below a target set by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006.  This means California remains on track to meet its goal of cutting emissions to 431 million metric tons by 2020, and has a good shot at reducing emissions to less than 300 million metric tons by 2030.


CalPERS Faces ‘Very Serious Risk’ in $1.2 Billion Long-Term Care Case, Judge WarnsThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
A judge is urging CalPERS to settle a major lawsuit over price increases for its long-term care insurance policies, suggesting the system could have to pay a lot of money if the lawsuit goes to a jury trial in October.  The lawsuit, filed in 2013, alleges CalPERS violated contracts when it hiked premiums by 85 percent for about 100,000 public employees after promising stable prices in marketing materials.  CalPERS has said it had the authority to increase the rates and did so solely to keep the plans sustainable.

August 12, 2019

SB 1-Funded I-80 Donner Summit Pavement Project BeginningYubaNet
Caltrans is set to begin pavement work on Interstate 80 from the Troy Undercrossing to Donner Pass Road in Truckee to address rutting caused by heavy trucks traveling in the Sierra during winter months when chains are required.  Work on the $7.5 million project is scheduled to begin Wednesday, August 14.  $5 million in funding support is provided by Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.


Calif. Pressures Automakers to Join CAFE DealAutomotive News
Four automakers down and 14 to go.  That’s the view from California as it leads the charge to pressure more manufacturers to join a compromise deal on tougher fuel economy and emissions standards that the Trump administration has rejected as a “PR stunt.”


The California Public Utilities Commission Couldn’t Offer A List Of Everything It Regulates.  So We’re Trying To Make One.Capitol Public Radio
The California Public Utilities Commission is a sprawling organization that covers hundreds of individual businesses and utilities across the energy, water, transportation and telecommunications industries.  But it appears an up-to-date list of the agency’s regulatory responsibilities does not exist (one from 2013 can be found here).  So, CapRadio is attempting to compile one.

August 8, 2019

Smoother, Safer Lanes Planned for Highway 101 Near Ventura with $52.3M in State FundingVentura County Star
The California Transportation Commission has allocated $52.3 million for new paving for 21.6 “lane miles” on a stretch of Highway 101 in and near Ventura.  Caltrans says the project is currently in the early design stage, with work starting late next summer.


CalEPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld on California’s Environmental Priorities Under the Trump Administration (Audio Interview)KQED
California’s Secretary of Environmental Protection Jared Blumenfeld oversees the state’s efforts to combat climate change, ensure clean air and water, regulate pesticides and manage waste and recycling goals.  He joins Forum to discuss how the state is responding to the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks and what he sees as the state’s top priorities and challenges.


Groundwater: Agencies react to rejection of alternative plansAg Alert
Six regions of California that considered themselves to be managing groundwater sustainably have been informed otherwise by state Department of Water Resources officials, who rejected alternatives to preparation of groundwater sustainability plans for the regions.  Three of the applicants have agreed to form groundwater sustainability agencies as required under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.  The remaining three — in Humboldt, Lake and Napa counties — face decisions on how to proceed.


California turns towards a Texas solution for u-turn designWorld Highways
The first so-called “Texas U-Turn” in California has opened as part of the Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement project at Long Beach.  The design enables trucks and other vehicles to make a safe and free-flowing U-turn at the west end of the project at the port access undercrossing, a second tunnel near the intersection of Ocean Boulevard and State Route 47 (SR-47) on Terminal Island.

August  5, 2019

North County bridge closed indefinitely after Caltrans finds it unsafeThe San Luis Obispo Tribune
A North County bridge has been determined unsafe for motorists and closed indefinitely.  Caltrans identified “potential structural deficiencies” on the southern bridge of twin bridges at Huerhuero Creek on River Road in Paso Robles, according to a news release.


Dam spillway near SLO County has significant cracks, is ‘unsafe for use,’ state saysThe San Luis Obispo Tribune
The same structural problems that caused the failure at Oroville Dam in February 2017 also exist at the spillway of San Antonio Dam, just two miles north of Lake Nacimiento and above the community of Bradley.  Those problems have been known “for quite some time,” according to the current manager of the dam operator.  But the state didn’t take notice or downgrade the dam’s safety condition until after it revamped its oversight process following the massive failure in Northern California.


Victor Lindenheim: On Taxes, Traffic and RoadsThe Santa Clarita Valley Signal
For more than 15 years, I have been advocating for safety and capacity improvements to the Santa Clarita Valley region’s major roads. And now, thanks to massive investments of time and effort by the members and allies of the Golden State Gateway Coalition, forward-thinking elected officials and the availability of funding, we will be seeing major improvements to Interstate 5, State Route 14, State Route 138 and The Old Road.

August 1, 2019

In a blow to the bullet train, California might shift billions to L.A. and Bay Area projects Los Angeles Times (tiered subscription)
Key California lawmakers have devised a plan to shift billions of dollars from the Central Valley bullet train to rail projects in Southern California and the Bay Area, a strategy that could crush the dreams of high-speed rail purists.  Assembly Democrats see greater public value in improving passenger rail from Burbank to Anaheim – relieving congestion on the busy Interstate 5 corridor before the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles – and putting additional money into San Francisco commuter rail.


Contract deal gives 10 percent raise or more to state safety and law enforcement employeesThe Sacramento Bee
Pay for dispatchers, security officers, inspectors and other public safety and law enforcement employees at the state will go up at least 10 percent over the next four years in a tentative agreement their union reached with the state.  Additional pay raises of up to 24 percent for specific job classifications will boost pay further for the majority of the California State Law Enforcement Association’s members, according to a union summary of the agreement.  Union members ratified the proposal Friday, sending it to the Legislature and the governor for approval.


City Hosts 50th San Diego-Coronado Bridge CelebrationThe Coronado Times
The City of Coronado, California Department of Transportation, County of San Diego and Port of San Diego will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the San Diego-Coronado Bridge this week.  In a press statement, city officials thanked all event sponsors for their donations or in-kind services, including Professional Engineers in California Government.


California’s emissions deal with automakers dodges federal EPA plan to gut rulesCalMatters
California made its own tailpipe emissions deal with four major carmakers, officials said today, ignoring Trump administration threats to roll back Obama-era vehicle standards.  The state agreed to give the carmakers an extension to reach greenhouse gas reduction targets and pledged to eliminate penalties for power plant emissions tied to charging electric vehicles.  In a win for California, the car companies agreed to recognize the state’s authority to make its own clean air rules and to follow California’s standards across the country.  Federal officials were dismissive of the agreement, however.


Cadiz water project in Mojave now subject to state oversightDesert Sun
A bill signed Wednesday evening by Gov. Gavin Newsom will require Cadiz Inc.’s Mojave Desert groundwater pumping project to undergo further review to show it will not harm the surrounding environment.  If built, Cadiz’s project would pump more than 16 billion gallons of groundwater from an aquifer under the Mojave Desert across public lands to the Colorado River Aqueduct to transport it to residents.

July 2019

July 29, 2019

Three-year I-5 reconstruction project begins in Sacramento. Expect closures, commute delays – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
South Sacramento commuters, get ready to adjust your morning work-drive start time.  Caltrans will announce next week the start of a massive, several-year-long reconstruction project on Interstate 5 through south Sacramento – one that both the state and some local commuters say is overdue.  The $370 million project, which includes replacing the road surface, will take three years and involve extensive lane closures at times, prompting traffic congestion and detours, officials said.  Project finish date is set for late 2022.


California’s troubled bullet train project getting one of biggest management upheavals in yearsLos Angeles Times (tiered subscription)
The California bullet train project is going through one of its biggest personnel upheavals in years, several months after Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed he would be “getting rid of a lot of consultants.”  Brian Kelly, the rail authority’s chief executive officer, said in an interview Thursday that he could not comment on three specific management moves The Times has learned about, but said some are designed to address the project’s multiple challenges.


Four Automakers Strike Emissions Deal With CaliforniaReuters
Ford Motor Co, BMW AG, Volkswagen AG and Honda Motor Co said on Thursday they have reached a voluntary agreement with the state of California to adopt compromise vehicle emissions rules. Mary Nichols, who chairs the California Air Resources Board, told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday that the four automakers sought regulatory certainty and had agreed not to legally challenge the state’s vehicle regulatory authority.  “They didn’t want to face the expense, distraction and the bad publicity that comes from being part of a big rollback on clean cars,” she said.


Crumbling roads, bridges getting infrastructure love from the DOTYahoo! Finance
Last week, Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Cho announced a total of 20 large and small infrastructure projects across the nation funded by INFRA grants, which provide dedicated, discretionary funding for projects that address critical issues facing our nation’s highways and bridges, according to DOT.  The City of Temecula’s plan to construct a two-lane northbound collector/distributor system along I-15 was one of the 10 large projects that made the list.

July 25, 2019

Jerry Brown, his eye still on pensions, endorses candidate in CalPERS board election – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Former Gov. Jerry Brown is jumping into the CalPERS Board of Administration election with an endorsement of incumbent Henry Jones.  Jones, 78, represents retirees on the 13-member board and serves as its president.  He is running for re-election against J.J. Jelincic, 70, a former board member and a former CalPERS staffer.


The Crisis Lurking in Californians’ Taps: How 1,000 Water Systems May Be at RiskThe New York Times (tiered subscription)
As many as 1,000 community water systems in California may be at high risk of failing to deliver potable water — one out of every three — according to a previously undisclosed estimate by the California State Water Resources Control Board.  These troubled districts often operate in poorer areas on thin budgets.  With little oversight, they face problems ranging from bankruptcy to sudden interruptions in water capacity, to delivering harmful toxins through taps.


Feinstein op-ed: As the climate gets hotter and drier, state’s water plan must consider all options The Fresno Bee (tiered subscription)
“Climate change presents a clear and present danger to California: Rising temperatures will continue to reduce the Sierra snowpack — essentially California’s largest bank of water — and will cause more frequent and dangerous droughts,” U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein writes.  “As we continue to recover from the historic drought that stretched from 2011 to 2017, we must accept this new reality and start preparing now.”

July 22, 2019

What Crisis? The Case for Not Panicking Over Pension Debt.Governing
Over the past decade, public retirement costs have spiked while governments’ unfunded liabilities — now totaling more than $1.2 trillion — have continued to grow.  But according to research that debuted last week, lawmakers shouldn’t worry too much about accumulating pension debt.


Diverging Diamond Interchanges Coming To California In Effort To Ease TrafficKPIX
Something new is coming to California highways and it is already under construction in Manteca.  Drivers will soon be driving through the state’s first diverging diamond interchange.


In an era of extreme weather, concerns grow over dam safetyPBS News Hour
It is a telling illustration of the precarious state of United States dams that the near-collapse in February 2017 of Oroville Dam, the nation’s tallest, occurred in California, considered one of the nation’s leading states in dam safety management.  And scientists now say the likelihood of dam failures — which not only threaten lives but also release toxic sediments trapped in reservoirs behind many dams — will increase as extreme precipitation events become more frequent in a warming world.


55-hour closures coming to 60 Freeway on 15 weekends between July and ThanksgivingThe Sun (San Bernardino)
A series of major closures are planned to enable construction crews to replace 18 miles of crumbling, aging Southern California highway pavement with shiny new ribbons of concrete.  The most draconian feature will be 15 weekends of total shutdowns eastbound or westbound stretching from the 15 Freeway to the 60-91-215 interchange.  For those who remember the weekend-long closure of the 91 Freeway in Corona in February 2016, dubbed “Coronageddon,” this will be a lot like that.

July 18, 2019

Top women to CalPERS candidate: Drop out, we don’t want an accused harasserThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
The state treasurer of California, a state senator and another woman serving on the CalPERS board have called on J.J. Jelincic Jr. to drop out of the race because of his history of harassing women who work at the Sacramento-based pension fund.  Jelincic is a former board member who is running again for a seat on the 13-member panel.


California Stopped Tracking Sexual Harassment Complaints Years Ago. What Happens Now?Capital Public Radio
The California Legislature fueled the #MeToo Movement after reports in 2017 that several lawmakers were investigated, and in some cases were disciplined, for sexual harassment in the workplace.  Now the state is building a system to track sexual harassment complaints filed by state employees, but the state already had a system for that – until it was eliminated in 2012.


Marin officials mull $100 billion transportation mega-measure ideaMarin Independent Journal
Dubbed “Faster Bay Area,” officials are considering a ballot measure that would seek to raise $100 billion from nine Bay Area counties over several decades.  The money would overhaul and integrate the region’s transit services, including more frequent and efficient BART, Caltrain and ferry trips; more express toll and bus lanes on local highways; and a second BART crossing under San Francisco Bay.


Caltrans Puts Finishing Touches On Project To Fix Richmond-San Rafael BridgeKPIX
Caltrans is now putting the finishing touches on a project to fix 31 expansion joints on the upper deck of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.  Work crews have been working overnight shifts since March with jackhammers and blowtorches to demolish the existing joints, then pour concrete to build and install the replacement joints.

July 15, 2019

Nepotism at California state agency leads to discipline for public employeeThe Sacramento Bee
The Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) has begun dispensing discipline over findings that its former director and her subordinates violated nepotism rules to promote the director’s daughter and a friend, according to a letter the department recently sent to the State Personnel Board (SPB).  Last week, DIR voided a promotion of an unnamed employee who the SPB said had benefited from former Director Christine Baker’s favor with a special hiring arrangement and an inappropriate promotion in 2014.  Another half-dozen DIR employees remain under investigation.


AP: Public unions see only modest decline after court rulingAssociated Press
Anticipating that the U.S. Supreme Court might end mandatory union fees for public employees, some labor-friendly states enacted laws last year to protect membership rolls while unions redoubled their recruitment efforts.  Those steps appear to have paid off, at least initially.  (Please click here for a list of public employee union membership change by state.)


What’s Driving You Crazy? – Shout-out to Caltrans earthquake responseCBS 8 (Las Vegas)
A post-earthquake shout-out to the California Department of Transportation.


Are state and local pension funds really in crisis?Brookings Institution
Government pension systems across the nation are in better long-term shape than commonly reported, according to three economists in this Q&A.

July 11, 2019

‘Outrageous conflicts of interest’: Watchdog groups urge California Gov. Gavin Newsom to fire oil regulatorsDesert Sun
Two consumer groups are calling on California’s governor to freeze all new oil drilling permits and to clean house at the agency that issues them, after the organizations uncovered records showing that top state regulators and engineers held investments in Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, Valero and other petrochemical giants.


Funding enables California DOT to extend life of 18 bridges on I-5, SR 152Transportation Today
Construction recently began on improvements to State Route 152 and Interstate 5 in California’s Merced County under funds provided by Senate Bill 1, which allow for work to keep 18 bridges functioning throughout the state.  The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) estimates the roads see around 65,000 vehicles each day, including a sizable amount of heavy truck traffic.


Senators Aim to Produce Five-Year Highway Bill Before August RecessTransport Topics
The first version of what could become the country’s next major highway policy bill will be unveiled in the Senate prior to Congress’ recess in August, surface transportation policymakers announced July 10.  The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee intends to consider a five-year highway bill, kicking off reauthorization of the FAST Act.


Nearly two dozen governors join California’s push for more efficient cars and trucksThe Washington Post
In a joint statement Tuesday, governors from 22 states and Puerto Rico joined California in calling for a “common sense” national approach that would provide regulatory certainty to the auto industry while also helping to combat climate change.

July 8, 2019

Caltrans begins post-earthquake repairs on Route 178Bakersfield Californian
On Sunday, Caltrans started permanent construction repairs on State Route 178 about six miles east of Ridgecrest, on a four-mile stretch that cracked in three areas due to recent earthquakes.  Meanwhile, Caltrans engineers have evaluated all bridges and highway structures in the area and have determined that all routes are safe for normal operations.


Davis High School grad heads State Transportation AgencyDavis Enterprise
David Kim — a 1981 graduate of Davis High School — was sworn in as the new secretary of the State Transportation Agency.  Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Kim’s appointment in April, replacing Brian Annis.


Near earthquake epicenter in Trona, ‘it looks like a tornado went through’ – Los Angeles Times (tiered subscription)
The small, unincorporated Searles Valley community of Trona seemed relatively unshaken by the magnitude 6.4 earthquake that rocked Southern California on Thursday afternoon, despite moderate damage to the town.  A sense of community is what will get people through this quake, say residents, and that can-do attitude could even be seen in state officials’ response to the quake.  A giant crack that formed across Highway 178 on the outskirts of the town had already been repaired by Caltrans crews an hour after the temblor tore up the road.


Editorial: Summer driving season is here — time for us to repeat ourselves on the cost of a gallon of gasoline. Specifically, it should be higher.The Washington Post (tiered subscription)
The cost of a gallon of gasoline should be higher.  Congress last raised the federal gas tax in 1993, which means that the 18.4-cent-per-gallon levy has fallen more than 40 percent in real terms.  While Capitol Hill has been paralyzed, however, July 1 was an occasion to celebrate a surge of policy activity in the states, including blue states such as California and Illinois and red ones such as Indiana and Tennessee.  In all, 13 states saw gas taxes increase on that date, many from indexing to inflation to avoid future political fights.  It indicates that Americans are open to rational fuel taxation, regardless of politics.

July 3, 2019

Clear path ahead for Highway 17 animal corridor, with $5 million campaign completeSanta Cruz Sentinel
The first animal corridor to bridge Highway 17 is on track to be completed in 2022 as the last piece of financing for the $12 million project fell into place this week.  Land Trust Santa Cruz County announced completion of a $5 million fundraising campaign Tuesday, $3 million of which was raised to build a tunnel for animals beneath Highway 17’s most dangerous stretch of roadway for mountain lions and other critters.


Where will California’s high-speed rail stop in the Bay Area?The Mercury News (tiered subscription)
If the billions needed to build the high-speed rail line from the Central Valley through San Jose and onto San Francisco can ever be raised, we may soon know the route for the nearly 130-mile link.  The California High-Speed Rail Authority on Tuesday made recommendations for the preferred alternatives in Northern California with public meetings to begin next month and a vote in September.


Fixing old San Rafael 101  off-ramp will cost millions more than estimatedKPIX
The contractors bids to replace an aging Highway 101 off-ramp that handles thousands of cars daily have come in at $4.5 million more than the $12.5 million Caltrans estimated, placing the project’s future in jeopardy.


Interstate 5 to receive millions from gas fee for culvert repairsBakersfield Californian
Caltrans has received millions of dollars in gas tax funding for repairs to drainage systems along Interstate 5 in Kern County.  The funding came as part of a package of $533 million in allocations done by the California Transportation Commission for highway projects throughout the state.

July 1, 2019

California Mandates Zero-Emission Vehicles at AirportsScientific American
The California Air Resources Board has mandated a switch to nonpolluting shuttles and buses running short hops at its 13 largest airports, the first policy of its kind in the nation.  It requires by 2035 the switch to zero-emission vehicles serving airports in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, San Jose, Oakland and Ontario International, along with commuter airports in Orange County, Burbank-Hollywood, Long Beach, Palm Springs, Fresno and Santa Barbara.


Fire-ravaged Paradise water agency faces state ultimatum: Fix your cracked dam spillwayThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Just months after California’s deadliest wildfire laid waste to the town of Paradise, hillside residents face yet another costly and potentially dangerous problem.  The Department of Water Resources downgraded the Magalia Dam on the hill above town to “poor” condition, and has ordered the dam’s owner to make interim repairs by November on the cracked spillway.


State approves $10M for Highway 37 flooding fixMarin Independent-Journal
The California Transportation Commission has approved a $10 million study of flood-prone Highway 37 in Marin County in a unanimous vote during its meeting in Sacramento.  North Bay representatives and transportation officials had urged Caltrans to begin the studies after the four-mile section between Novato and Black Point Bridge was closed twice due to flooding this winter.  Although officials lauded the commission’s decision, it only addresses a small section of the flood-plagued corridor that stretches between Novato and Vallejo.


Damaged by storms, a major highway to Idyllwild is closed for the summerLos Angeles Times (tiered subscription)
As summer tourism ramps up, a scenic highway into Idyllwild will remain shut down.  Highway 243, which leads into the popular Southern California vacation spot in the San Jacinto Mountains, is closed for the next several months as crews repair lanes that collapsed under catastrophic rains.  Portions of the mountaintop highway — more than 100 spots in all — are in need of repairs.

June 2019

June 28, 2019

Check your paycheck – Nearly 1,000 state workers didn’t get raises after their last contractThe Sacramento Bee
Nearly 1,000 members of Professional Engineers in California Government reported payroll errors after their 2018 contract was signed in September, and 300 are still trying to recover pay they believe they are owed, according to emails and interviews.


California program to track state worker harassment is a year behind scheduleThe Sacramento Bee
A $1.5 million project to start tracking sexual harassment and discrimination in California state government is scheduled to be fully functional by January 2020 — a full year later than originally planned.  Former Gov. Jerry Brown proposed the project as a first step to start addressing allegations of gender-based harassment in state government that were coming out amid the #MeToo movement.


Commentary: Bringing high-speed rail to California, one building block at a timeCALmatters
Lenny Mendonca, chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority writes, “The authority continues to pursue the best option to begin early service in the only part of the state where we are under construction on truly high-speed rail assets—the Central Valley.  This is the right thing to do because, candidly, it is time to get high-speed, electric trains operating in California.”


The spectacularly doomed plan to fill the bay with a 36-lane freeway – San Francisco Chronicle
In 1946, drivers were already complaining about congestion on the 10-year-old Bay Bridge.  The most ambitious solution, blissfully unconcerned with aesthetics or the environment, was dreamed up by an actor/impresario turned master planner named John Reber.  His idea: build a causeway nearly four-tenths of a mile wide, stretching across the bay with 2,000-foot-long channels at either terminus, split lengthwise by tunnels and a freeway wide enough to land passenger jets.

June 24, 2019

Caltrans is paying for top official’s San Diego-to-Sacramento flights, and her apartmentThe Sacramento Bee
Caltrans has been paying for its director to commute to Sacramento from her home in San Diego since she was appointed early last year, according to travel records.  The reimbursements for outgoing Director Laurie Berman’s expenses are “unusual,” but were authorized by former Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration and are allowed under the law.


To reduce wildfires and save utilities, California governor wants $10.5 billion from ratepayersLos Angeles Times / Greenfield Recorder
Gov. Gavin Newsom is asking the California Legislature to extend an existing charge on utility customers’ bills to generate $10.5 billion for a new wildfire fund.  Power companies could use the money to pay for fire damage — but only if they meet the state’s safety standards.  Under the governor’s proposal, the state would establish a new wildfire division within the California Public Utilities Commission to enforce those standards.  Each electrical utility would have to undergo an annual review process and earn a safety certification before the start of next year’s wildfire season in order to tap the wildfire fund.


California’s share of federal grants for roads, rail and bridges is shrinking – The Fresno Bee
In eight years under President Barack Obama, California received a larger share of grants from a U.S. Department of Transportation program for infrastructure improvements than any other state in the nation.  But in the two fiscal years since President Donald Trump took office, California’s share has fallen to less than half of what it was during the Obama administration, according to a Bee analysis of data from the federal grant program.

June 20, 2019

CalPERS health insurance will cost more next year, but not as much more as insurers wantedThe Sacramento Bee
Health insurance premiums for CalPERS members are going up next year, but rates will be lower than insurers initially requested, according to 2020 rates published Tuesday.  Premiums will go up 4.65 percent on average next year.  Last month, insurers submitted requests for increases to CalPERS that would have raised rates by an average of 7.2 percent.


Caltrans awards $275 million contract for I-5 rehabThe Construction Index
A 50-50 joint venture of Granite and Teichert will carry out the SAC 5 corridor enhancement project, which involves rehabilitating 67 lane-miles of Interstate 5.  The $275 million project is scheduled to begin towards the end of 2019 and take two years.


Six-Month Long Construction Project Starting On Interstate 80 In SacramentoCBS Sacramento
Construction will start Monday, June 24 on a 13-mile stretch of Interstate 80 in Sacramento and will last until December.

The project spans from about 0.2 miles west of West El Camino Avenue to about 0.2 miles east of Watt Avenue. Approximately 140,000 vehicles travel this stretch of I-80 daily. The $17 million project is being paid for using money from Senate Bill 1.


Why fighting for clean water with climate change money worries some California lawmakersCALmatters
Combat climate change, or clean up California’s water? Those alarmed by the Legislature’s decision to dip into a greenhouse gas fund to pay for clean drinking water may need to get used to it: constitutional restrictions on spending that money are set to expire in 2021.

June 17, 2019

Editorial: Caltrans can’t rest on Richmond Bridge progressMarin Independent-Journal
Caltrans and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission have received an award for completing the reopening of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge’s eastbound deck to three lanes during peak traffic periods.  The honor certainly doesn’t tell the whole story, but its conclusion that the agencies effectively worked to reduce traffic congestion is not only worthy of praise, but a good reason to apply that same logic to the bridge’s westbound lane.


California delegation introduces legislation protecting disaster-recovery transportation projectsTransportation Today
In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation denied 66 of the 73 one-year funding extensions for disaster-recovery transportation projects Caltrans requested, using its authority to seize highway and public transportation money previously awarded if those projects do not begin construction within two years.  The federal crackdown broke the norm from previous administrations. Now members of the California Congressional delegation have introduced a bill designed to defend federal funding for disaster-recovery transportation projects.


New plan to safeguard Russian River targets human and animal waste contamination – Santa Rosa Press-Democrat
An on-again, off-again effort by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to better protect the Russian River and its tributaries against potential sources of bacterial contamination is in its final stages, with hopes that an action plan for the entire watershed will be approved this August and go into effect next year.  The federal Clean Water Act and state regulations require measures to ensure that people swimming, wading, fishing or otherwise recreating in the river and tributary creeks aren’t exposed to bacteria from human or animal waste — a problem in waterways around California, state officials say.


$4 billion in state government construction getting underway in SacramentoThe Sacramento Bee
California state government has launched a historic building boom in Sacramento, scheduling roughly $3.4 billion worth of new construction and renovations over the next five years with more to follow.  Throw in plans for new towers for the state’s pension funds, and the spending will top $4 billion.

June 14, 2019

California Taps Clean Air Money to Pay for Drinking Water – NBC 4
California legislative leaders have agreed to spend $130 million a year to improve water systems in communities where people can’t drink from their taps, something Democratic leaders say amounts to a crisis in one of the nation’s wealthiest states.  To pay for it, the state would tap a fund dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a move that alarmed some environmental activists who say its set up an unfair choice between clean air and water.


I-5 freeway project in south O.C. gets underwayOrange County Breeze
The Orange County Transportation Authority and Caltrans have broken ground on an Interstate 5 construction project that will improve traffic flow on 6.5 miles of freeway between State Route 73 and El Toro Road in south Orange County.  The $581 million project will add a regular lane in each direction, extend a second carpool lane between Alicia Parkway and El Toro Road, and improve interchanges and streets.  The project is scheduled to be complete in 2025.


High-speed rail route took land from farmers. The money they’re owed hasn’t arrived Los Angeles Times
Up and down the San Joaquin Valley, farmers have similar high-speed rail stories: The state takes their land with a court order while it haggles over the price.  But farmers often face out-of-pocket costs for lost production, road replacement, repositioning of irrigation systems and other expenses, which the state agrees to pay before the final settlement.  Those payments and even some payments for land have stretched out to three years.  One problem was the agency’s decision to award construction contracts with only 15% of the rail design completed, a so-called design-build approach.  The authority’s unusual relationship with consultants is another issue.


Moccasin Dam, which came close to failure last year, is repaired and workingSan Francisco Chronicle
A leaking dam that prompted evacuations in the Sierra foothills during an intense rainstorm last year has been repaired and is again storing drinking water for 2.7 million Bay Area residents, San Francisco water officials said Monday.  San Franicisco’s Public Utilities Commission spent almost $22 million over the past year repairing and reinforcing Moccasin Dam in Tuolumne County.  The California Department of Water Resources Division of Safety of Dams inspected the project and gave permission to reopen the dam.

June 10, 2019

Toxic drinking water is a public health crisis.  Here’s a path to urgent action The Sacramento Bee
Acknowledging the lack of support for a tax, a state Senate budget subcommittee has proposed moving ahead with Senate Bill 200 which would allocate $150 million a year from the general fund for clean water.  While tax revenues are streaming into the state’s general fund at record levels, why not channel some of it towards this major public health crisis?  What’s the value of an overflowing rainy day fund when your people can’t even drink the water from their taps?


Did CalPERS mislead policyholders on long-term care insurance?  Trial begins on a $1.2 billion lawsuitThe Fresno Bee
A $1.2 billion lawsuit that could affect up to about 100,000 seniors who had CalPERS long-term care insurance plans goes to trial Monday.  The class-action lawsuit claims the California Public Employees’ Retirement System violated insurance policy terms when it increased premiums by 85 percent in 2015 and 2016 after promising policyholders stability.


High-speed rail route took land from farmers. The money they’re owed hasn’t arrived Los Angeles Times
Up and down the San Joaquin Valley, farmers have similar high-speed rail stories: The state takes their land with a court order while it haggles over the price.  But farmers often face out-of-pocket costs for lost production, road replacement, repositioning of irrigation systems and other expenses, which the state agrees to pay before the final settlement.  Those payments and even some payments for land have stretched out to three years.  One problem was the agency’s decision to award construction contracts with only 15% of the rail design completed, a so-called design-build approach.  The authority’s unusual relationship with consultants is another issue.


Richmond-San Rafael Bridge congestion relief lauded as planning continuesMarin Independent-Journal
Caltrans recently received the nonprofit California Transportation Foundation’s “Freeway/Expressway Project of the Year” award for 2018 for opening a congestion-relieving third eastbound lane on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.  Caltrans estimates the eastbound third lane has saved drivers a combined 900,000 hours in travel time, or about 37,500 days.  Now local officials want Caltrans to do the same thing for westbound commuters.

June 6, 2019

With large Sierra snowpack, DWR could soon release water over the Oroville Dam spillwayChico Enterprise-Record
Recent rains and snow pack could force California’s Department of Water Resources to release Oroville Dam’s main spillway as early as next week.


Key Transportation Projects at Stake if California Loses Clean Air Battle with TrumpTimes of San Diego
Unrelenting commutes.  Lost construction jobs. A statewide economic shudder.  Prepare for all three if California loses its clean air battle with the Trump administration.


Probe to Examine Alleged ‘Sweetheart Deals’ Tied to California High Speed Rail ProjectNBC Bay Area
The top private contractor for California’s High Speed Rail project now finds itself at the center of a state investigation for allegedly giving sweetheart deals.  The top consultant has been suspended from the project while California’s Fair Political Practices Commission investigates a potential conflict of interest in the latest episode in a string of scandals and political clashes for the controversial venture.


California prison guards get a raise in tentative deal with Gavin Newsom’s administrationThe Sacramento Bee
California state correctional officers would get a 3 percent raise under a tentative agreement the officers’ union has reached with the state.  The agreement, which still requires approval from union members and the Legislature, would last one year, expiring in July 2020, according to the tentative agreement posted to CalHR’s website Tuesday.

June 3, 2019

250,000 CalPERS members at risk of ‘surprise’ medical bills – The Sacramento Bee
About 250,000 people with CalPERS health insurance are at risk of receiving “surprise” medical bills that many other policyholders are shielded from. Their PPO plans leave them subject to an insurance company practice known as “balance billing,” which is the subject of a state proposal meant to protect consumers that passed the Assembly this week. At risk are CalPERS members with PERS Choice, PERS Select and PERS Care PPO plans.


Caltrans Director Retiring After 36 Years With DepartmentTechwire
The head of California’s Department of Transportation, who led a spirited campaign to preserve the state’s gas tax hike and fix its roads, will step down at the end of June.


License to PumpWater in the West
As California works to implement the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, Stanford’s Water in the West program has developed an online dashboard that compares local groundwater withdrawal permitting – a common tool used by resource managers to limit groundwater pumping – to help state, regional, and local officials plan for a more sustainable future.


Replacing the Gerald Desmond BridgeRLN.com
Replacing the Gerald Desmond Bridge is one of Long Beach’s least controversial projects. The landmark 50-year-old bridge, which spans the Port of Long Beach’s Back Channel, is simply no longer up to handling today’s road and harbor traffic.

May 2019

May 30, 2019

Nearly half of state-owned office buildings outside Sacramento would be up for sale under new planThe Sacramento Bee
The department in charge of California’s state-owned buildings wants to sell or get rid of nearly half its office buildings outside Sacramento, according to a newly published plan.  State workers in San Jose, Fresno and San Diego would be affected soonest, according to a Department of General Services proposal that calls for disposing of nine of 21 state-owned buildings around the state.


California infrastructure rated 10th worst in the nationU.S. News & World Report
California’s state transportation infrastructure ranks 41st among the 50 states, according to a recent U.S. News & World Report assessment.  The publication considered  2019 and 2017 data on average commute times (California ranked 46th), public transit usage (9th), road quality (48th), and bridge quality (19th).  Nevada’s infrastructure ranked 1st, followed by Utah and Delaware.


Some California Officials Worry State Can’t Train Every Employee On Sexual Harassment PreventionCapitol Public Radio
California’s top state human resources official worries that agencies will struggle to comply with a law requiring nearly every private and public employee in the state receive sexual harassment training starting next year.  “What concerns me is the logistics of the Herculean effort to get 220,000 [state workers] trained,” said Eraina Ortega, director of the state Department of Human Resources. Ortega says she’s most concerned about large agencies, like the California Highway Patrol and the state Department of Transportation, that have many employees across the state.

May 28, 2019

Why California’s air board won’t ban gas-powered cars yet CALmatters
Mary Nichols, the powerful head of the California Air Resources Board, didn’t even need to explicitly threaten a ban on gas-powered cars last week to get the attention of carmakers.  The warning was only in her prepared statements for a workshop with the state Transportation Commission.  But the remarks, obtained by Bloomberg, hit headlines and the industry took notice.  That was the point.


Butte County concerned over lake levelsChico Enterprise-Record
Butte County leaders, worried that Lake Oroville will receive a record snow runoff this year, say that the Department of Water Resources should now release water from the Oroville Dam.  The department says it doesn’t anticipate the need to do so, citing an operations plan formed in consultation with federal authorities that takes the snow melt and weather forecasts into account.  That plan allows the lake’s water level to rise during late spring and summer.


California retirees are facing another hot election over who manages their pensionsThe Sacramento Bee
In the last two years, a former CalPERS board member known for his sharp criticism of the nation’s largest public pension fund worked to unseat two of its leaders in tense elections.  Now, J.J. Jelincic is running his own campaign to return to the board that manages the $360 billion fund.  He’s challenging Henry Jones, an incumbent who is the first African American man to lead the CalPERS Board of Administration as its president.  He’s a former chief financial officer of Los Angeles Unified School District.


Using California gas tax to reduce traffic lanes? Not how it should be spent, some sayLos Angeles Times
Two years after state lawmakers boosted the gas tax with a promise to improve California streets, some cities have raised the ire of drivers by spending millions of the new dollars on “road diet” projects that reduce the number and size of lanes for motor vehicles.  Projects have touched off a debate as taxpayer advocates and motorists complain that the higher gas taxes they are paying for smoother trips will actually fund projects that increase traffic congestion.

May 23, 2019

On high-speed rail, Newsom cuts deal to protect federal grant while lawsuit proceedsLos Angeles Times
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday he had reached an agreement with the Trump administration not to redirect funds from a high-speed rail grant while California’s lawsuit against the federal government proceeds.


Death by consultantThe Week
Last month, the Los Angeles Times published a devastating exposé of one of the problems dragging down the California high-speed rail project: consultants.  Now 13 years behind schedule and $44 billion over budget, the story demonstrates a fundamental problem with modern American governance — lack of basic state capacity.  A government must have in-house expertise if it is to undertake difficult, complicated projects.  The first step to getting some is to stop this reliance on private companies to do the state’s job for it.


Transit agencies in Orange, Riverside counties headed for showdown over 241, 91 toll lane connectionThe Orange County Register
Caltrans recently received a 23-page letter from Riverside County transportation officials about all the things they think are wrong with plans for bridges that would let toll road drivers bypass lanes of traffic to get between the 241 and 91 freeways.  The state agency and toll road officials say they’re taking seriously those concerns – also shared by Orange County’s transit agency – as they decide whether to start designing the $180 million ramps, but “as of now we are moving forward with the project,” department spokesman David Matza said.


Sonoma Coast erosion forces Highway 1 lane closure, with a long-term fix years outThe Press Democrat (Santa Rosa)
A stretch of southbound Highway 1 on the Sonoma Coast at risk of failure from coastal erosion for two decades has finally been abandoned — the cracked and sagging western-most lane shut down for good last week.  Abundant winter rainfall and regular wave action undercutting the deteriorating bluffs at Gleason Beach have finally made the affected lane too dangerous for traffic, triggering the emergency closure and switch to a single, shared lane for all travelers, Caltrans said.

May 20, 2019

Trump administration cancels $929 million contract for California bullet trainThe Sacramento Bee
In a dramatic move, the Trump administration announced Thursday it has canceled a nearly billion-dollar funding contract with the California bullet train, throwing the state’s troubled high-speed rail project further in doubt.


Risk level raised on integrity of dam in Southern CaliforniaSan Francisco Chronicle
Engineers are raising alarms that a “significant flood event” could compromise the spillway of Southern California’s aging Prado Dam and potentially inundate dozens of Orange County communities from Disneyland to Newport Beach.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates it will cost roughly $600 million in federal funds to upgrade the Whittier Narrows facility, which has been reclassified as the agency’s highest priority nationally because of the risk of “very significant loss of life and economic impacts.”


Caltrans to Replace Hat Creek Bridge in Shasta CountyCBS 12
Caltrans is working with Steelhead Constructors, Inc. to replace the Hat Creek Bridge in Shasta County, starting in June.  The $6.2-million project is funded in part by Senate Bill 1.


Bill aims to secure funding for Coronado Bridge suicide barrierFox 5
A bill that looks to secure funding for a suicide barrier along the Coronado Bridge is expected to go before the full California State Senate this week.

May 16, 2019

CalPERS health insurance rates could climb as much as 24 percent next yearThe Sacramento Bee
The premiums state workers and retired public employees pay for CalPERS health insurance are projected to go up 7.2 percent on average next year, with premiums for specific plans increasing as much as 24 percent, according to preliminary estimates published Tuesday.


One less tax.  California lawmakers move to reject Gavin Newsom’s water feeThe Sacramento Bee
A Senate budget subcommittee rejected Gov. Gavin Newsom’s water tax plan on Wednesday, instead recommending finding $150 million elsewhere to finance a safe and affordable drinking water fund.  Newsom proposed the tax in his January budget to help communities clean contaminated water systems.  His May budget revise also included a fee to address the statewide problem that affects one million Californians.


Oroville Dam spillway concerns?  DWR says noThe Mercury News
The California Department of Water Resources released a Lake Oroville community update on Monday afternoon amid rumors of ongoing safety concerns regarding the Oroville Dam’s main spillway. These rumors have been circulated mostly on Facebook, according to DWR Public Information Officer Elizabeth Whitmore. Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said in a statement, ““Based upon (meeting with local officials) I don’t believe there is a current imminent threat.”


5 Freeway project, hampered by winter weather, has new finish dateLos Angeles Times
Caltrans is slowly but surely making progress on its 5 Freeway improvement project, specifically the Empire Avenue underpass that will connect Empire to North San Fernando Boulevard. In September, Caltrans officials anticipated the Empire interchange project would be partially open by January and fully completed in July. However, rainstorms caused delays and have pushed the timetable back several months.

May 13, 2019

Caltrans Breaks Ground on Interstate 5 Project – CBS
Caltrans broke ground Thursday, for the Redding to Anderson six-lane expansion project.  “It is a very big project in District 2, one of the biggest projects ever designed and built north of Sacramento,” said PECG member Travis Gurney, a project engineer.


How California Is Fixing Angeles Crest Highway After Its Worst Landslide in DecadesThe Drive
In February, about 10 million pounds of the San Gabriel Mountains came crashing down on Angeles Crest Highway, where it became Christopher Harris’ problem.  Harris, a Caltrans Senior Geologist and PECG member, is tasked with protecting State Route 2, which means he is locked in an endless battle with a mountain range that is actively trying to destroy the 66-mile highway.


SANDAG Completes Trio of Road, Bike and Rail Projects in EncinitasTimes of San Diego
The San Diego Association of Governments, Caltrans, and other state and local agency partners have completed a trio of projects in Encinitas spanning three modes of transportation.  The projects, funded by the TransNet half-cent sales tax, are part of the larger North Coast Corridor program, which includes widening of Interstate 5.


DOT-California Relationship on Bullet Train Is Crumbling – Government Technology/Los Angeles Times
The California bullet train project, for much of the last decade, enjoyed no more important partner than the U.S. Department of Transportation.  For nearly two years after he was elected, President Trump did not actively target the California bullet train, and actually supported the concept of U.S. high-speed rail.  But the “switch flipped” last fall on the state project, according to one official close to the matter, when the Federal Railroad Administration rejected invoices, including those for the state’s chief consultant, WSP.


ASCE Releases Infrastructure Grades for Iowa and CaliforniaTransport Topics
The American Society of Civil Engineers’ newly released infrastructure report cards for California and Iowa reveal the condition of those states’ underlying frameworks are just average.  California earned an overall C- on its May 7 report card, marking a slight drop from the C received previously in 2012.   The state’s roads, however, earned a D.

May 9, 2019

Caltrans manager commuted from San Diego to Sacramento for 2 years. Taxpayers paid the billThe Fresno Bee
The state paid for a Caltrans manager to commute from San Diego to Sacramento for work for two years, according to a California State Auditor’s report published Tuesday.  The manager, who isn’t named in the audit, was reimbursed for about $30,000 in airfare and car rentals plus $12,000 for meals, lodging and other costs from 2016 through 2018, according to the audit.


Don’t panic, but California has yet another water problemLos Angeles Times
A recent study notes high levels of arsenic, plus numerous other contaminants that may be more toxic in combination than they are separately, in California tap water.  According to the report, the tainted water could cause more than 200 cases of cancer a year.  The problem is very serious — but not necessarily statewide.  The so-called water tax would provide enough funding chiefly for those water systems with more pollutants than government standards allow.


Plan to widen Hwy. 101 too risky for giant redwoods on North Coast, court tells CaltransThe Sacramento Bee
A controversial Caltrans plan to widen a stretch of Highway 101 through a popular state park on California’s North Coast and home to ancient stands of old-growth redwoods was blocked again by a federal judge last week who said the project would threaten the mighty trees.


California high speed rail project cost grows to $79 billionThe Hill
The estimated cost of California’s high-speed rail project has grown to $79 billion, according to the latest High-Speed Rail Authority report.  The segment already under construction in the Central Valley is now expected to cost $12.4 billion, up from $10.6 billion.

May 6, 2019

California Governor Makes Big Change to Giant Water ProjectAssociated Press
California Gov. Gavin Newsom scrapped a $16 billion plan last week to build two giant water tunnels to reroute the state’s water system and instead directed state agencies to restart planning for a single tunnel.


Feds Step in, Make 10 Freeway Express Lanes in San Bernardino County a Step Closer to RealityMSN
Building pay lanes along the 10 Freeway in San Bernardino County just got a step closer to reality.  The county transportation authority last Thursday announced it was awarded a $225 million federal loan to be put toward the $929 million project.


Bullet Train has 4 Route Options Around One California Town as Foes Plan Court AppealThe Fresno Bee
It’s been seven years since the California High-Speed Rail Authority approved its proposed bullet-train route between Fresno and Merced – except for a stretch of about 20 miles through or around Chowchilla.  On Friday, the rail agency released a draft of its environmental analysis of four potential route options for its 220-mph trains to skirt the city.  That same day, an attorney for high-speed rail foes in Hanford announced plans to renew a court battle against the rail agency over its use of bond money to build the rail line through the San Joaquin Valley.


‘Culture of Corruption’ Alleged at CHP’s East LA Station; Officers Fight Back LAist
At issue is whether East LA officers fraudulently recorded their hours on the job when working voluntary overtime on Caltrans worksites – hours that were then billed to Caltrans.  “We take this matter very seriously,” Caltrans said in a statement. “Once the criminal investigation [of CHP officers] is complete, any misconduct by Caltrans employees will be investigated.”  Accused officers have hired their own attorneys, who contend there was “no criminal wrongdoing.”

May 2, 2019

Newsom says he has a fresh approach to California’s longtime water woesLos Angeles Times
Newsom wants to reexamine practically everything the state has been working on — meaning what former Gov. Jerry Brown was doing — and piece together a grand plan for California’s future that can draw the support of longtime water warriors.


State Assemblyman Calling for Investigation into California High-Speed Rail ConsultantsKRON
It’s billions over budget and more than a decade behind schedule and now, Assemblyman Jim Patterson is calling for an investigation into the state high speed rail project’s private consultants.  The rail authority, he said, is “making it up as (they) go along, handing over the decisions to handle billions of dollars of public money to private consultants who had everything to gain by telling us they were doing just fine.”


Chunks of Concrete Fall From Interstate 80 in San FranciscoNBC Bay Area
Chunks of concrete on a sidewalk prompted San Francisco police and Caltrans to shut down a stretch of roadway underneath Interstate 80 near the Bay Bridge Tuesday.  Police officers driving by noticed the concrete pieces around 6 p.m., immediately closed off the area and called for help.  Caltrans inspected the portion of the overpass located over Harriet Street near the Hall of Justice in San Francisco and determined it was safe.


More Turnover at California Pension Board: Gavin Newsom Appoints Transgender Woman to CalPERSThe Sacramento Bee
A transgender California city councilwoman is joining the CalPERS Board of Administration, becoming the fifth new member leading the nation’s largest pension fund this year.  Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Lisa Middleton, 66, of Palm Springs, to the seat representing local governments on the 13-member board, according to a Tuesday news release.  Middleton was the first openly transgender person in the state to win election to a nonjudicial office.


Yuba Water Agency, DWR Launch Research to Enhance Reservoir OptionsWater World
Yuba Water Agency launched an initiative with the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography to improve storm and runoff forecasting, and significantly reduce flood risk though enhanced operations of New Bullards Bar and Oroville dams.

April 2019

April 29, 2019

SANDAG Wants More Rail, Managed Lanes In Transportation PlanKPBS
San Diego County transportation officials Friday unveiled a framework for its next regional transportation plan, but it does not include several freeway widening projects that some elected officials have been pushing for more than a decade.


One Of The Biggest Caltrans Construction Projects Begins This Summer On I-5CBS Sacramento
Get ready for one of the biggest road construction projects in California history.  It’s coming to the I-5 corridor in early July along with another project.


Caltrans Launches Work Zone Speed Reduction InitiativeConstruction Pros
The California Department of Transportation announced three new safety initiatives to improve highway work zone safety: lowering work-zone speed limits, allowing more space between workers and traffic and expanding work “time windows” to give work crews more flexibility to work safer and get projects done faster, lessening the impact of roadway work on motorists.


California Eyes More Bullet-Train Funds Despite Federal ClawbackBloomberg
The federal government is seeking to claw back billions in funds for a contentious California high-speed rail project.  That’s not stopping the head of the agency running it from seeking even more federal financing.  Lenny Mendonca, the chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said last week that he expects there to be more federal support once the state completes an initial segment under construction in the interior agricultural region known as the Central Valley.

April 25, 2019

Newsom Names New Transportation Agency Head, High-Speed Rail CFOSCVNews.com
Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Wednesday the appointments of David S. Kim as secretary of the California State Transportation Agency and Brian C. Annis as the chief financial officer of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.


Caltrans ‘Pauses’ Big MacArthur Maze Project After Blasts From Cities, ResidentsKQED
A Caltrans plan to rebuild portions of the MacArthur Maze to accommodate larger trucks has hit a roadblock, for now.  Angry local officials and community groups say the agency failed to tell them the project was coming and performed only a cursory study of its potentially far-reaching environmental effects.  Caltrans said it would pause its Maze plans to allow time for more local input.


Another Major Hwy. 1 Mudslide ‘Could Happen Now’ as Crews Continue Work in Big Sur The San Luis Obispo Tribune
When the slippery slope above Big Sur’s Mud Creek slid catastrophically on May 20, 2017, scientists already had been tracking the earth’s movement there for decades.  Now authorities warn that other landslide-prone areas nearby aren’t out of the woods yet, especially as surface soil along the steep ocean-front slopes dries out and loses its capacity to hold back the heavier, soaked earth underneath.


California State Workers Could Bring Babies to Work Under New Proposal – The Sacramento Bee
An Assembly bill would create a pilot program authorizing state departments to let new parents or caregivers bring babies to work starting at six weeks old.  The infants would be allowed in the workplace until they reach six months old or until they begin to crawl, according to the proposal.  The pilot program would be voluntary for departments and would run from January 2020 through January 2022.

April 22, 2019

Caltrans Ready to Make Push on the Reconstruction of Highway 101 Between Eureka and ArcataThe Lost Coast Outpost
It looks as though Caltrans is preparing a big push forward on its years-in-the-making effort to rebuild Highway 101 between Eureka and Arcata, along what we’ve grown accustomed to calling “the safety corridor.”


How Gov. Gavin Newsom is progressing on his key policy promises for CaliforniaLos Angeles Times
A review of policy and program promises made, and actions taken or not taken, by Governor Gavin Newsom during his first 100 days in office — including High-Speed Rail and the Water Fix and Eco Restore tunnels for the State Water Project.


California bill would keep government contractors from hiding numbersCalifornia EPeak
A proposal making its way through the California legislature,  Senate Bill 749, would make plain that information in state or local outsourcing contracts about job creation, are covered by the California Public Records Act.  The measure would, for example, prevent the kind of problem that arose in Texas three years ago when the state sought to block a journalist from seeing traffic projections for a privately built toll road project.  Other financial matters, such as contractors’ wages and their compliance with Buy America laws, also would be subject to disclosure.

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.

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.

News of Note

Check your paycheck – Nearly 1,000 state workers didn’t get raises after their last contract
June 27, 2019 The Sacramento Bee
Nearly 1,000 members of Professional Engineers in California Government reported payroll errors after their 2018 contract was signed in September, and 300 are still trying to recover pay they believe they are owed, according to emails and interviews.  The union is continuing its efforts to get all workers their correct back pay, but “this is past the point of being explainable,” PECG Executive Director Ted Toppin said in an interview.


How California’s troubled high-speed rail project was ‘captured’ by costly consultants
April 26, 2019 Los Angeles Times
Nearly a decade ago, PECG warned state officials that outsourcing engineering work for California’s high-speed rail project would be fiscally irresponsible.  Today, the project is $44 billion over budget and 13 years behind schedule, with the Authority itself transformed into what PECG Executive Director Ted Toppin calls, “A consultant-captured organization … run entirely by engineering consultants for engineering consultants.”  Times investigative reporter Ralph Vartabedian digs into how the  overreliance on outsourcing embedded organizational conflicts of interest, cronyism, confused lines of authority, and poor business decisions that have already cost taxpayers billions of dollars.


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.”


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